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.
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.