The bluebirds are at it again!

The same pair of Eastern bluebirds that already successfully fledged two broods from the nest box on our porch are going for another try, building their third nest in the porch rafters. The female makes dozens of trips each day, bringing leaves and pine needles, while the male keeps guard over the female and the nest building.

Yesterday I watched a house wren checking out the bluebirds’ latest nest. House wrens are known for destroying the nests of other birds to eliminate the competition for food. Sure enough, while watering the flowers this morning, I saw a pile of pine needles littering the ground below the nest. Undeterred, the female is rebuilding and if the house-wrecking wren doesn’t return, the nest will be completed soon and she will lay eggs.

The male Eastern bluebird keeps an eye out for enemies while the female completes the nest.

Amazingly, Eastern bluebirds can have up to four broods (also called clutches) per year. There are many factors that influence the number of broods each year, including the availability of a mate, location, food supply, diet, health, age, and experience.

Both birds bring food to the nestlings and as the chicks grow older, the more trips required each day to keep them fed. By the time the nestlings are ready to fledge, both parents are busy all day long fetching the high-protein insects that make up their diet. It’s a very demanding and exhausting job!

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Bluebirds fledged!

I wasn’t feeling well yesterday and spent the afternoon in bed. Looking out the bedroom window, I had a close up view of the bluebird nest box on the porch. For the last couple of weeks the parents had been taking turns all day long bringing moths and other insects to feed their young, but as I watched this day, the activity had stopped.

The parents were intentionally not feeding them so they would be hungry enough to come out of the box. Today was the day they would leave the nest! From a nearby tree, the female kept repeating her call, telling her babies to come out and she would feed them. The male kept flying past the nest box, encouraging them to come out.

As I watched, I saw two nestlings slowly make their way to the edge of the box and stare out at the world around them. It must have been quite scary, but their mother kept calling to encourage them. It appeared at one point as if they were jostling each other, each trying to get the other one to make the first move!

Then suddenly, one of the nestlings flew out of the box and floated gently to the ground below. Seconds later, the other one flew out of the box and landed nearby. Immediately, they began plaintively calling to their parents, begging for food. Mama bluebird flew to them and encouraged them to fly into the woods with her where she would feed them and they would be safe.

I felt so fortunate to watch the young birds summon the courage to leave the nest and venture out into the world, and I was happy for the parents who had done such a great job raising them.

 

In Search of Spring

Although our winter here in the Blue Ridge has actually been pretty mild, I find myself longing to see green fields and hillsides once again. With only a few weeks of winter remaining, I set out to look for signs that winter is loosening its grip on the land and giving way to the season of renewal. My last walk was several days ago and I was amazed at how much the landscape had changed.

The growing moss pays no heed to the frigid temps of the water

The growing moss pays no heed to the frigid temps of South Buffalo Creek

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Another type of moss growing up through the leaves

Immature cones forming on terminal ends of Virginia Pine

Immature cones forming on Virginia Pine

Still another kind of moss

Still another kind of moss

The birds are also giving clues that spring is on its way. The Eastern Phoebes can be heard issuing their phoebe, phoebe calls as they check out our porch rafters for the choicest nest sites. I’m also seeing the Eastern Bluebirds once again that had retreated to lower elevations to escape the worst of winter, and a Northern Mockingbird pair is busy chasing intruders out of their favorite tangle of vines.

Although the nights are cold, it’s the breeding season for many animals. Last night, my husband and I were awakened by the shrill cries of a fox in the front yard. The cries, a little higher-pitched than a coyote, went on for about a minute. My first thought was of the chickens, but I knew they were safely locked up in the coop. Possibly, the fox was calling to attract a mate. 

The lengthening of the days is obvious to our hens, who have started laying again, so it’s just a matter of time until winter blows its last gasp. I just need to be patient.

There is a way that Nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. — Linda Hogan

injured bluebird

Yesterday evening my husband and I got quite a surprise. While taking a walk we noticed a bird huddled in the weeds. The light was dim, but we could tell by his beautiful blue coloring that it was a male Eastern bluebird. Staying very still, he was probably hoping we would pass by without seeing him.

Bill went ahead with the dogs (who hadn’t seen the bird) and I quietly approached the frightened bird. Instead of taking flight, as any healthy bird would do, he ran a few steps and then tried to burrow into the grass. He didn’t resist as I gently cupped my hand around him and lifted him out of the grass. I slipped him into the front pocket of my sweatshirt and headed back to the house.

I called a certified wildlife rehabilitator who instructed me to place him in a shoe box for the night and put the box in a warm, quiet place away from the TV and any other noise. I felt sorry for him, but there was nothing else I could do until morning.

The next morning, I was happy to see that he had made it through the night. I put wild bird seed and water in two jar tops and placed them in the box, but he managed to spill the water and settled into one of the tops like it was a nest.

I gently picked him up to see if I could see any injury. I couldn’t find any obvious injury, but it appeared that his right wing seemed at a slightly different angle than his left wing.

Thinking he could get help sooner if I drove him directly to The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, about 75 miles away, off we went.

Photo courtesy of The Wildlife Center of Virginia

The Wildlife Center was established in 1982 to provide quality health care, often on an emergency basis, for native wildlife. Since 1982, the Center has treated more than 60,000 wild animals, representing more than 200 species of native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Staff members are available seven days a week to help deal with wildlife health issues. Contact information and general advice on handling sick, injured or orphaned wildlife can be found on their website (www.wildlifecenter.org).

Visitors are not permitted to go into the area where the animals are placed for evaluation, but the receptionist was kind enough to use my camera to take a picture of their newest patient in his intake “cage.”

I was told they would do an x-ray and if his wing is broken at the shoulder, it wouldn’t be “fixable” because of the large amount of stress placed on the shoulder during flight, and he would have to be euthanized. If the injury can be repaired and he is able to be re-released, they will call me and I can pick him up and let him go on our farm. He would have the best chance of survival in familiar surroundings.

I will call tomorrow to find out the little guy’s fate. Hopefully, he will get the chance to rejoin his home flock and live out his life, but whatever happens, I’m glad there’s a place like the Wildlife Center that is equipped to care for and treat injured wildlife.