Eastern Bluebirds with Fledglings at Oxtongue Lake
Eastern Bluebirds with Fledglings at Oxtongue Lake
My dad had been trying for 15 years to woo a pair of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) to nest on his property at Oxtongue Lake in Ontario. Not since the year 2000 had he even seen Eastern Bluebirds in the area. You can imagine how excited he was when a pair showed up in May 2015 and demonstrated interest in one of his homemade nest boxes.
My dad, having been in poor health all winter, was housebound for months on end. What kept him going was the view of Oxtongue Lake from his front window, watching the daily activity at his bird feeders, anticipating nightly visits from the local Red Fox, and keeping a sharp eye on the various birdhouses around his property, all strategically placed for his viewing pleasure.
Every time I spoke to my dad on the telephone, he would relate the latest information about the pair of nesting Eastern Bluebirds. For close to two weeks, if his memory serves him correctly, the Bluebirds worked diligently to build an appropriate nest in the birdhouse. That sounds about right since a female Bluebird usually takes about 10 days to construct a suitable nest.
Then he related to me that the Eastern Bluebirds were extremely territorial. Dad got a chuckle anytime a chipmunk ventured too close to the pole supporting the birdhouse, or even if Blue Jays or other birds decided to use as a perch the Staghorn Sumac directly behind the wooden structure. It seemed that any and all birds that foraged in the grass on the front lawn were put the run on by the Bluebirds, and certainly one daring Red Squirrel was mobbed by both adult Bluebirds when it tried to ascend the pole. A baffler also helped to deter its progress.
By the time Bob and I finally were on site to partake in the excitement, the pair of Eastern Bluebirds obviously had laid a clutch of eggs because the female was seldom seen busy as she was incubating her future family. Bob and I were just as pleased to share my dad’s excitement about the pending hatch of the chicks as we were to see the male Bluebird come and go.
After coming home, I kept my fingers crossed that the Eastern Bluebirds would be able to fend off predators and successfully hatch their eggs. We were scheduled to return to Oxtongue Lake 2 weeks later. No sooner had we pulled into dad’s driveway did we see, as per my dad’s updates, the female…
and then the male Eastern Bluebird returning to the nest with larvae. They were kept hopping in their efforts to satisfy the hatchlings’ appetites.
For the duration of our 3-day visit, the adult Eastern Bluebirds provided a nonstop buffet for the growing babies. They were ever only away from the nest for short spells at a time so we were surprised when we went for a walk to see them foraging further afield than we initially thought.
Given the broad view from my parent’s sunroom, we observed that the pair of Bluebirds had their preferred perches around the property and just across the road. Almost always, the female used the Staghorn Sumac as a staging area before flying to the nest with food.
She would no sooner leave but what the male would enter the nest box and emerge with fecal sacs that seemed to increase in size as the days moved forward…lots of food, bigger babies, plentiful poop.
We had to go home again to check on my gardens and take care of business but a commitment in Huntsville exactly 2 weeks later had me once again holding out hope that the baby Bluebirds would not fledge before our return. The movement to provide larger pieces of food for the nestlings did not go unnoticed by Bob and me when once again we found ourselves at dad’s place.
Over the previous few days, both my mom and dad had watched the nest hole carefully, even using binoculars, and were jumping with joy at their first sight of at least a couple of baby birds. They were unable to ascertain exactly how many hatchlings were inside.
My mom reenacted the activity of one brave little nestling that kept peeking out of the entrance and daring to lean out a bit further each time.
The adult Eastern Bluebirds were almost run ragged trying to keep up with the voracious appetites of the eager nestlings.
Bob and I attempted to get a different angle on the birdhouse by standing inside the gate trellis, and even though the adult Bluebirds were very aware of our presence, it did not infringe on their forays to and from the gaping mouths of the babies.
At one point the first morning of our stay, mom and I were chatting away in the sunroom when once again we saw one courageous nestling perch on the edge of the nest hole. I rushed outside just in time to see it take the plunge into the wide open space of the front yard.
The action happened so fast that I missed the exact moment of the dive for freedom, so I was extremely thankful that the little fledgling took refuge in the Sumac tree, almost as if it was recovering from the shock of its decision to take flight.
Within seconds, mamma Bluebird arrived on the scene with yet another insect wriggling in her beak. She did not feed it to the fledgling but moved to the birdhouse to monitor the activity within.
I found the appearance of this Eastern Bluebird fledgling so endearing with its short tail and still somewhat fluffy plumage. It only remained on the Sumac for a short few minutes before venturing even further into the tall Pine Trees along the driveway.
A little later on, I found myself alone in the front yard. The arrival of additional company had my mom and dad giving a tour of their vegetable garden while Bob was taking care of some business in Huntsville. I could not believe my luck when another of the nestlings poked its head out the nest hole as if looking for its nest mate. By this point in time, we had established that there were 4 nestlings vying for the supply of tasty morsels.
Over the course of about 20 minutes, there was much indecision on the part of the nestlings. Partway out the hole, teetering on the edge, then I could sense their reluctance as they moved back into the cavity, next one up to test the water, in, out, back and forth, all the while, I’m almost holding my breath. The male Eastern Bluebird broke out in song on a branch close by as if to encourage the babies to break free of the nest, and each one, in turn, did just that. In the blink of an eye, with a few minutes in between, each one dropped down then disappeared into the canopy of surrounding trees. It all happened so fast that I was left peering on the ground beneath the nest box to see if any of them had landed on the grass. Not a chance! They were ready to explore the world!
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