Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Baby birds

Boy am I blowing it.

You might remember a few weeks ago we found a killdeer nest at the side of the garden.

I was careful to avoid the nest, and one day everything was -- poof -- gone. No eggshells, nothing. By this I'm assuming the babies hatched and took off when I wasn't around, and the family lived happily ever after.

But recently another killdeer has taken up nesting space smack in the middle of the garden. I'm in the garden several hours a day now, and apparently causing distress to the poor mother.

But though I knew a nest must be somewhere, it was devilishly hard to find. Those eggs are amazingly cryptic.

Here's the mother launching into the classic "broken wing" display in an effort to draw me away from her eggs.

But where were those eggs?

Finally I stood back at a distance and zoomed in the camera, scanning until I found the mother. There she was, setting on her eggs. Uh-oh. Notice where she is? Right next to hoses and a wheelbarrow. That's what I was afraid of.

Closer investigation revealed two eggs. Not four, two.

This means I had carelessly dragged the hoses across the nest and smashed two of her eggs. I felt terrible.

Can you see the eggs amidst the tangle of hoses? Well guess what, neither did I.

Here they are.

I removed the hoses and wheelbarrow and laid a stick nearby the nest so I could see it more easily from a distance, and since then I've been tiptoeing around the mother bird. However I still need to do lots of work in the garden, notably watering (we're just on the tail-end of a hot spell). To her credit, the mother seems to think I mean her no harm, and will settle herself on her eggs when I'm just a few feet away.

And yesterday I saw -- three eggs.

Then this morning, there were four.

I don't know how the extra eggs will do, since they're developmentally behind the other two eggs. But I figure the mama knows what she's doing. Now it's my job to keep the bleepin' hoses away from her nest.

Now you might be wondering how our baby robins are faring. If you recall, we have a nest under the awning in the barn, and I've been checking on the baby birds every few days, watching them grow.

We have magpies around here, and magpies are known to eat baby birds, so I was feeling protective about this brood. Several times I've heard the "chuck" alarm calls of robins, and went outside to see robins and other birds mobbing a magpie and chasing it away. So far my pair of robins haven't lost any babies.

May 23:

May 27:

As usual I climbed the ladder to get a view from above (May 27):

May 28:

Then I made a grave error in judgment. I went to check the babies yesterday, May 30. All four chicks were still in the nest:

But when I climbed the ladder to photograph the babies from above, as I'd done several times, the babies exploded out of the nest, to the distress of the parents who were just swooping in with worms in their beaks.

The babies were fairly strong, if inaccurate, fliers, and they fluttered all over the barn with the parents squawking around in concern (and probably cussing me out as well).

Fledgling robins still need to be fed by their parents, and while the offspring would have been out of the nest shortly anyway, I feel terrible that I prematurely scattered the brood simply for a photograph. (I'll offer this platform to publicly apologize to the parent robins.) The babies left the barn shortly thereafter, so I sincerely hope the parents can keep up with their half-grown babies and keep them all alive.

And do you remember we have a hen setting? Well, the eggs are in the first stages of hatching even as we speak (Wed. morning, May 31). Unfortunately the mama hen is off to a bad start, as I found a fully-hatched baby chick dead beside her.

The baby still had bits of eggshell adhering to it, but it was quite cold when I found it, so it probably didn't survive the hatching. Sadly, that's not uncommon.

I removed the dead baby and put an old firescreen around the mama to keep her protected during the vulnerable hatching.

So as you can see, it's been a mixed bag of bad and good news as far as baby birds is concerned. Life is never dull.

And I promise never again to try to get too close to a robin's nest when the babies are fledglings.


  1. I've several nests by the cabin and barn. Often they raise 2 sets of babies in a season. Never saw a successful fledge. They seem to do just fine till it's almost time to leave the nest and then they jump out and die on the ground. Sad but I guess a pair of adults only need to successfully raise 2 or 3 babies in a lifetime to keep it all going.

  2. That robin nest was pretty crowded! Maybe one sibling rolled over and knocked the others out... like in the children's song. I hope they survive.

  3. Don't worry (or feel to guilty) about the Robins. I call that the suicidal baby robin stage. We've set it off by simply walking within 10ft of a nest (that was over 10ft in the air!). We put bird spikes on a spot that we really didn't want the Robins nesting on, so some brilliant Robin built a really tall nest on the spot that defeats the spikes. Sure enough Sunday we had two baby robins running around the driveway! My dogs think baby robin is tasty, never mind the danger from moving cars, so at this point I'm not sure any of the babies survived......