Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bluebirds of Summer

My initial post is placed as a tribute to Dr. Leslie Wolf, the former lab director of the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health.  Dr. Wolf is a very kind and gentle person and was a passionate and hardworking champion in the protection of the health of all of North Carolina citizens through the end of June 2012.  She is much loved and we miss her.  It is Dr. Wolf who inspired me to more fully document the development of these amazing chicks.  May her life in Kentucky be brightened by many generations of Eastern Bluebirds who share so many of her characteristics.

From late May through July of 2012 a pair of Eastern Bluebirds built a nest, laid four eggs, and raised four baby bluebirds to fledging.  
This is their story.
After beginning their second nest of the year on May 24, 2012 the mother bird began laying one egg a day in the completed nest starting on May 31st.  This is her nest on the morning of June 3rd after laying her fourth egg.  This is a new box purchased from NCSECU and is quite sturdy.

On Saturday June 16th the first two of the four eggs hatched.  Notice the very small tufts of feathers on the back of their heads, in the middle of their backs, and somewhere along their wings.

The third and fourth eggs hatched the next day, Sunday June 17th.  It is difficult to see all four chicks in this photograph.  They wiggled like fat little worms, arching their backs as they tumbled around in the nest.
At one and two days old all four chicks can be seen.  The wet feathers from day one have dried and are quite fuzzy.
June 18th, 2012
At three and four days old the four chicks are snoozing comfortably in the cool of the morning.
June 20, 2012

Another photo from June 20, 2012.  On the chick at the upper left, notice the little slit behind the eye where the ear canal will soon open

Pin feathers for the primary and secondary feathers are forming along the wings at four and five days old.
June 21, 2012
At five and six days old, the chicks are growing, but much of their bodies remain bare.
June 22, 2012
This is another photograph from five or six days old. Notice the open ear canal on the chick at the lower right.  June 22, 2012
One chick is ready for a morning feeding and then a second one joins in with an eye open (see below) at six and seven days old.
June 23, 2012
June 23, 2012
Pin feather sheaths continue to lengthen at seven and eight days old.
June 24, 2012
Notice the dark blue at the tips of the pin feathers in this chick. I suspect this is a little male bluebird.  His ear canal is also evident.  This is at seven and eight days old.
June 24, 2012
This morning I got "brave" and took a chick out of the nest box at eight or nine days old.  This needs to be done carefully and should not be done when the chicks are within a few days of fledging as they may leave the nest too early. I have read that 12 days old is the limit.
June 25, 2012
The male Bluebird has done the majority of feeding.  He sits here in the deeply furrowed Sassafras tree that grows about 15-20 feet directly in front of the nesting box.  On a number of occasions one or more white-breasted nuthatches would land in this tree while the Bluebird pair were perched there, but they were usually checking the furrows of the bark for some tasty treat of their own.  Two young house finches came and perched one day and just sat and watched the male Bluebird gather meal-worms and fly them to the box.  They seemed mostly curious.  Another day a Mockingbird landed between the pair of Bluebirds.  When the male Bluebird flew down to gather meal-worms, the female Bluebird would fly from her perch in the Sassafras across in front of the Mockingbird to where the male Bluebird had been perched.  She would switch back when the male Bluebird finished feeding the young in the nest box.  After several repetitions of this activity, the Mockingbird flew to a nearby Coral Honeysuckle vine and began gobbling honeysuckle berries.
Feathers are filling in on chicks' heads and eyes seem to be open more often.  The baby Bluebirds are nine and ten days old. Notice the patches of "white wash" on the sides of the nest box. I have seen the male fly from the box (after bring food) with the white membrane encased fecal sac which he drops to the ground some distance away from the nest.  By the time the little ones fledge you will see how he was having a harder time keeping up with their output.  
June 26, 2012

With the wing extended you can see some of the patches of pin feathers that are developing along the chest and neck.  This is again nine and ten days old.
June 26, 2012
A quick trip out of the nest at nine or ten days old on
June 26, 2012
And a little bit of wing stretching before returning to the siblings.  Notice how long the primary pin feathers are getting on the distal end of the wing.  Again nine or ten days old.  June 26, 2012
Back in the nest you can see their back feathers are filling in and their short pin feathered tails are forming at nine and ten days old.  June 26, 2012
Some of the pin feather sheaths seem to be opening up to expose the actual primary feathers at ten and eleven days old.  June 27, 2012
Less and less bare skin is exposed at ten and eleven days old.  June 27, 2012
At ten or eleven days old this is the last time I had a baby out of the nest box and just for a quick picture.  Notice that the beak can open all the way back under the chick's eye.  There are still alot of baby fuzzy feathers on top of the head.
 June 27, 2012

This is the male Bluebird gathering mealworms left on the driveway to supplement feeding.  The male did perhaps 80% of the feeding during the time that I was watching.  The female was shy and rarely came for mealworms.  Often she sat in the twenty-five foot Sassafras tree near the nesting box and called.  I am not sure if she was acting as a lookout for the male or if she was calling to her young.  She disappeared the night of July 1st after three consecutive days of 105 degree F mid-day temperatures and just three days before the young fledged.

Six minutes after the baby Bluebird is back in the nest, the dad has a beak full of meal-worms and is at the entrance to the box.  June 27, 2012
The young Bluebirds are growing quickly at eleven and twelve days old.  More and more frequently they have their eyes open when I check the nest.  June 28, 2012
At eleven and twelve days old the little Bluebirds seem more and more fully feathered.  June 28, 2012
At twelve and thirteen days old the pin feather sheaths appear mostly gone.  This appears to be a male chick with the dark blue color in his primary feathers.  June 29, 2012
At 7:30am it is already in the mid-80s.  Today will be a challenge for these twelve and thirteen day olds as the afternoon temperatures will reach 105 degrees F.
June 29, 2012
Friday through Sunday (June 29th through July 1st) brought temperatures of 105 degrees F.  I read that the temperatures inside the nest box could be 4 degrees higher  than outside temperatures and that 107 degrees F could be lethal for eggs and chicks in their first week after hatching.  For three days Peggy and I rotated two frozen solid cold packs on the top and south side of the nest box every one and a half to two hours from noon until 6:30pm to reduce the temperatures inside.
Necessity is the mother of invention?
Saturday morning the little guys are preparing for day two of the heat wave.  As thirteen and fourteen day-olds they have gotten through one day of 105 degree F temperatures with the help of cold packs.  June 30, 2012
Notice a small patch of orange color on the upper breast of the young Bluebird nearest the camera.  They are thirteen and fourteen days old.  June 30, 2012
At 2:46 in the afternoon one chick has her beak slightly gaped.  Notice the difference in wing feather color between the young bird on the left and the right.  The birds are thirteen and fourteen days old.  June 30, 2012
Our son added a small children's umbrella with bungy cords to add further protection from the sun.
At 7:17am the young birds are preparing for day three of high temperatures.  They are fourteen and fifteen days old.  July 1, 2012
Their cold packs are in place early today.  July 1, 2012
Notice a couple fecal sacs attached to the right side of the nest box.  July 1, 2012
If we can get through 12 more hours, the worst of the heat will be behind us.  July 1, 2012
Wow, these are beautiful bird creatures.  They have been through alot in their fourteen or fifteen days.  This is at 1:44 in the afternoon after three days of temperatures of 105 degrees F.  July 1, 2012
This is the male Bluebird with several meal-worms in his beak.  I rarely see him eat as he seems most intent on feeding his young.
The young birds have gotten through the heat wave.  Their feathers are more and more filled in at fifteen and sixteen days.  And their nest is beginning to get a little sodden.  July 2, 2012

This is the male Bluebird gathering mealworms left on the driveway to supplement feeding.  The male did perhaps 80% of the feeding during the time that I was watching.  The female was shy and rarely came for mealworms.  Often she sat in the twenty-five foot Sassafras tree near the nesting box and called.  I am not sure if she was acting as a lookout for the male or if she was calling to her young.  She disappeared the night of July 1st just three days before the young fledged.  I do not know if her disappearance was due to the heat or to a predator or if she met with an accident.

The young birds are fifteen and sixteen days old.  It won't be too long until they are ready to fly. July 2, 2012
A beautiful head-full of feathers on a fifteen or sixteen day old young Bluebird.  July 2, 2012

Sixteen and seventeen days old and soon ready to be stepping out.  July 3, 2012

Sixteen and seventeen days old and ready to test wings.  July 3, 2012

It is getting crowded for four sixteen and seventeen day old young Bluebirds. Notice how the tail has filled out and lengthened.   July 3, 2012

We're so big we're falling out of the box!  At seventeen and eighteen days old the young birds will be flying today.  July 4, 2012 Independence Day!

Four very ready young Bluebirds at seventeen and eighteen days old.  July 4, 2012

One last peek in the box.  July 4, 2012

Dad's outside in the Sassafras tree waiting for us.  It's time to go!  July 4, 2012

There is still food on the "table" but we are ready to go!  After all we are seventeen and eighteen days old....the most prevalent age for fledging.  July 4, 2012

An hour after the young Bluebirds have flown from the nest, this is what remains.  At the lower left of the nest is a wood roach.  Much of the other remains are various parts and some whole cicadas that have recently been singing in the white oaks.  I don't know if these treats were too big for the young birds to eat or if they just fell under their bodies and weren't retrieved.  The male bird did an excellent job of caring for these four by himself for three days.

This was too long for a first post, but it has been so enjoyable filling out this timeline.  In the days that followed, I bought 5000 meal-worms and began to sit out in the driveway each morning for 30 minutes before leaving for work and for 30 minutes in the evening as I arrived home from work.  I observed, but was not able to photograph, the male Bluebird come for 60-80 meal-worms I put out on the driveway each "session".  He has secreted his young in the tops of two or three 100 foot white oaks.  He ferries 6 to 8 meal-worms at a time high up into the trees. I have watched him make flights of up to three "stages" to get to his offspring. Once he has off-loaded the meal-worms, he makes a headlong dive spreading his wings to brake his speed on the way down to within 15 feet of the driveway.  Then he drops straight to the ground a few feet from the meal-worms and hops sideways (watching me as he does) up to the meal-worms.  On the evening of July 13th I saw the male land on a large oak limb about 70 feet above the ground where he was flocked immediately by four young Bluebirds.  What a treat to see these 26 and 27 day old birds flying to their dad for food.  The next day one of his young who had been "shadowing" the male for a couple days, twice nervously landed and snatched a meal-worm on his own.  It is my hope to see more of the young birds visit the driveway with their dad in the days ahead.

I welcome any comments or experiences with Bluebirds that you have to share.