Category Archives: Yard Birds

Robin nest redux

We have nesting American Robins in our front arborvitae again this spring. Last year the nest was constructed from scratch; two babies fledged. Here’s a picture from last year which shows the location of the nest.

Placement of American Robin nest

This year, I first noticed activity in the nest on April 20th, when the female robin was making frequent visits to the nest. She was bringing in soft grasses and mud to reline the existing nest, which was in good shape. I looked inside the nest on April 22nd; it was empty. We were away from April 23rd to May 1st, so the next time I could check the nest was on May 2nd, when I found four eggs.

American Robin nest with eggs

According to the Birds of North America Online, American Robins lay one egg per day. The incubation period from the date of the last egg being laid varies from 12 to 14 days. The fourth egg could have been laid any time between April 26th and May 1st. Therefore the window I’d expect the eggs to hatch would be from May 8th to May 14th.

Yesterday, I didn’t notice any increased activity at the nest site. The female was seen on the eggs more often than not, but in the early afternoon when I had a peek from our living room I saw the female was away. I took her break time as a quick chance to peek inside the nest. I was very surprised at what I found.

American Robin nest with eggs

I am very curious about what happened to the fourth egg. There is no trace of it underneath the nest or in the branches below the nest. American Robins are known to have the ability to recognize a Brown-headed Cowbird (a brood parasite species) egg when it is laid in their nest. The robin will puncture the intruding egg and remove it. I wonder if the nest was used by a cowbird and one of the robin eggs was accidentally lost when the cowbird egg was removed? It’s also possible an egg was predated by a crow. I guess I’ll never know. So now, like last year, we are waiting for three eggs to hatch.

Again this year I’m entering the nest data in the online citizen scientist database at Cornell’s Nestwatch. If you’ve got nesting birds on your property, consider observing the activity and entering your findings in the Nestwatch database. It’s free, fun, and educational, and it helps ornithologists (and the birds) too!

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Allopreening Mourning Doves

Back in February, during a light snow, I noticed a few Mourning Doves loafing on the shelter frame on our back patio. Two of them must have been in the mood for love because they started allopreening – pecking and grooming each other about the head and neck. Allopreening is one of my favorite bird behaviors to observe. The last time I got to watch birds do this was back in September 2010 when I watched a pair of Eurasian Spoonbills going to town.

According to the Mourning Dove species account at the Birds of North America Online,

Allopreening, a form of appeasement behavior, occurs between mates during pair formation and consists of gentle nibbling of feathers in head and neck regions with beak; seen during nest-site selection activities, nest-building, prior to copulation, and occasionally during nest exchanges. Displacement, or ritual preening, may be exhibited when close to a mate.

I think some displacement may be going on here as well, but I didn’t see any copulation (bummer, haha!). In the second half of the clip, the bird on the left flutters its wing, a behavior I would normally associate with food-begging in either courting females or hungry juveniles. Although the birds were not feeding, I wonder if this is another common courtship behavior? From the wing-fluttering and the grooming behavior of both I am guessing the male is on the right and the female on the left.

Looking further at the Mourning Dove account on BNA, I learned two interesting terms associated with their courtship behavior. First is the charge, in which the male approaches the female with head held horizontally forward, tail pointed horizontally back, and whole body raised. And then there’s the totally cute term bow coo (which I keep reading as “boo cow”), in which the male bows head and body until head nearly touches ground [≤ 10 times], rises to very erect position, holds head forward, and utters loud coo. Have you seen these behaviors in Mourning Doves before? How about allopreening?

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Starved Rock feeder birds

I haven’t been able to get out birding as much as I’d like lately, so I was really happy that Arthur and I could visit the 14th Annual Bald Eagle Watch Weekend at Starved Rock State Park on Sunday. We hiked a short trail but the most bird activity we saw (off the river) was at the feeders by the visitor center. We were happy to see Tufted Titmice for the first time in over a year. There were also lots of Brown-headed Cowbirds and a few White-throated Sparrows, two species we haven’t seen since last fall. It was nice to just chillax and watch the activity at the busy feeders for a while. Here are some of the birds we saw.

