The “Little Acreage” Bluebird Log

Adult Bluebird

A male bluebird flies from the nest to bring back a snack for its mate.

Here’s a fun guest blog by friends, Gordon and Nancy, about their husbandry of birds on their “Little Acreage.”

“A few years ago my wife and I decided we wanted to attract wildlife to our little acreage. We already had deer and wild turkeys so we decided to try to attract some Bluebirds. We went on line to see where the best spot would be to place some houses to attract them.

“We then went to the Indian Creek Nature Center and bought a couple of houses. We felt that we needed the houses for bluebirds and the Center could use the donation. We placed four houses on the edge of the hay field.

“As time went on, all we saw were sparrows using the nest so we thought nothing would become of our houses. Then, a couple of years ago, a pair of Bluebirds started checking out the nest. But, we never found any eggs.

Bluebird eggs

Four eggs! Photo: G&N Bena

“Earlier this year we looked in the house and nothing. A few days later we found these four eggs! What a great surprise for us. We now monitor the nest to watch the progress of our new friends.

 

 

 

Checking the other houses we found that a pair of wrens decided the house was satisfactory for their

Wren At Nest

Feeding Young. Photo: G&N Bena

new home and I think they have at least seven eggs. We will be monitoring this nest, also. The other two houses have nests but I think they are sparrow nest. We decided to leave them because they need a home, also.”
Gordon and Nancy

Editor’s Note:  Sialis.org has a fascinating set of pictures showing the progression of raising and fledging Bluebird young.

Best Birding in the Yard

At Winding Pathways, we venture into our yard nearly every day, even if it’s raining, windy,

House Finch

Some birds homestead at Winding Pathways.

or frigid out. Of all the times, early May is our favorite to linger outdoors. Why? It’s the best birding.

Very late April and the first couple of weeks of May boast normally glorious weather, blooming flowers and birds. Lots of birds, including those we can only enjoy for a fleeting week or two.

Here’s how we group the birds that we enjoy in our yard. Odds are the same or similar species follow this pattern in backyards with good habitat across much of the continent.

THE HOMEBODIES

Some birds don’t migrate. They brave the cold and grace winter feeders. In summer, they often raise broods of babies on the edge of the yard. These include titmice, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, house sparrows, and many woodpeckers.

THE NORTHERNER

Juncos are almost always under our feeders all winter gleaning seeds. To a Junco Iowa is the balmy south with a “warm” winter. Around mid-April they head north to nest in the boreal forests of Canada and Minnesota.  We won’t see them again until around Halloween.

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Bald Eagle Parents

We’re lucky to have a pair of bald eagles nesting within walking distance of our home. Occasionally we clamber through the woods to check on the couple, but we’re careful to not disturb them. We stay a hundred yards away from their nest tree and spy on them through binoculars.

On March 12 Rich witnessed a remarkable trait of eagle parentage. Incubation is a female task with most birds. The male rarely sits. Not so with bald eagles.  The soon-to-be father helps keep the eggs warm. Rich happened to be near the nest during the changing of the guard.

Nest

Watching from a distance.

He could see just the white crown of the sitting eagle’s head protruding from the huge nest built high in a white oak tree. Its mate perched on a limb about 50 yards away. Suddenly the sitting bird climbed off the eggs, spread its wings, and began circling the nest. Its mate joined the circling.  After a few revolutions around the nest the recently sitting bird made a beeline north, presumably to look for dinner. The remaining eagle circled a few more times before settling down on a branch near the nest. After a minute or two it hopped into the nest and settled down over the eggs.

Who was who? Male and female bald eagles look alike, so Rich couldn’t tell if the male or female was the first incubator. It doesn’t really matter. Cooperation between the two is fascinating as this link shows.

Eagle parentage is an exercise in teamwork. The pair built the nest, take turns incubating, and both hunt for nestling food.

Eagle On Nest

Eagles share parenting duties. Photo by M. Norlander

Eagle nests are becoming more common everywhere. The birds mostly feed on fish, so likely nest locations are near rivers, lakes, or the ocean. Nests are enormous piles of sticks, usually high in a tree and easy to spot. Bald eagles don’t seem bothered by roads, stores, or houses and often nests are within sight of heavy human activity.

Find a nest, dress warmly and sit some distance away with a pair of binoculars. You’ll be treated to examples of outstanding parentage.  We plan to spy on our local eagle pair from a distance through the 35-day incubation period and as they raise their chicks.

No Rest for Wrens!

Stick nest

The wrens use just their beak and claws to layer sticks and then feathers from other birds to make a cozy safe nest to raise young.

Just ten days ago the wren parents fledged the babies from the box on our deck.  After we knew they were safely gone, Rich unbolted and cleaned out the next.  What an amazing feat of engineering!  With just a beak and claws, the wrens fashioned a comfy, warm home to sit on eggs and raise young. All was quiet for the rest of the week. The birds had all dispersed.

The past few days we have noticed activity in the High Bush Cranberry, on the deck, around the pond and at the feeders.  Today, definite mating activity as up to five wrens competed for attention, displayed mating moves and two began rebuilding the box on the deck. In and out flew the wren gathering small sticks by the pond and placing them in the box. So, it looks like a pair plans to start one more brood.

Later in the year, the Carolina Wren will grace our yard.  Larger and more distinctive, it seems to fare well in Iowa even in cold weather.