Birds and nests and eggs, oh my

One of the first things we noticed when we moved to Pokeberry Pines was the abundance of birds in and around the homestead. Bluebirds were already nesting in the bluebird nest box out front and Carolina wrens, Eastern phoebes, brown-headed nuthatches, and titmice were all actively courting, mating, and nesting within weeks of our arrival.

The bluebirds were most noticeable because the male bird continuously landed on our windows and pecked at his own reflection hour after after when eggs and young were in the nest. He even became our morning alarm clock for awhile, as he would consistently land on our bedroom window and peck away at 6 AM each day.

Male eastern bluebird

We delighted in watching these birds flit around the property, feeding and singing. They are such a brilliant shade of blue and seeing one in full color under a sunny sky simply takes your breath away. Eventually, I got curious enough to peek into the nest box once a week or so to see if I could catch the young hatching. I only visited in the middle of the day on good weather days, so as not to disturb the morning or evening routines or scare the adults off the nest for the night or during a cooling rain. I missed the first fledging, but was able to get a glimpse of the second brood.

The second clutch of bluebird eggs in our front yard nest box

The young hatchlings were very quiet at first. The first time I opened the box to view them, one opened its mouth wide, ready to take whatever mom or dad had to offer. But none of them made a sound. Their eyes were still closed and their feathers all downy soft.

Young bluebird hatchlings

The first brood spent several weeks being fed by their parents and then one day I saw a young one running around under the yaupon bushes near our front sidewalk. After that, the nest box was empty, and they were off to become young adults on their own. I’m confident this second brood will be just as successful.

Prior to the second brood of bluebirds, a pair of Eastern phoebes began building a nest under the eaves of our front porch. What a great spot for them – out of the rain and protected from predators. Phoebes are flycatchers, and we had spent many a day watching them perch on limbs, waiting for a wasp or butterfly or moth or midge to fly near. Then they would swoop down in a loop pattern, capture the flying insect, and return to their perch to eat. Often that perch was the top of our hummingbird feeder stand right near our front porch – a convenient place near their nest site.

By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren – Eastern Phoebe, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63976002

Their nest is built solely by the female bird, while the male accompanies her. She brings mud, moss, and leaves mixed with grass stems – all plentiful at Pokeberry Pines!

Eastern phoebe nest under our porch eaves

Soon, momma phoebe laid three pretty little eggs in the nest. They were mostly ivory colored with a few speckles on them.

Phoebe eggs in nest

A week or so later, I noticed a fourth egg in the nest, with a few more speckles than the first three. I wondered if it was another Phoebe egg or if another bird (such as a cowbird, known for laying eggs in other birds’ nests and letting them do all the work of raising their young!) had lain the extra egg. It was about the same size as the others, so I wasn’t sure.

Once the eggs were laid, the Phoebes spent much of the day and all night near the porch or on the nest, tending to the eggs. In deference to their safety and the well-being of the young, we didn’t sit out on the porch or spend time out there for the next two weeks. We were particularly careful not to go out the front door and scare mom off the nest near dusk, at night, or during a rainstorm.

Fifteen days later, the eggs hatched and what looked like three very tiny, very helpless, very fuzzy and gray nestlings snuggled together in the nest.

Newly hatched Eastern phoebe nestlings

Like the newly hatched bluebirds, these nestlings were quiet, too. We rarely heard a peep from them, and within two weeks they had all disappeared – we presume fledged and gone on their way – though I never saw the young hopping about being fed like the bluebirds before them. What was left in the nest was that fourth egg – never hatched and now abandoned.

One of the four eggs, not hatched

We’ve since removed the nest and are back to enjoying morning tea and coffee on the front porch as we watch the Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, titmice, nuthatches, chipping sparrows, mourning doves and others flitting about in the trees and enjoying the seed in the feeders.

Lately, they’ve also been enjoying eating wild black cherries from the cherry tree at the edge of the woods outside our front door. We have watched the birds flit among the tree plucking cherries, and have also found cherry pits everywhere – on the porch, in the walkway, among the grass, and even in a plastic bowl I left near the outdoor sink in the back yard. It appears this is a popular treat for the birds and a successful dispersal method for the cherry tree seeds!

These are the kinds of connections I need to pay attention to as we continue to nurture a sustainable ecosystem here at Pokeberry Pines. We’re living among, observing, and learning from nature – every single day!

Next post: a crazy mimic and its connection to the Phoebes…

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