Leaping into the wide – and sometimes wet – world!

Eastern bluebird IMG_2991© Maria de Bruyn resEarlier this past week, I calculated that the Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) babies in my front-yard nest box were close to fledging. I knew approximately when mom had finished laying her eggs (four in total), so that I could guess when they reached normal fledging age (16-18 days after hatching). When I looked at the nest on 10 June, I saw that there were only three babies; I have no clue what happened to egg No. 4.  But the three survivors were progressing well as mom and dad made frequent forays to gather caterpillars and insects for them.

Eastern bluebird IMG_2819© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern bluebird I77A5733© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A8417© Maria de Bruyn

Occasionally, the male and also the female bluebird, identifiable by her subtler coloring and her brood patch, would visit the suet and meal worm feeders for a fast food repast for themselves. It was hard work keeping their growing offspring fed!

Eastern bluebird I77A6411 © Maria de Bruyn         Eastern bluebird I77A5769© Maria de Bruyn

They also had to let one of their older offspring from a previous brood know that they were no longer going to feed him, even when he begged.

Eastern bluebird IMG_1509© Maria de Bruyn res

As fledging time neared, mom and dad had to contend with other birds coming near the box. Dad was especially angry with a young starling (Sturnus vulgaris) who wanted to settle on top of the box. Starlings have been known to eat young birds and papa bluebird was obviously taking no chances! (I just caught the action out of the corner of my eye so the photos aren’t great but do give an idea of the argument!). The parents also chased away squirrels from the tree in front of the box, which alerted me to the fact that fledging was probably imminent since the parents become especially protective at this time. I started using a smaller camera with a very long zoom (but somewhat lesser photo quality) as they weren’t excited by me being too close either.

Eastern bluebird IMG_3841© Maria de Bruyn res     Eastern bluebird IMG_3840© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird IMG_4618© Maria de Bruyn res

On Wednesday, I checked the box before going out for the morning and there were still three babies there. When I came home a few hours later, mama and papa were sitting on branches, with or without food, calling to their little ones to come on out. They would also fly to the box for a quick look inside.

Eastern bluebird I77A7702© Maria de Bruyn res           Eastern bluebird I77A7729 © Maria de Bruyn res

Mama also repeated behavior I had seen last year – flying to the box, standing on top and then hovering in front of the hole as a form of encouragement.  When she and dad left, I approached to take a look and discovered bluebird baby No. 1 had already flown away. This meant that the parents had to watch the first baby out in the trees somewhere, as well as their two lagging offspring in the box.

Eastern bluebird I77A8584© Maria de Bruyn res        Eastern bluebird I77A8791© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A8592© Maria de BruynAt one point, mother bluebird seemed a bit fed up – she flew over to the box (without food) and finally entered, staying inside for a good 60-90 seconds at least. I imagined her giving the babies a lecture about how they had to be courageous and willing to jump.

Her admonishments seemed to have had an effect; the babies began calling loudly from inside their birth home. Finally, after about 30 minutes, one poked its head out to take a look at the big wide world. Mom and dad seemed glad, waiting together in the tree to see how long it would take baby No. 2 to join them.

Eastern bluebird I77A8685© Maria de Bruyn    Eastern bluebird I77A8648© Maria de Bruyn

The baby looked around a lot, also staring at me; s/he went back inside and then looked out a few more times, finally taking the great leap into the outside world. Baby 2 was a very strong flier – not even alighting in the tree in front of the box but circling around to land high in a juniper and then in a tall oak tree behind the box.

Eastern bluebird I77A8746© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A8877© Maria de Bruyn res


Sibling No. 3 took a little while longer and mama bluebird again went to the box to give encouragement. The baby then spent a little more time observing the new environment and also made a strong flight out.

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Eastern bluebird I77A8861© Maria de Bruyn res  Eastern bluebird I77A8925© Maria de Bruyn

Eastern bluebird I77A8930© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern bluebird I77A8931© Maria de Bruyn     Eastern bluebird I77A8932© Maria de Bruyn res

It rained that night and I hoped that the bluebird babies were ok; between the thunderstorms and a neighbor’s cat who comes to hunt birds in my yard, their environment seemed precarious for their first days of life. In the afternoon, I was happy to see papa bluebird feeding one of the three babies at the top of an oak tree. Mama was also flying around up there, so I assumed they were all hanging out in the high branches.

Eastern bluebird IMG_4723© Maria de Bruyn        Eastern bluebird IMG_4777© Maria de Bruyn res

Thursday night, it rained heavily again for many hours; Friday was an easier day and night. I haven’t seen the fledglings again yet but have seen their parents coming for suet and meal worms and flying up to the oak tree, so I assume at least a couple are there. I look forward to seeing their speckled selves at the feeders along with their parents – and will be curious to see if their parents go for a third brood this year.

Eastern bluebird IMG_4779© Maria de Bruyn res


Russet-colored shorebird beauties – feminists among the waders!

ruddy turnstone IMG_8605©Maria de Bruyn resOne of my favorite shorebirds is the small sandpiper called a ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres). Their coloring is a mix of black, white and reddish colors, with adults being more brightly colored when mating and breeding.

These birds are very territorial during the breeding season; they recognize variations in plumage patterns and can identify individuals, which helps them chase away intruders into their territories. Pairs are monogamous when breeding and may mate for several years.

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ruddy turnstone IMG_8651©Maria de Bruyn resWhen they fly, a stunning pattern is revealed in their spread wings, with striking white patches and bars.

The name turnstone comes from the fact that the birds tend to turn over stones while foraging for insects, crustaceans, worms and mollusks. Several birds may cooperate to overturn larger rocks. This carnivorous diet is supplemented with moss, fruit and berries. Occasionally, the turnstones have also been seen to prey on the eggs of other birds but this behavior appears to be uncommon.

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They search for their food on rocky outcroppings, among stones, in sand and the ground, inserting their bills into the earth or flipping over seaweed to find meals hidden there.

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ruddy turnstone IMG_8782©Maria de BruynThese small birds breed in Northern arctic and tundra regions and then migrate South in the winter, quite often returning to the same wintering grounds each year. Their chicks leave the nest within hours after hatching and abandon the nest within a day. It is the males who take on the major childrearing tasks, guarding the territorial perimeters and warning the female when predators (owls, merlins, gulls, foxes) are near. They also show the young fledglings where to find food after the females have left to pursue other activities.

Outside breeding season and during winter migration, the birds are quite sociable. They have been seen preening and grooming for long periods.

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The populations of ruddy turnstones are fairly stable and they are not threatened at this time – good news for the bird lovers among us!