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

Pine Siskin
Pine Siskin

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Starved Rock Feeders
The feeders at the Starved Rock Visitor Center

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Sin Cardenal

Less than four weeks ago, I felt pretty good about my prospects for taking the Bird-a-Day Challenge in 2011. It seemed like great motivation to get out into the field more often and a fun way to spice up the birding routine. I even started out pretty strong… but then on Monday, January 3rd, a new, unexpected challenge suddenly loomed. All dreams of a little big year were completely dashed. Things got desperate pretty quickly after that, with back yard birds hitting the list in the first week. By mid-month I was relying on them more often than not. My list of go-to birds shrunk alarmingly fast, and some regular feeder visitors failed me in the end. Yesterday I pinned all my hopes on a sometime visitor, the Northern Cardinal, but the crimson beauty let me down. Naturally, a pair spent the entire evening in the yard today, casually dining on mixed seeds at the platform feeder for well over a half hour. Thanks, guys! The photo below was taken on the 23rd at the Starved Rock State Park feeders. Am I being paranoid, or is he mocking me?

Northern Cardinal

Even though I didn’t make it out of January, I’m pleased to have made it past January 20th. That’s as far as my dad thought I’d get!

If this new “challenge” works out, I’ll be working on a new yard list later this year. That should make up for the premature end to the Bird-a-Day Challenge. Plus I have an easy target to beat for next year’s Bird-a-Day.

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Streaming Dutch back yard birds

Last week the Dutch branch of BirdLife International, Vogelbescherming, introduced a new website featuring four different bird cams. Beleef de winter is the non-breeding season’s answer to the hugely popular series of nest cams run by Vogelbescherming each spring, Beleef de Lente. Viewers from around the world can watch Dutch feeder visitors on four different cameras.

Like the springtime nest cams, the live streaming winter cams are available 24 hours. Highlights from the cams are archived, so if there isn’t any action when you take a peek, you can still see some resident Dutch winter birds.

My favorite is cam 3, which is pointed at an open water source. The bubbling water is pretty popular bathing site for birds like Great Tits, Blackbirds, and European Robins. The clip “02-01 Populaire badplaats” shows a robin having a quickie bath and a cute Blue Tit who seems content to just wash its face in the water. Another great clip features a pair of Long-tailed Tits, which are like chickadees only fluffier, bigger-headed, and sporting little white Mohawks and super-sized tails: “05-01 Staartmezen.”

Nest cams are popular in the spring breeding season, which for most local birds is still months away. These feeder cams from Holland are fun to watch while we wait for those nest cams to fire up again. Do you have any favorite winter bird cams that are running right now?

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BPW: Totally Nuts!

I’ve been well pleased with the birds we’ve had stopping at our peanut feeder this fall so far, especially the regular visits from both Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches. Both species were rare back yard sightings in the past. I set our Wingscapes Birdcam out to capture some images over the last few days.

There were a few surprises – birds that normally aren’t considered nut feeders. These guys didn’t stay at the feeder too long.

Dark-eyed Junco
Juncos prefer to forage on the ground – usually not on feeders

House Finch
House Finches don’t seem to be big peanut fans

European Starling & Red-winged Blackbird
These guys looked lost (European Starling | Red-winged Blackbird)

Pine Siskin
OMG a Pine Siskin! Haven’t seen these in the yard for ourselves yet – thanks Birdcam!

Then there were the expected birds. I’d like to see Red-bellied Woodpeckers more often, and these nuts seem to bring them in more than the suet & nuts in the shell (yay!).

