New bird generations emerge in my yard!

This spring and summer, I’ve had the pleasure of watching various species of birds in my yard care for new offspring until they have fledged (left the nest). My most recent observations came today as I watched three hatchlings jump bravely into their wide new world. This blog will introduce you to some of my new neighbors; two blogs to follow will go back in time to spring and early summer to describe some nesting I witnessed in local parks and reserves.

gray catbird IMG_3888© Maria de BruynA dense privet tree next to my carport offered a pair of gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) space to construct a well-hidden nest. I discovered it was there because the parents suddenly began yelling at me loudly whenever I left the carport to walk into the yard and then a bird bander who was visiting managed to locate the nest, which was about 8 feet up so I couldn’t see the eggs in it.

I kept an eye on the shrub and saw the parents were flying in with insects and emerging empty-beaked, so I knew the eggs had hatched. One day, I ventured close and peered through the privet branches and saw a couple little heads sticking up above the nest.

gray catbird IMG_3933© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird IMG_3903© Maria de Bruyn res

A short time later, the baby birds hopped out of the nest and they stayed in the large shrub for several days as their parents continued bringing them a variety of insects.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, the parents were good providers, sometimes bringing more than one type of insect home in their beaks.

gray catbird DK7A2939© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird DK7A2937© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird IMG_3881© Maria de Bruyn resA pair of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) laid five eggs in a nest box in my front yard and I was able to record when all the eggs had been laid. Information provided online about time to hatching (12 to 14 days) alerted me as to when I might see newborns.  Only four of the five eggs hatched; the fifth one was broken. I also checked how long it takes for hatchlings to develop until they leave the nest – that can take 16-21 days but usually 17-18 days.

Eastern bluebird DK7A3842© Maria de Bruyn res


The bluebird parents were diligent about bringing food, mostly caterpillars and insects but supplemented by wild raspberries and dried meal worms that I had made available. It turned out this brood wasn’t too interested in the meal worms; I found a layer of them in the nest when the babies fledged.


Eastern bluebird DK7A3411© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A8706© Maria de Bruyn res


Eastern bluebird DK7A3210© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A8685© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A3137© Maria de Bruyn RESClose to fledging, the parents began showing protective behavior – chasing squirrels out of the large tree in front of the nest box, flying at other birds that came too close, keeping an eye on me as I sat near the box. Mama and papa removed fecal sacs frequently, flying off with them to a considerable distance from the nest. Only once did I see a parent actually swallow the fecal sac.


Eastern bluebird DK7A3081© Maria de Bruyn resMama investigated something odd at the edge of the box one day, flying down to look closely at the gap between the box wall and door. When I looked, I didn’t see anything. She also would occasionally hover in front of the nest box opening, as if she was demonstrating to the babies what they had to do.

Eastern bluebird DK7A3149© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern bluebird DK7A3174© Maria de Bruyn res

I was lucky enough to see all four babies leave the nest. Two of them were definitely stronger than the other two, who couldn’t fly as well and who didn’t seem to have feathers that were so well developed. When I moved close to take photos, the cautious parents dive-bombed me and the young eventually moved across the street. I never saw the young ones at my feeders.

Eastern bluebird DK7A4306© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A4281© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A4489© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern bluebird DK7A4386© Maria de Bruyn res

These past few weeks, some bluebirds raised a second brood in my backyard. This nest had some history. First, three eggs were laid, with a pair of bluebirds visiting the nest occasionally. Unfortunately, one day I saw a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) swoop in and it looked like the raptor had caught one of the bluebirds. In any event, the eggs were abandoned. After a few weeks, I had just decided to clean out the nest with eggs when I suddenly saw another pair of bluebirds building a new nest on top of the old one. They, Eastern bluebird DK7A7145© Maria de Bruyn restoo, laid three eggs.

Using the guidance given to me by the Smithsonian Institute’s Backyard Nestwatch Project, I checked the box every three days until the eggs hatched and then every two days to check on the nestlings’ well-being.

