Observations on Bird Behavior

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My husband and I recently moved, and outside our bedroom window is a beautiful tree which bloomed delicate pink at the start of spring. But that wasn’t the best part.  I noticed a plump, red-breasted robin who was frequently visiting the upper-most branches of the tree. There were often small twigs and pieces of straw clenched in her beak, and I realized she was building a nest. Once the nest was almost complete, she would sit inside and  wiggle her body and shimmy her tail as she worked to form the inside of the home. I was astonished at the way the nest was constructed having never seen it done up close before. I knew it wouldn’t be long before she would lay her eggs, and I kept a close watch each day with child-like anticipation.

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At my childhood home there was more glorious bird action at the bluebird house I had bought for my family to enjoy.  The bluebird house is in the backyard in between gardens and meadows. Although deemed the perfect spot according to most books on bluebird habitat, the bluebirds hadn’t been convinced of its perfection until one glorious day this spring when I noticed a flurry of blue feathers by the birdhouse. I sat for hours with binoculars in hand watching these incredibly beautiful birds finally make a home in the house we set up for them.

A few weeks later at my apartment, I noticed the robin hardly left the nest during the day, and when she did, she came back quickly and settled into the nest carefully, once again wiggling. She had laid her eggs! Right after she laid them the weather turned cool and rainy. I felt sorry for the robin as she kept vigil over her eggs night and day with the rain and breeze pelting her. The male robin would come a few times a day to relieve her. He would not get in the nest on top of the eggs, but I watched as he cocked his head from side to side as if examining them. While these precious eggs were relatively safe, I cannot say the same for the bluebirds. I was observing the birdhouse one day  and saw a bird going in and out, and something dropped from the nest to the ground. Curious, I had a closer look with binoculars and was alarmed to see that it was not a bluebird inside. I remembered reading in The Backyard Birdhouse Book that I checked out of OWL that certain birds try to take over bluebird houses. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I ran down to the birdhouse. On the ground lay the beautiful blue eggs, cracked with their yellow yolks dripping out onto the green grass. So much hard work and hope lay there ruined on the ground. Feeling angry, I went to OWL and checked out more books on bluebirds, and birdhouses and habitats to see what I could learn. In that same book I discovered that House Sparrows and Wrens are the biggest problems for bluebirds. Sparrows and Wrens compete with bluebirds for habitat and will actually go into their homes and throw out the eggs. Sparrows have been known to even kill adult bluebirds. The book advises close monitoring and establishing another birdhouse close to the other so that the birds won’t compete.

After this tragedy, it was a pleasure to see the robin’s newborn hatchlings one sunny day after the rain. At first, my husband and I couldn’t  see much of them; just the robin feeding them and we could hear their little chirping noises. They grew fairly quickly, and pretty soon we saw “large” open mouths when mom came back with delicious worms. A few weeks later there was a happy ending for the bluebirds too. On Memorial Day weekend during a family picnic, we spotted the bluebirds once again at the house. They were starting over 🙂

We can learn so much from observing nature and wildlife. Animals, like humans, work hard and often face tragedy and hardship. I believe that they also feel pain and in their own way mourn. I felt this as I watched the mother bluebird return to find her eggs destroyed. There was one egg inside the nest that was damaged.She flew with it in her beak to a tree in the backyard. She held onto the egg for a few minutes, looking around, and finally I watched as she let it drop to the ground. Then she sat for a long time in the tree, preening herself. I could feel her sense of loss. Animals know all too well that life must go on, you must start over and begin anew, and with that, the sense of hope prevails.

To learn more about birds and how you can help set up a bird friendly habitat and home for them in your own backyard, check out these finds at OWL:

I love the Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America 2010 color edition. It comes with a CD of more than 600 bird sounds which can be downloaded to an iPod or MP3 player, making identifying bird calls even easier! The CD also features a PDF booklet with photographs and song/call descriptions. This book is a great resource.

The Backhouse Birdhouse Book: Building Nestboxes and Creating Natural Habitats is a resource I’ve used many times when I needed to know something about the bluebird house, or bird behavior. I like the color photos and organization of the book, which lists each type of birds habitat needs, description of the bird, and problems the birds may encounter.

If you are feeling crafty, you might check out Building Birdhouses and Bird Feeders which has some fancy constructions. The birds may end up living in a more stylish home than you! My personal favorite is The Old Outhouse Feeder…check it out on page 78.

Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Bird Behavior Volume I and II will help you learn more about bird behavior, such as courtship, nest-building, plumage, breeding, territory and even bird call.

Birds of Eastern North American is a photographic guide to birds in our area. The color photos are stunning, and the descriptions of the birds are very detailed.

The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds is a collection of thirty-five essays about birds that you probably see every day, but know very little about. Author John Yow offers keen observations and anecdotes that are highly enjoyable to read.

The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong is a fascinating look at all that can be revealed in each bird’s unique song. How many of us relish waking up to the sounds of birds singing, greeting the sun as it rises? Readers can learn about how bird’s acquire their songs, how song varies from bird to bird, why some birds do not sing, and much more! There is a CD accompiment that will help you identify different birds and their unique chords.

Winged Migration is an extraordinary documentary that takes us up close and personal with birds during their migration. Cinematographers and pilots used planes, helicopters, balloons and gliders from all different angles to get a truly awe-inspiring look at one of nature’s greatest spectacles. You must see it.

I recently fell in love with A Home for Bird, a new children’s book by Philip C. Stead. It is an adorable, and funny story about a little frog who meets a bird. As frog introduces bird to his friends and things he likes, bird says nothing. Frog thinks bird must be lost so he is determined to help him find his home.

Sarai is the Library Assistant who is very excited that it is “berry” season!

3 thoughts on “Observations on Bird Behavior

  1. This is a wonderful blog with shared feelings and info. We have bluebirds for the first time (after years of waiting!) It is truly wonderful to see those flashes of blue as the male flies across the backyard looking for baby food. After reading this blog I figured out that all his sitting around on his roof early on must have been to keep an eye for possible intruders.

  2. I have wrens that nest in my garage/ workshop every year. They have two broods that I watch grow and fledge every year for the past 9 years. It never gets old.

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