Let the Nesting Begin

Western Bluebird (male)

I’m always on the look-out for bird nests at this time of year. They’re all over, you just have to be in tune–the country or city, trees or eaves.

 

So far we have found five nests on our property: bushtits, violet-green swallows, western bluebirds, oak titmice, and pacific-slope flycatchers.

Bushtit

It takes some time to find a bird nest; it should, that’s the nature of a nest. How crafty the adult is at hiding the nest, and then keeping it a secret, is directly contingent upon the survival of the young, and ultimately the success of the species.

 

For the bushtits, it was a treasure hunt. One day I noticed they were a pair. Gregarious birds, they are always in flocks of about a dozen, except in spring when they pair off for breeding.

 

After that, I started noticing they were nearby several times a day, not just their once-a-day fly-through. Then I watched with binoculars and saw one had caught a worm and instead of gobbling it up, the bird carried it off.

 

Soon after, we followed the little fluffball as it disappeared into a manzanita bush. Bingo — we found a pocket of lichen in the center of the bush. You can see how hidden it is.

Bushtit nest (in center)

 

If you’re interested in attracting nesting birds, there are many things you can do, especially providing: food, water, shelter, safety. The main thing: be attentive.

Violet-green swallow on nest box

Info about nest boxes:

National Wildlife Federation, Nesting, U.S.

Nestbox Info and Books, England

 

As for finding nests, start watching bird behavior and you’ll be amazed how busy they are.

How to Nest Watch

How to Find a Nest, Canada

 

Good book (U.S.) with bird nest specifics: Peterson Field Guides, Birds’ Nests

 

This year and last, our neighbors lamented there were no more swallows in the area. What happened to the swallows? they said.

 

I grinned. We have them swooping overhead, all day every day, from March to June.

 

Here’s a previously written post about their nesting: Violet-green Swallows.

 

Every spring the violet-green swallows and  western bluebirds have a few weeks of territorial chest-thumping before they choose their respective houses.

 

Bluebird at nest box

 

The oak titmouse is always “our” very first songbird to nest. This year they found a cozy spot inside an old tree snag.

Oak Titmouse

It is for this reason that we keep some dead trees standing–they are a wealth of life regardless of how dead they look.

 

Oak Titmouse Nest Site (round hole toward top of snag)

The pacific-slope flycatchers migrate up every spring from Mexico. We have hosted so many generations of this bird that I could write their family tree.

 

A post I wrote about them: Generations of Flycatchers.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher on nest. Nest materials are same debris as on roof.

Many people don’t have big yards to provide nest spots. I like this story from fellow-blogger Helen at Tiny Lessons Blog. She helped engage the community in providing a new nesting place for the osprey at her local salt marsh: the fundraising efforts and the new nest.

 

What a wonderful thing to live where birds continue to reproduce. And there are so many ways to view the chicks, whether it’s in your yard, a community park, or from your computer via live cams.

 

It’s a sweet reminder of the joy of life.

 

Parent Pacific-slope Flycatcher with a lot to sing about

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

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Molting Bluebirds

Western Bluebird in Spring, Pt. Reyes, CA

Bluebird, April, full plumage, Pt. Reyes

A bird’s natural process of seasonal molting can be confusing for birders and frustrating for photographers.  The birds take on a very different look, something less than perfect.

 

It’s a similar process to a snake shedding its skin, mammals losing hair, or insects outgrowing their exoskeleton.

 

As one feather comes out, a new one grows in.  Birds usually lose a few feathers at a time so they can still fly, but this is not always the case.  It is cyclical and variable, depending on the species and other factors.  To read more about molting click here.

 

As a good example, the bird photographed here is the same species (western bluebird) in the same area (Pierce Point) in the same park (Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif.) at different times of the year.  You can see how different they look.

Western Bluebird, late August, molting, Pt. Reyes, CA

Bluebird, late August, molting, Calif.

 

Two of my blogging friends recently published informative posts and photos about molting too: Avian 101 and Birder’s Journey.

 

On my morning walks at this time of year I almost always find at least one feather on the ground.  I used to collect them, but then I just had a jar full of fading feathers.  Now I leave most of them on the ground and see them on the next walk, or I bring in the really pretty ones and enjoy them for a week or so.

 

Western bluebird, late August, molting, Pt. Reyes, CA

Bluebird, late August, molting, Calif.

I have a handsome feather next to my desk right now, I found it a few weeks ago.  I think it’s from an acorn woodpecker, because he or she frequents the area where I found it.  The top half is black, the bottom half is white.

 

It reminds me that the nature of life is ever-changing.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander