Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Week of the Disappearing Eggs

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Five bluebirds hatched recently. There were no new fledgings or eggs laid in the past week.
Gorgeous tall grass prairie in bloom,
site of Gilbertson nest box occupied by bluebirds
Unfortunately, there has been a reduction in the number of bluebird eggs on the trail. Four bluebird eggs disappeared without a trace from one box—the nest inside was completely undisturbed and clean. It could be the work of house wrens, though the box is not located near a brushy area (typical house wren habitat).

There are still eight bluebird eggs in two other boxes.

The last tree swallow nest filled with feathers turned out to be empty—no eggs, no birds, no mess—used tree swallow nests end up very messy by the time the young birds fledge. There definitely were eggs in there earlier, but they never hatched—this nest was pristinely clean. The phantom yellow beak in the photograph from two weeks ago must have been the thick blade of yellow grass I discovered when I removed the empty nest. What happened? Perhaps house wrens removed these eggs, too.

Eight boxes are now unoccupied.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Record Numbers on Como Park Bluebird Trail!

Four new bluebird eggs
Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Three more bluebirds fledged in the past week (19 total) and there are now 17 bluebird eggs in four nest boxes. If all goes well, this year’s totals could be the second highest in the six years the trail has existed. Sadly, I found two young bluebirds dead of unknown cause in the box where the other three fledged.

I did not open the last tree swallow box since the young birds may be too near to fledging.

There are now five empty boxes. Two had small amounts of nesting materials probably belonging to house sparrows, which I removed. Another had a pair of bluebirds defending it, who will hopefully soon build another nest inside. The last box has an empty bluebird nest in it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bluebirds Begin Second Round of Nesting!

5 new bluebird eggs
Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

In the past week nine more bluebirds fledged (16 total so far this year). There are five bluebirds who will likely fledge in the next week, and a new nest with five blue eggs (the first eggs of “Nesting Round 2”). The bluebird nest that contained a cowbird egg (and no bluebird eggs) was empty this week—no egg at all!

Tree swallow nest,
note the yellow beak on the right
At least four and up to seven tree swallows fledged in the past week. The remaining active tree swallow nest, the one I was unable to see into last week, was still very difficult to see into this week. My camera captured what appears to be a yellow beak, and the box felt warm inside, so I am sure there is life in there, but I don’t know how many birds. Could be up to five.

Six boxes are now empty and ready for new nests. One formerly empty box had a small amount of nesting material inside that may belong to a house sparrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: June 25th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Seven bluebirds and one chickadee fledged in the past week. Two boxes are now empty and another has what may be a new bluebird nest on top of the old one. The bluebird nest with the cowbird egg in it remains the same—no bluebird eggs have been laid, so perhaps the bluebirds got wise to the intruder and went elsewhere. If there is no change in the cowbird egg by next week, I will remove it and the nest.

In four other boxes there are 14 more bluebirds. I did not open three of the boxes since the young birds are too near to fledging.

The remaining three boxes have tree swallows in them. Two, I did not open, but as I passed I could see two tree swallow heads poking out in one, and another in the second. I could not see into the third box for all the feathers. There were no parents defending the nest, and as far as I can tell, the mother was not camouflaged inside. Perhaps next week will provide a clearer view. If not, a little probing may be in order. (This is the box that was being vandalized two weeks ago.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Nasty Neonicotinoids: Problematic for Pollinators

Post contributed by Mary, crew member of Youth Outdoors Crew 2:


This week is national pollinator week! It was created to celebrate and support pollinating animals, which include bees, butterflies, bats, beetles, flies, birds, small mammals and more.  Pollinators are essential members of every ecosystem and help 90% of flowering plants reproduce including a third of crops worldwide. With increased chemical use, pathogens, and disappearing habitat and food sources, pollinator populations have been in decline and they need our help.
You can celebrate pollinator week by planting native flowering plants in your gardens and choosing not to use pesticides that are harmful to the bees and butterflies. Neonicotinoids are a widely used family of insecticides, most commonly applied to ornamental plants in urban gardens to target aphids and beetles.  They are systemic in plants so when they are added to the soil, the plant takes it up as it grows and it is incorporated into the leaves, flowers, pollen, and nectar. Thus, if it is used in a nursery and then transported to your garden, the insecticide will still be active in the plant and can even enter neighboring plants or plants grown the next season. Neonicotinoids affect the nervous system and attack connections in the brain, which can lead to problems with navigation, flying, ability to learn new tasks, and general foraging ability.  Bees are especially vulnerable to neonicotinoids because they have more of the targeted receptors and more memory and learning genes than other insects. It has also been found that exposure to neonicotinoids may make bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens. Making sure you purchase plants from nurseries that do not use neonicotinoids is incredibly important for the health of bees and ecosystems in general.

The European Union has suspended the use of certain neonicotinoids for a period of two years due to the effects they are having on bees. The EPA is re-evaluating the use of neonicotinoids through registration review, but has made no new restrictions yet.
To learn more:

http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Are-Neonicotinoids-Killing-Bees_Xerces-Society1.pdf

http://bees.pan-uk.org/home

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Nestlings Galore!

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:
 
Tree swallow nest with 5 eggs
All eleven nest boxes are in use this week. A new bluebird nest was made in the past week in the empty box, for a total of seven boxes occupied by bluebirds. However, in that new nest is one speckled cowbird egg.

There are 21 bluebirds of all ages in six other boxes. I did not open two of those boxes, because the nestlings are old enough that opening the box might startle them into fledging too soon.

I also did not open the nest box with the chickadee inside for the same reason.


Four over-a-week old bluebirds
Three other boxes contain eight tree swallows over a week old, and five tree swallow eggs (in the box that was under attack last week; they appear unharmed, and the mother swallow flew out as I approached). One of the tree swallow nests had previously been stuck to the nest box door, so I’ve opened it very, very carefully each week. This week, I barely opened it a sliver, and saw two tree swallow nestlings, their beaks against the door, ready to tumble out if I opened it any wider.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Disturbance on the Bluebird Trail

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Four recently hatched bluebirds, one in mid-gape
Many more bluebirds hatched in the past week. In six boxes, there are a total of 16 young bluebirds (seven, a week old or older, and nine, under a week old). Seven blue eggs have yet to hatch. Parent bluebirds are busy finding insects to feed their growing youngsters.
 
The cowbird in the chickadee nest fledged and is likely out pestering its parent chickadees for food. Left in the nest is one chickadee, maybe a week old, one unviable chickadee egg, and one unviable cowbird egg. The other five chickadee eggs disappeared. Hopefully, the parent birds will be able to feed both their hungry cowbird fledgling and chickadee nestling.

One box remains empty.

The other three boxes are occupied by tree swallows and contain eight young tree swallows and three tree swallow eggs.

At the end of the trail, at the tree swallow nest box nearest the Como Visitor Center entrance, I witnessed a very disturbing scene. Several poorly-supervised young boys were gathered around the nest box and jerking its post back and forth. They were part of a very large group of preschool- to kindergarten-aged children picnicking on the grass. I told them to stop and explained why, but I’m afraid it fell upon deaf ears as they then moved on to terrorize a young chipmunk in a nearby tree. The chipmunk was nearly stomped to death by a toddler as it ran for cover to a wooded area nearby. All the while, the mother bird was inside, nestled on her three eggs, braving the storm and commotion, protecting her offspring.


Two bluebirds, over a week old