Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Whole Lotta Nesting Going On

The migration is fairly well over in western North Carolina. There have been a few tardy travelers passing through our yard in recent days; blackpoll and yellow-rumped warblers in particular, but for the most part, the remaining birds are here to stay throughout the nesting season.

Some of them, like the neighborhood wood thrush and red-eyed vireo, are just getting started. Others, like American robins, Carolina wrens and mourning doves, have already fledged their first broods and started in on their seconds.

Our first indication the 2011 nesting season was underway happened back in late March when a pair of Carolina chickadees started carrying mouthfuls of moss and lint into the nest box I had erected in the front yard last summer.

After completing their nest, the female set to incubating and before long, Sue and I were sitting on the porch watching the adult chickadees ferrying inchworms and caterpillars to their growing family.

Long after we figured the babies would finally emerge from their cozy womb, the chickadees left the nest box for the environs surrounding the house. Unfortunately, in the two weeks since, the only chickadees Sue and I have seen have been the adults and they aren't behaving like they are feeding fledglings. In fact, it appears they've gone straight to courtship behavior, leading me to the sad conclusion that the fledglings perished shortly after their maiden flight.

That would not be unusual. Fledgling mortality in songbirds is extraordinarily high for many species. For those that conduct long-distance migrations (Carolina chickadees do not), mortality can be as high as 70 percent before the end of the first year.

What happened to our nestlings? It's impossible to say. Maybe they emerged from the nest box just hours, or even minutes, before we were hit by one of those strong spring thunderstorms that have been rolling through. It's also quite possible they fell easy prey to one of the feral cats that roam the neighborhood.

One thing is certain, those little chickadees had a great life before their ultimate demise. I opened the nest box last week to clean it out in preparation of a second nesting attempt and had a chance to examine the elegant little structure the adult chickadees had built for their first go-round.
Swedish memory foam.
A thick base layer of the finest green moss, followed by a bed of dryer lint, dog hair and pine needles - where do I sign up?

A good tree for blue jays.
The chickadees have failed for now, but that hasn't been the case for some of the other breeding species around Black Mountain. The yard is filled with the sounds of begging fledglings. At least two broods of song sparrows are using our backyard as their base of operations. The Carolina wrens have also pulled off a successful attempt and I often hear the adults scolding a real or perceived threat that wanders too close to one of the youngsters.

Blue jay nest
Sue has been telling me for a week that she thinks there is a blue jay nest somewhere nearby, but it wasn't until a couple of days ago that we discovered how close it actually was. I as sat one morning at this computer, I heard strange sounds emanating from the pine tree outside the window. I snuck out the front door and over to the base of the tree, where I peered up through the branches and spotted one of the adult jays sitting on a stick nest. I don't think I've ever seen a blue jay nest before, so it will be fun to follow this one's progress.

The hummingbird feeders started to get some action last week and now, weeks after the first wave of male ruby-throateds passed through on their way north, we have representation from both sexes, indicating the breeding season for eastern North America's tiniest bird is about to begin.

May they all have great success and raise babies that are swift and strong.


  1. Just saw my first hummingbird up at my elevation this morning! Great post!

  2. Erin - Having done a couple of field seasons in CO, I reckon you saw either a black-chinned or an Anna's. Thanks for reading.

  3. In Va. Bch. there are a pair of Red-tailed hawks that have strewn sticks on the lowest floor of the maintenance platform of a cell tower and called it "home". Sparse, but even through the 80 mph winds we had yesterday the youngster remained secure.

  4. I posted about a Robin who had survived a severe windstorm in my neighborhood a while back, but sadly I think the feral cats got her and her brood too. Darn cats. Grrr.

  5. Erin - I loved watching those big old Anna's.
    Brian - Where?!
    Robert - It's amazing what those stick structures can stand up to.
    Jay - I have no doubt the feral cats (and domestic ones whose owners allow to go outside) are the No. 1 cause of songbird mortality in my neighborhood.

  6. Come On Bumbles...... over a month and no insight or pearls of Woodsman Wisdom......missing you. Having a job is no excuse!!!

  7. Time to wakie wakie! Get out of that nest box you've built yourself and let us know what's going on in God's country?

  8. So, did you notice the Bruins won The Cup or are you a bloody Canes fan by now?

  9. Deano - Canes fan? No. Though I didn't turn away from the assignment when they had me cover Glenn Wesley bring the cup to visit Wounded Warriors at Camp Lejeune. You'll be proud to know that my only question for him was "what was it like to play with Ray?"