I was surprised that the mother was not sitting on the eggs much of the time, but the local Audubon chapter president told me that when the weather is very hot, the parent will not brood because it could become too warm inside the box.

The parents were quite diligent in bringing food to the hungry babies. They occasionally visited my mealworm and suet feeders but mostly just to feed themselves. They appeared to be feeding their babies an exclusive diet of caterpillars and insects and a little bit of suet – no mealworms though.

Eastern bluebird DK7A7038© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A8265© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A8265© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern bluebird DK7A8041© Maria de Bruyn res

They were busy removing fecal sacs as well and I discovered that the baby birds actually present the sac to the parent by sticking up their behinds so the parent can pull out the sac. That made for a couple unusual photos!

Eastern bluebird DK7A8089© Maria de BruynEastern bluebird DK7A8106© Maria de Bruyn res


Eastern bluebird DK7A8351© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A8316© Maria de Bruyn resI had calculated that today or tomorrow would likely be fledging day so after a doctor’s appointment and grocery shopping, I settled into a canopy chair to observe the box. The parents were very busy bringing food but also taking time to sit in the crepe myrtle tree across from the box to call to their little ones. The nestlings were now sticking their heads out of the box so I figured that fledging was imminent.

As I watched the parents and nestlings for an hour, I also looked around at the other bird activity in the yard. Suddenly, I saw an immature red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) take interest in the nestlings and it swooped over to the box. I feared for the little ones but one of the parents descended on the larger bird to drive it away from their temporary home.

red-bellied woodpecker DK7A8468© Maria de Bruyn resred-bellied woodpecker DK7A8472© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A8532© Maria de BruynAfter a while, I thought bird No. 1 was going to jump but at the last minute s/he crawled back inside. I was occasionally turning my head to observe other birds at feeders and just as I turned my head again, action erupted.

Eastern bluebird DK7A8660© Maria de Bruyn resI was warned because the bluebird parents swooped down from the crepe myrtle tree to fly straight at my head under the canopy of my chair – they were not taking any chances! It turned out that bird No. 1 had flown by me and landed on the side of my screened-in porch, which was where I had been looking.

Eastern bluebird DK7A8714© Maria de BruynEastern bluebird DK7A8715© Maria de Bruyn res

The parents continued to fly at me, perhaps 6 or 7 times coming very close to my face, so I went on the porch so that they could calm down. Then they began chasing other birds as their young one had flown from the porch to a tree. While they were occupied, I went back to the chair and was able to see babies 2 and 3 jump from the nest box.

Eastern bluebird DK7A8864© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A8865© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A9056© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A9058© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A9059© Maria de Bruyn res

It was a partly cloudy, partly sunny morning for the fledging today and then a few hours after the bluebird young flew, the rain began. There has only been a little thunder and no lightning so perhaps this will just be a nice steady rain that we can use and not severe weather. I do feel a little sorry for the new members of our local bluebird society, however, as they have to face getting sodden on their first day outdoors. The parents are visiting the mealworm feeder now; I hope I get to see the babies at my feeders the coming days. In any event, they made my morning very enjoyable indeed and I have a third nesting report to add to Backyard Nestwatch!


P.S. I have higher-resolution photos for sale as prints or photo cards; let me know if you ever want a particular one!


The squatter family: those cute – and seemingly precocious – little Carolina chickadees!

Carolina chickadee IMG_3138©Maria de BruynresI have two bird boxes in my yard designed to attract brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla). While I do have these birds at my feeders, they have not deigned to create nests in the boxes; one is still empty and the other was occupied by a family of squatters – darling little Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis). I don’t know if this pair had had kids together before, but sometimes these birds retain their bonds for several years.

In addition to the nuthatch boxes, I have five bluebird boxes and cCarolina chickadee eggs IMG_4429©Maria de Bruynhickadees had begun nests in two others. It is not uncommon for them to begin a couple nests and then finally settle on one. On 12 April, I discovered that Mom had laid five white with brown-specked eggs in a nice soft nest made of moss, soft grasses and some down, even using a bit of pillow stuffing I had left out for interested nest-builders.