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadees snatch nuts throughout the day

Downy Woodpecker
Female Downy Woodpeckers seem to visit more than…

Downy Woodpecker
… male Downy Woodpeckers

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker seems to prefer our suet feeder – nice to see a peanut visit

Red-breasted Nuthatch
At least two individual Red-breasted Nuthatches visit regularly

I’m really happy to have both of our regular nuthatches visiting on a daily basis. Last year we had one Red-breasted stop by for one or two days, and that was it! Now several individuals of both species are visiting daily. The White-breasted is a new yard bird this year! And boy, do they love the nuts. They also like to pose for the camera. I found a lot of photos like these:

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Hopefully they’ll all continue visiting during the winter. Tomorrow, though, I’m putting the camera on a finch sock or something. I mean, really, a Pine Siskin!?!?

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Wingscapes Birdcam, Yard Birds | 10 Comments

Citrus Finches

A few weeks ago the first Baltimore Oriole sightings were reported locally on IBET. When I read the first report, I put a few orange halves out in the back yard. Orioles (and others) nommed our oranges a few days last spring, and I have been hoping we will be lucky again. So far, no joy. Meanwhile, the oranges are not going to waste.


I noticed a male bird feeding orange to what I first presumed to be a female finch.

Feed me orange!

Feed me!

This is actually a juvenile begging.

See the White-crowned Sparrow in the video, to the left side? He was really interested in the orange, and when the finches moved on he quickly went to check it out.

I think the verdict was “this is not food.”

The oranges even managed to attract a Red-bellied Woodpecker, who shunned the available suet for some citrus delight — although he may be snacking on ants attracted by the fruit.

Do you put oranges out for your yard birds? Do other birds enjoy them too?

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These birds have flown

Late last month we first noticed an American Robin nest-building in our front shrubs. I had my first peek inside the nest on May 3rd. Two chicks hatched on May 11th. I took a final look inside on May 17th to find two six-day-old chicks.

Even though I didn’t look inside the nest again, the site was visible from inside our house, so I still kept an eye on the babies.

On May 21st the babies were getting too big for the nest, and at times it was hard to see the second baby behind the one closest to our window, especially if they weren’t moving.

Baby American Robin

On May 24th the babies started stretching their wings a lot and standing up on the side of the nest. Based on the lifecycle of the American Robin, I expected the baby robins to fledge on May 25th – and that’s exactly when they did!

Early in the morning one of the babies ventured onto a branch about a two feet from the nest, higher up in the tree. There it sat for several hours, eventually dozing on its perch.

Baby American Robin sleeping in tree

The other baby sat up in the nest.

Baby American Robin hours from fledging

Meanwhile, Pa Robin rested on a utility box in our front yard, facing the nest tree.

Pa Robin watches the nest

In the afternoon I saw the baby was not on its branch any more. There appeared to be one baby in the nest, but I wasn’t sure.

At about 7:30pm I noticed Pa Robin looking for worms in our back yard, and then I spied a baby robin sitting close to some evergreen trees in our neighbor’s back yard. Pa Robin brought the baby a worm and then then both hopped together in the neighbor’s back yard. I looked at the nest tree again and now found the second fledgling on a branch about two feet from the nest. Then I closed the curtain for the night.

This morning there was no sign of any baby in the nest tree. But I saw Ma Robin hanging around the front yard, so I guessed one of the babies might still be nearby. Then I noticed Ma Robin pull a worm from our front lawn and hop into a nearby, heavily leafed tree. She emerged a moment later, without worm.

Good luck, robin fledglings!

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Quick robin nest update

I had a quick peek inside the American Robin nest late this afternoon. The last time I looked, on May 11, I saw two freshly hatched chicks and one unhatched egg. This is what I saw when I checked today.

American Robin babies

From what I can tell, there are just two babies. They have grown so much! When I went out to check, Ma Robin was off the nest, but soon after I climbed up my ladder, I could hear a robin telling me off. I had seen a pair of adults foraging in our back yard, and I guessed this might by the parents of our nest. I’m not sure who was chipping at me, though. After taking a few photos and one short video, I headed back inside. Soon Ma Robin was back, settling on her babies and resting just a bit taller in the nest than before.

American Robin on nest

Yes, that’s not a great picture. Having a nest right by the front window is a good excuse out of window washing, don’t you think? 😉

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