The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group, a place where everyone is welcome to note the observations you have made of the natural world around you. Fledglings, insects, blossoms, fish, climate, reptiles and/or amphibians: all are worthy additions to the bucket. Ask questions if you have them and someone here may well have an answer. All we ask is that you let us know where you're located, as close as you're comfortable revealing.I've put up a lot of bird houses in my life. I don't really have any idea how many, but I recall building and putting up my first one back in my junior high days, which makes it around fifty years ago give or take a couple. Outside of a few years I was in the service, I've put up one or more every year since I hung that first one on the big locust tree that stood outside my bedroom window. Some would probably say I've gone a little overboard on them the last few years. At last count, before putting up several more this spring, I had around two dozen on the place That number is closer to thirty today. These are scattered over twenty acres of the Missouri ridge top that I've called home for the past thirty some years.
I started out placing them in the choicest locations in the yard, places where I could easily watch the comings and goings of anything that might move in there. But it wasn't long before I had used up all of those places and, with my addiction to, and love of, the birds still growing, I began placing my new additions further and further out. Four of the five that I put up early this spring are all the way back at the far end of our property line.
My first bird houses were crude affairs, built from scrap lumber and re-straightened nails I had pulled from that scrap lumber. In the early days there was no extra money for new lumber and nails, let alone frivolous items like hinges to make them easily accessible for cleaning and monitoring. So for a long time, without access to the interior of them, none of my bird houses ever got cleaned out, let alone monitored. I rarely knew what, if anything' had moved into them unless I got lucky and happened to be walking by when one of the residents made an appearance. These days my bird houses are still simple affairs and I still use lumber that I've recycled when I have it but if I'm out of that, I can usually find a few extra bucks to buy a board or two and even a couple of hinges for the lids. A few of my older houses that aren't accessible are still standing but all of them that I build now have hinged tops, so I can keep an eye on things and clean them out at the end of nesting season each year.
I try to check them every week or two, but don't always get it done. I do this mostly to satisfy my own curiosity to know what has moved in, how many eggs they've laid and nest failures and successes, problems, etc. Whether a particular house is successful or a failure, I try to figure out what it is that made it so, information that I can use when designing and installing future bird houses. And also, I confess, it's just very satisfying to me to watch a clutch of eggs hatch and then watch the babies grow up in a house that I built and put up for them.
Of the last five that I put up earlier this spring, only two have not been used yet. Chickadees moved into two of them and bluebirds are raising a family in another. I checked them for the first time on April 11th. At that time only one of the new houses had any eggs. I wasn't sure if they were chickadees or tufted titmice as no bird flew from the house on my approach to tip me off as to it's identity and I've never been able to tell the eggs of those two species apart from each other. I assumed that the reason no parent bird was around was because she wasn't done laying and hadn't yet started incubating the eggs. That later proved to be correct when a couple of weeks later, on the 28th, I again checked the nest and at my approach this time, a chickadee flew out of the house. Looking into the box I saw seven beautiful speckled eggs. I took one quick picture and got out of there as quickly as possible.
A week later the weather turned very nasty, with a cold wind that brought in several days of rain and dropping temps. Not wanting to chase the mother off the eggs, even for a few minutes in the nasty weather, I didn't check any of the houses while it lasted. When the weather finally did straighten back up I was anxious to get back and see how the nests had fared during the wintry weather. I knew that if they had survived the weather, the eggs might well have hatched and the baby birds would be developing quickly. So today, May 8th, Little Bit and I took a walk to the far end of the property to see how things were going back there. We both had high hopes.
Step over the tangled vines to see what we found waiting for us.
When I raised the lid for the first time on April 11th I wasn't sure if these were chickadee or tufty eggs or how many there were for sure as she had apparently made some attempt to cover the eggs before leaving the nest. It looks like there were three, maybe four, at that time.
Then the weather turned sour so I didn't get back out for awhile. So I was anxious to see if the eggs had survived the weather and if so, had they hatched yet. I had shown the previous pics to LB and she was very anxious to see the baby birds that I told her might be waiting for us. But when we got there we we had an unexpected surprise waiting for us.
She was heartbroken of course, as any five year old would be, but we sat there on the ground and talked about it for awhile and I think she came away with at least the beginnings of an understanding that nature is what it is and that everything in nature has to eat and that the snake was not a bad guy, that it just did what it had to do to survive, hunt for and find food, and that a snake eating a baby chickadee was really no worse, or better,or different in any way really, than a robin eating a worm, a bluebird eating a caterpillar, or a lion eating a zebra. It is natures way, everything has to eat. I assured her that the chickadees would build a new nest somewhere and with any luck would raise another family, if not this year, then next. It wasn't an easy, or fun, lesson for her, but one that I think she will eventually understand and accept. I'm quite sure that she isn't real fond of snakes at the moment but I'm also just as sure that in time she will realize that the snake did nothing wrong and that her already strong appreciation of the whole of nature's incredible wonders will benefit and continue to grow, not in spite of this hard lesson but because of it, and others like it. So I am not sorry that she saw this, far better to learn the truth about the natural world from nature itself than from fairy tales in a Disney movie.
A few weeks ago, in another bucket, janislav and I were discussing the pro's and cons of wood posts versus metal posts for mounting bird houses on. Link to diary here. I made this comment concerning metal posts;
Just out of curiosity; what don't you like about the metal post? They are all I use now and I haven't found any problems with them. And the bluebirds don't seem to have any preference of one over the other. Is it because the predator guard is hard to mount on the metal post? I don't use predator guards on my blue bird houses. The biggest predator threat to bluebird nest boxes are black snakes, even that is rare, but it has happened. Most predator guards won't stop them anyway. A big healthy black snake can climb about anything that it sets it's mind too but I believe a metal post would be as hard or harder for them to climb than a wood post. The two foot long stove pipe guards that I see on bluebird houses now and then wouldn't even slow down a five foot black snake.Then just downthread I said this;
Just to be clear, I'm not saying that the guards (4+ / 0-).
are necessarily bad, they may help with certain predators like raccoons, weasels, or mink, but the biggest problem I've had here are black snakes, and I believe that the metal posts are better at deterring all of the above. But you noticed I said, "I think". I could be wrong, but as far as I know I haven't had any bluebird houses that are mounted on steel posts hit by any kind of predator
Well. I can't say that anymore can I? But I do have one more pic to post. As we sat there talking about the predator prey relationships in nature, the black snake stuck his head out and I took it's picture, a picture that I believe shows the mistake that I made when I put this particular house up and what made it an easy target for any prowling black snake. I post this to show you what not to do when installing a bluebird house on a post. See the problem? It's the cedar branch. I mounted this house far too close to a tree which any black snake older than a day could easily climb and from there it was just a short easy stretch over to the house, and the rest is history. I certainly should have known better than that. Don't know where I had left my brain the day I installed this house, but it's a mistake that I will not make again. Posting it here so that none of you will make it either.
I have several things I have to do today so I won't be able to tend this diary too well but will check in now and then to see what's been happening in your backyards.