Ten days later, 22 April, I opened the box to see if everything was ok and surprised her sitting on the nest. (I had tapped on the box beforehand in case she would want to leave for a bit; didn’t happen!) She gazed at me in alarm and then began dipping her head and beating her wings against the nest; this is called a snake display to warn off predators.

Carolina chickadee IMG_4623©Maria de BruynCarolina chickadee IMG_4624©Maria de Bruynres

Carolina chickadee nestlings IMG_4680©Maria de BruynresTwo days later, I opened the box and discovered the eggs had hatched – I think she had been brooding them two days earlier since the babies didn’t seem quite as naked as I expected. That would mean they hatched after only about 10 days (and the average seems to be 12-15 days of incubation according to websites).

Both parents take on feeding their offspring. In warmer weather, they search for insects among foliage and under tree bark, sometimes hanging upside down to get a meal. This pair also visited the nearby feeders, obviously intent on teaching their young that suet, dried meal worms and seeds are also good to eat.

carolina chickadee IMG_6507©Maria de BruynCarolina chickadee IMG_3021©Maria de Bruyncarolina chickadee IMG_6378©Maria de Bruyn

Carolina chickadee IMG_3129©Maria de Bruyncarolina chickadee IMG_6702©Maria de Bruyn

Like the nuthatches and robins, the parents were also fastidious about cleaning the nest; and these almost full-grown young seemed to be pooping a lot!

Carolina chickadee IMG_6420©Maria de BruynCarolina chickadee IMG_6430©Maria de Bruynrescarolina chickadee IMG_6380©Maria de Bruyn
The young usually fledge about 16-19 days after hatching. If these birdlets had hatched on 22 April, I figured they would be ready to leave the nest around 7 May. Despite being sick with an infection that was keeping me mostly supine, I couldn’t let the opportunity for observation go by. So on the 5th of May, I roused myself for a sit-down in the yard in the early afternoon. I first waited until the parents had both left and carefully lifted the bird box door to see a bright-eyed, pretty much full-grown chick staring at me. S/he scooted back and it looked like there were only two others – so the other two siblings had already fledged. This did seem to be a very precocious family!

Carolina chickadee nestling IMG_4820©Maria de BruynresCarolina chickadee nestling IMG_4824©Maria de Bruynres

Carolina chickadee IMG_6407©Maria de BruynThis might be one of the chicks that fledged earlier. When a fledgling is begging for food, it quivers its wings rapidly. Females also do this before the young leave the nest when they want the male to feed them.

Because I was feeling fairly ill, I had to stop watching the parents go to and fro after a couple hours. On 6 May, I ventured outside in the early afternoon, hoping against hope that I might just be lucky enough to see the last chicks fledge. And I did!

Each chickcarolina chickadee IMG_6817©Maria de Bruyn spent time looking out of the box before venturing out. One took a flying leap and swerved up into a tree.




No. 2 spent some time calling (the parents were still coming in regularly with meals!), then launched itself and landed on some nearby branches.

carolina chickadee IMG_6810©Maria de Bruyncarolina chickadee IMG_6831©Maria de Bruyn

No. 3 spent time flexing its wings before venturing forth.

carolina chickadee IMG_6894©Maria de Bruyncarolina chickadee IMG_6939©Maria de Bruyn
I did check the box to be sure they were all out and then watched as the parents called to them as they flitted about the various trees behind the nest box. If I’d felt better, I would have stayed to observe a bit longer but I was pretty satisfied with having seen the fledging!.

carolina chickadee IMG_6951©Maria de Bruynres

The next morning, a pair of Carolina wrens was already bringing in twigs and placing them atop the chicarolina chickadee IMG_7357©Maria de Bruynresckadees’ nest (after removing some remaining fecal matter). One chickadee ventured back to peer into the box but the wren pair loudly chased the original owner away.




All in all, some very cool days, with some mental delight balancing out the physical distress for me.

If you liked this blog, please let me know by liking or leaving a comment here on the blog page. Thanks!

And for those who want more details on chickadees’ lives, see: