Speaking of Nature: 2022 Nesting Report — Round 1

  • An eastern bluebird chick rests its head on the bottom of the nest entrance and peers out at the world. If you look closely you can see the eye of a second chick above and to the left of the chicks face. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON

  • The adult male bluebird arrived at the nest with a large beetle to feed to someone inside the box.

Published: 6/8/2022 4:39:50 PM
Modified: 6/8/2022 4:37:42 PM

On Memorial Day weekend I took a tour of my yard to (among other things) make my first official nest box survey of the 2022 breeding season. I have a total of four nest boxes and one nesting platform that are all in use and I wanted to check on the process of each nest in each location. Then I compared these results to results from previous years to see if this has been a “good” year, or a disappointing year.

The nest boxes that I have built were all fitted with round aluminum number tags that were left over from some forestry work I had done many years ago. Box #21 is planted in the center of a large grassy area to the west of my house and this year it was claimed by a pair of eastern bluebirds. On previous visits to the box I had discovered a beautiful nest constructed almost purely of the needles of a white pine tree and in the nest there had been five beautiful blue eggs and then five little chicks.

As I approached the nest box on May 29 I was able to see a little face poking out of the entrance hole. I snapped a couple quick photos and determined that this was the face of one of the chicks in the box. So I centered myself to be perfectly perpendicular to nest and as I slowly approached I stopped every five steps to snap a new set of photos.

Eventually I got so close that the chick decided it was uncomfortable with my presence and it popped back inside. I knew that there was no way that I could take the chance to open the box because I didn’t want to spook the chicks out of the nest before they were ready to do it themselves. I did, however, feel that it was safe enough to walk right up to the entrance and peek inside to see what was going on in there. When I did this I saw several little faces looking back out. Box #21 was a complete success!

Just behind Box #21 is Box #23, which had been relocated up to the same field back in 2020. This box was obviously occupied by a pair of tree swallows because the female was guarding the box by plugging up the entrance with her own body. This nest was about a week behind the bluebird nest and the female was so committed to staying put that I decided not to bother her. Box #23 was clearly a success as well.

As I turned to move on to the next nest box I happened to catch a movement out of the corner of my eye and when I turned back I saw that the male bluebird had arrived with food for his chicks. Up came the big lens and I saw that he had an enormous beetle in his beak. The portions of the beetle’s shell that covered its wings had been removed and this, I imagine, was done to make it a bit easier for the chicks to process. The male allowed me to approach somewhat close, but he eventually repositioned to a safer location until I moved on.

Down the hill to the south of my house is where Box #22 stands. This had been occupied by a pair of tree swallows and as I approached I was struck by the fact that no one was guarding the nest entrance, nor the airspace above the nest. When I was close enough to see the front of the box I could immediately see that something was amiss. Instead of the face of the female, the nest entrance was plugged up with nesting material. When I opened the box I discovered that the nest was empty. I get the distinct feeling that Box #22 was a failure this year; most likely predated. So I pulled out all of the nesting material and moved on.

To the north of my house, in a small stand of white pines, there is a wide-mouthed ceramic nesting bottle that was given to me by a colleague at work. Specifically designed to be used by nesting birds, this is where the house wrens have set up shop this year. There was a male wren actively singing in the pine trees and I was even able to watch one of the wrens enter and exit the bottle. The one drawback of a bottle like this is that it cannot be monitored, but I will mark down the house wren nest as a success.

Finally, there is the phoebe nest right by my front door. The return of the phoebes after their painful absence last year has been a real happy event for me, but the phoebes have had some trouble this year. The female built a beautiful nest and laid a clutch of four small, white eggs just as I hoped she would do. But then the local brown-headed cowbirds parisitized the nest so badly that only one of her eggs remained.

Then a cold spell had hit and the phoebe seemed to disappear, so I cleaned out the nest in the hopes that she would start again. She did, but once again the cowbirds interfered. I stopped feeding the birds on my deck and the cowbirds dispersed, but not before depositing another egg in the phoebe nest. So, at present, the phoebe has one pink chick, one dud phoebe egg and one cowbird egg. So much effort for only one chick, but this is only Round 1 of the nesting season and I hope that the female phoebe will have more success in Round 2.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 25 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.

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