It Started Like Any Other
I know we bird lovers who provide nest box homes for our back yard birds get so used to the cycle. We know every spring (or even late winter here in Nashville) we’re going to see bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, wrens and others checking out our nest boxes. Somebody’s going to make a home there. Doing all we can to help them and make sure everything is progressing when we can. Believing in the power of nature to regulate itself, we figure a couple more eyes couldn’t hurt.
That’s how it was a few weeks ago when I noticed a chickadee couple checking out both my bluebird box and then the wren box . At this time, the bluebirds had already started a nest (one they never finished) in the bluebird box so the choice was simple. They started building the moss foundation for what would soon progress to an engineering marvel of grass, moss, cat hair, and some rootlets. Every time I see one of these finished I am in awe of how this information could be passed along genetically from one generation to the next!
Home Built. Time For Kids!
As we’ve seen so many times before, now that the nest is finished the female starts laying eggs in there. I always try to make sure are moving along without annoying them or scaring them. Before we know it, there are 4-6 eggs and now it’s just a waiting game. I know that sometime within the next week they will start hatching.
One At A Time, Our Family Emerges
I still get excited after many years every time this happens. Each day, one or two of them emerges and the parents are scurrying to clean up and make sure they’re comfortable and fed. Before long, all six of my chickadees hatched. I got the next pic while the parents were in the trees fussing at me so I tried to make it quick. I’ve gotten very good at “beak counting” so I confirmed that at least five of them had hatched. Since it’s not unusual for them to lay on top of each other I felt confident they had all hatched. Here’s what I saw.
Things Were Going Along Just Fine
Is there anything NOT to love about watching bird parents taking care of their young? Chickadees especially. Their antics begin to look like a finely tuned circus acrobatic act. Taking turns flying in and out of the box and even the occasional bottleneck when both show up with food. The fussing that ensues is nothing short of hilarious. Again, I am stymied by how they could just grow up to learn how to do this. We humans do not give animals or birds nearly enough credit for their immense intelligence!
This is usually the time I leave them alone for longer periods because they don’t need me interrupting feeding. I just step aside and let nature do the work.
This activity continued for the better part of a week. At this point, I wanted to check on them and see how they were getting along. I know they were still not old enough to fly or jump out of the box so I felt safe. I’ve got to say in seventeen years of providing nest box homes for birds in my back yard I was not prepared for what I would see.
As I was approaching the nest box, I saw something that got my attention. At the base of the pole was a black spot. Upon closer inspection, I saw it was a dead baby chickadee. I have not included a picture of him/her because it’s just too hard to see it and I thought I’d spare you.
When I finally opened the box, all that I saw one one poor, probably cold, little chickadee baby. They seemed to be doing well but I was sure they missed their brothers and sisters.
Simple mathematics tells me there were four babies unaccounted for. I looked all around the pole and yard for a good distance to be sure but saw nothing else. Here is the pic of the survivor.
Solving The Nest Box Mystery
Of course I had more questions than answers. How did this happen? There was no obvious clues like snake skin (a twitter follower suggested a snake) cat hair, blood or anything to suggest one possibility over another. Here is a short list of things to consider.
- Although a reader had suggested a snake I’ve never seen any in my back yard or had a problem with them. Surely one would have been hit by a mower or something.
- The pole is baffled from squirrels but not raccoons. Although we’ve had raccoons in the past, we haven’t seen any at night letting out our dog.
- The people that cut our lawn are quality people but the guy who was cutting that day was new and may have just run into it very hard.
- There were no other birds courting that box so I don’t believe anybody was mad about them moving in.
I Need YOUR Help
This is the part where I ask you, the reader, to let me know if you have any experience with having nest boxes, for chickadees or any others, being ransacked like this. I’m afraid that I’m more inclined to believe it was the mowing guy. The pole seemed like it had been bent just a little and the ground was disturbed. While our moles and groundhogs do a ton of damage this way, the pole appears it may have been moved.
However, even if the pole were hit violently that doesn’t explain where the little ones had gotten to. I’m afraid that if this happened the mowing guy just ran them over without knowing or that they laid there where they were snapped up by a visiting hawk.
Any help you could give me would be appreciated. Leave a comment below and let’s talk about this. Thank you!
Hope you are staying safe this year,
After all was said and done the last little chickadee did fledge.
Since that time I’ve noticed the parents feverishly flying back and forth from the suet and mealworms to feed what is obviously more than one baby. Yeah! Plus, the noise I’m hearing up in the trees could not possibly be coming from ONE chickadee.
Here’s what I think happened.
However the nest was disturbed, all but the one I found dead made it under the wooden fence nearby and were tended to by mom and dad until they were able to fly. It might sound like a long shot but it’s the only explanation that makes sense to me. They were not that far from being able to fly and could easily have hopped away with the parents’ careful nudging (read squawking-LOL!)
