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Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Tisket, A Tasket, a Nest in a Basket: a Lesson in Natural History from the Backyard…

last year's junco chicksFor some reason the backyard birds believe our fuschia baskets are hung  there for their nesting convenience. A few years back a robin nested in one, laid a clutch of eggs, and fledged them out. Last year a pair of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) appropriated a basket and we enjoyed watching the nesting cycle, didn’t mind the least sharing our blooming basket with them. Compared to the conspicuous nesting routines of robins (we usually have a pair nest in our woodshed each year), juncos are subtle nesters; if one weren’t a careful observer of his yard and landscaping, juncos could go through an entire nesting cycle unnoticed. If it weren’t for the fact the baskets hung from the soffits above our deck and needed frequent watering, I doubt we’d have discovered the nest.

The dark-eyed junco, generally referred to as a “snowbird,” is one Little Brown Bird easily identified: the male with his dark chocolate head, that of the missus more milk chocolate. In flight, going away, both flash white tail feathers. During the winter months juncos frequent our backyard feed station in abundance, perhaps the explanation of why so many pairs nest here in the summer. On those rare winters when snow fell on our deck we’d throw out a handful of birdseed for the juncos’ repast—and the cat’s amusement.

The frugal gardener that I am, I cut back the fuschia plants in the hanging baskets and winter them over where they hang during the summer months. During periods of below freezing temps, I move them into the garage or shed until the weather moderates. Usually I can sustain the baskets two or three years, saving the expense of replacing them every spring. When I trimmed the baskets last fall, I was careful to leave the junco nest intact, hoping to have our lodgers return again come summer.

Summer came; the robins nested; white-crowned sparrows; and juncos. But our fuschia nest remained empty. When I saw the first junco fledglings about the place, I thought for sure we were destined to be empty nesters for the summer. I wasn’t aware of a “second settin,’”however; juncos, I learned, have two broods a season, a fact confirmed when the other day I saw flash of brown dart from the maple tree, touch down on the roof, and dive into the fuschia leaves. An inspection of the basket next day told me renovation of last year’s nest was underway. My next inspection two days later showed a complete overhaul of the nest, fresh straw and grass perfectly cupped to junco size.Day one

Tuesday this week I gently removed the basket and discovered the nest held a tidy freckled egg. Even though Ms. junco was nowhere to be seen, I knew she was watching nearby, wondering what business I had fussing with her nest. I learned from last year’s nest cycle that the female leaves the nest unattended during the day, returns at night and sometime before dawn lays another egg. Day 2Sure enough, Wednesday morning a pair of eggs lay in the nest. Thursday, three. Yesterday morning the female didn’t leave the nest. I knew she had laid the fourth egg earlier and had begun to incubate the clutch of four. A gentle shake of the basket dislodged her and off she flew, allowing me to inspect her nest, which, as last year contained the fourth and final egg. Day 3I hated to disturb her, was certain another egg was added to clutch, but having a “loaded” bird nest in a hanging basket that required frequent watering presented a problem. Before mama settled into her two week incubation period, I wanted to give the basket a thorough watering. I rehung the dripping basket and in less than five minutes with a flash of brown, a rustling of leaves, Missus returned.

She stayed there all day. And this morning when I checked the nest through the window, I could see her jaunty little tail among the leaves. For two weeks she’ll set the nest. Except for a watering or two I’ll try not disturb her. Day 4

Two weeks from now when the feeding routine begins, we’ll enjoy watching the male and female “sneak” their way in and out of the nest. It’s local entertainment. And it’s free. These days it doesn’t take much excitement to keep us entertained .

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1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to get some bird houses to put around the yard but never got around to it. We had a robin nest in a tree next to the house which we could view from the window. We also had a nest fall out of a tree on the other side of the house. I didn't notice the nest until I saw it laying on the ground so am not sure where the contents of the nest went. Also spotted what I think was a baby ground sparrow or whatever it is you called them running around under my deck. Not sure if it may have fallen out of the nest or if there was a nest he escaped from under the deck. Then the swallows have taken up nesting on the roof. :/