Thursday, June 11, 2015

Becoming an amateur Ornithologist

For weeks I've been watching one of the three occupied birdhouses Fred built this spring and hung in the yard wondering what kind of birds are nesting in it. In house #1 (aka "The Tree House") the occupants are small, grey, have black beaks, longish tails, and shoe-button, black eyes. I searched Google images several times over but to no avail. Today I spotted one of the chicks for the first time and finally figured out what kind of birds they are!

See that little tuft on its head? That was the clue they are Tufted Titmice!

This is how I'd seen the parent birds for several weeks now. One is up on the branch to the left above the house as the other entered the nest box.

After sitting outside for quite some time with my camera on a tripod I finally got the most clear shots of the adult birds that I've been able to capture. While there are only a couple of images of Titmice on Google that resemble this bird, without its signature tuft coming off the top of its head, it was good enough to finally confirm their species.

What a cutie! Moments after I took this picture he or she leapt from the nest box and flew away following the parent that had just left and landed in a nearby bush.

In house #2 (aka "The Post House") the occupants are a pair of Tree Swallows. They are beautiful! One day several seemed to be competing for the same house. There was already one bird in the nest box while these two displayed outside.

I'm not sure if this is courting behavior but it seems like it could be. LOL. Actually, adult breeding age male and female Tree Swallows are identical in appearance. The one exception being second year females are more brown than blue. Which means the bird to the left is definitely a second year female while the two on the right could be males or after second year females. Confused? Here's where I learned the differences on the Tree Swallow Projects website.

This pair spent weeks building their nest bringing in one blade of grass at a time. Eventually I knew they were almost done when they began to show up with large white (most likely swan) feathers to line their nest with. I'm assuming the chicks have hatched but the house is so high up the post I'm not 100% certain.

And in house #3 (aka "Garden West") I do know this little House Wren's eggs hatched because yesterday I heard a cacophony of tiny "peeps" coming rom the house. I'd guess there are at least 5-6 chicks in the nest. And funny I would hear them before the Swallow chicks because the parent birds, most specifically the father Wren, often sits atop the garden posts and yells at me. LOL

He's a tiny little guy but so full of personality. I read the male House Wren will begin building up to a dozen nests then courts a female allowing her to choose the one she likes best. I'm definitely hoping to get pictures of the babies once they begin to peek out of the doorway.

Out of the five boxes Fred built three are occupied! It seems like that has to be a really good result! We'll move the other two and see if we get any new occupants if and when any of our neighborhood peeps decide to nest a second clutch of eggs this summer. In the meantime I'm learning so much more about the birds of Michigan, their courtship habits, how they nest, and what they eat and am loving every moment of it!

Edited to add: I can't stress enough to do your homework when building or purchasing birdhouses. Things I learned:

• Hole size matters: As little as 1/8" can deter some species from using your nest box

• Hole placement matters: Our holes are all at least 5" from the base of the house

• No perches: Birds do not like perches beneath the holes as they allow predatory birds to stand, reach in and eat their babies

• We used cedar but didn't know we should have turned the rough side inward on the front facing panel to allow the babies some traction when they're ready to climb out and fledge

• There is ventilation at the top and bottom of the house to allow heat and condensation to dissipate

• Make sure the roof or a sidewall opens so you can clean the box out between use