So, my nest box tragedy turned out much better than I previously feared. Thankful for that.
It sounds like your lawn guy ran right into your pole . Hopefully you have a 1 1/8 hole reducer on the box because a house sparrows would kill anything in the box if he can get in I have had house wrens also go into my chickadee boxes and kill babies.
Thanks for stopping by and giving your thoughts.
I would go along with that if it weren’t for not having house wrens at that time or house sparrows to speak of. The box is well within my sight and I watched what was happening each day. Never saw one of those birds showing any interest in it. Plus, only finding one bird would not be possible with either of them. I just recently had a house wren attack on a titmouse nest and there was NO doubt what had happened. Parents were way too busy feeding for only one bird.
I feel for YOUR house wren attack. Unless it’s just chickadees nesting, I couldn’t reduce the size of the hole for my titmice or THEY wouldn’t have been able to get in or out. They’re just too close in size to house wrens.
Claire G. says
I just had an entire nest of new chickadees ‘disappear” the day after they hatched. Six of 7 had hatched and I was checking the nest on day two and was shocked to find it completely empty! I was heartbroken! They were nesting in Bluebird House and I had not heard of the size adaptor…so thanks for that – I’m convinced that a House Sparrow got in there. I have a Wild Birds Unlimited house, on a pole with a baffle, so I don’t see how it could have been a snake/raccoon/squirrel. I’m just sick over it!! I also have a 2nd box with 5 Blue Bird eggs almost ready to hatch…is there anything I can do to prevent Sparrows from getting them?
I truly feel your pain as I just recently had a nest of titmice tossed out by house wrens who were just looking for a place! I too am sick about it. Do you have house wrens in your back yard (google house wren sounds and you should find the Cornell Lab site with sounds) because they are brutally territorial. Do you know if the parents were killed? I know it’s a horrible thing to ask but house sparrows are much more likely to kill everybody than the house wrens.
If I understand you correctly, you put a size restrictor so maybe it would be more challenging for the house sparrows? If so, their smaller relatives, the house wrens could still get in and out easily.
What I would recommend is either calling Wild Birds Unlimited and asking if they have a “wren guard” or googling it if you’re the creative/handy type.
If you’re SURE it’s house sparrows, then I would check out this excellent article from the Spruce. Don’t miss the sparrow spooker part.
Let me know how this goes, please.
I’m bettin’ it’s house sparrows. I don’t see how bumping into the pole could knock baby birds out of an enclosed box
I found that article on geting rid of house sparrows pretty useless– just wishful thinking– How do you encourage other birds and yet discourage the sparrows?
I built a bird trap last winter. I caught several goldfinches, juncoes, chickadees each day– even a cardinal (they’re really small. The long tail makes them look much bigger.)..but aftr three weeks, I had caught only one @#$% house sparrow.–and it was a female and I wasn’t sure if it was a house sparrow or some other species, so I let it go anyway.
I put out bluebird nesting boxes which are invariably taken over by house sparrows, so I just empty the nest periodically (hopefully with eggs in it) but that hasn’t made an appreciable dent in their population.
Maybe we can fund the Wuhan Lab to find us an enhanced virus that affects only house sparrows?
I’m sorry you got no value from the house sparrows article. Over the 18 plus years I’ve been feeding birds here I’ve been selective and attentive and I have nearly no house sparrows in my back yard. Every time I see their numbers rising it’s because I’ve ignored one of the rules. For instance, this year I started seeing more of them and realized a bush in my back yard had gotten overgrown and they were perching there. We cut it back severely and they left.
I’m not a big fan of trying to trap birds either. Your experience mimics others who have tried this.
Ingrid Larocque says
I had a chickadee nest tragedy that I need help with. As we approached to monitor nest this past week I observed some of the down coming from the bottem of the front panel.. Didn’t think anything of it until we opened the front of the box. The beautifully engineered nest was gone and 3 babies were laying in the bottem of the nest box. Absolutely no evidence of the nest materials anywhere around the box…!?!? We have a squirrel/snake baffle . But what would clean out a nest (with some babies perhaps) and leave three babies?? So confusing.
So sorry to hear of this happening!
This sounds like the work of a house wren or house sparrow but you should have seen SOME nesting material on the ground (along with a baby or two) around the box. If it’s not too late, you could look up a wildlife rehabilitator in your area and see if they take nestlings.
Is the box somewhere you can see it from a room you spend time in at your house? Are you hearing the trilly song of a house wren? I just evicted one several times in the last few days and he finally got the message that it’s a bluebird box (they’ve already raised one brood there) but he WAS persistent! I started doing this after a pair killed titmouse babies and ransacked their nest a couple years ago. This happened even after both families had moved in, laid eggs and had babies. He just decided the back yard was his.