Tag Archives: birds

Who’s in My Nestboxes?

A few weeks ago I wrote about putting up two bluebird nestboxes at our Wisconsin cabin in “Putting Up Eastern Bluebird Nestboxes“.  I couldn’t wait to come back and see who might have moved in!

We came back up two weeks later and checked out the boxes. The first one clearly had a new resident, but it wasn’t a bluebird.  After a little investigation on the sialis.org website, I figured out it was a black-capped chickadee nest.  Not a bluebird but definitely a keeper!

chickadee nest

5/7/16 Base layer of chickadee nest in Box #1

Black-Capped Chickadee nests can take up to 2 weeks to build.  The base layer is coarse material like moss, pine needles or bark.

chickadee nest

5/7/16 Nothing yet in Box #2

Then it’s lined with softer materials like animal fur, downy plant fibers or feathers.  The nest cup is about 1 inch deep and found towards the back.  Sometimes they can even cover the cup to hide the eggs as they are being laid.

The next day some of the softer material was being added to house #1

5/8/16 The next day some of the softer material was being added to  Box #1

chickadee nest

5/8/16 and maybe someone is starting a nest in Box #2!

We left for a couple of weeks, so very curious what we’d come back to…

Chickadee eggs

5/27/16 Six eggs were laid in Box #1

Six little tiny eggs were in nest box #1!  These little eggs are only about 2/3 in x 1/2 inch in size and typically 6-8 are laid.  They are laid 1 per day, and then the female lays on them starting the day before the last one so they all hatch within 24 hours.  Incubation lasts 12-13 days.

chickadee nest

5/27/16  Looks like a finished nest but no eggs yet in Box #2.

Box #2 looks ready for eggs, but nothing yet. But boy was I fooled!  I went back to check on them the next day and this is what I found…

5/28/16 This little momma has been busy!

5/28/16 This little momma Chickadee has been busy!  I count 11 eggs in Box #2.

There must have been a little nest plug over them when I peeked in the day before.  She’s going to have her work cut out for her with all those eggs.

Depending when I get back, I may or may not check on them again.  The hatchlings will spend almost 2 weeks in the nest being fed mostly by the male at first, and then equally by the male and female as they get older.  They typically fledge on day 16, but they are very prone to early fledging if disturbed after day 11.  I definitely don’t want to do that!

On one visit I had a little fun sneaking up on the #1 nestbox.  It’s always a good idea to tap on the house when checking, otherwise you might get a bird right in the face 🙂

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

Then off she went to a nearby tree to tsk me.

An Unusual Visitor to Peggy’s Feeders

Ring-Necked Pheasant

Over the last month or so, a male Ring-Necked Pheasant has taken up residence near Peggy’s house in Michigan.  He’s been visiting the front porch feeder, enjoying the corn she’s been putting out for him.  Haven’t seen a female yet, but maybe they’re just shy. By the way, this is a view through the front porch railing–the snow is piled so high he’s at up almost at eye level!

Because of the timing of his visit, the male Ring-necked Pheasants may be establishing his breeding territory.   A male will become the “king” of his territory and exert dominance over any other males who try to intrude in his territory, which may cover several acres.  Breeding females, who are rather dull brown in coloring,  will gather in small  groups in the territory of a single male.  The females will nest in the fields or borderland areas and lay a dozen or more eggs.  Within a few weeks, the young will head out on their own. Unfortunately, there is a high mortality rate from predators and humans of both the eggs and young birds. Hopefully there’ll be some baby pheasants wandering around Peggy’s yard this spring!

 
Ring-Necked Pheasant

 

Ring-Necked Pheasant

 

Ring-Necked Pheasant

 

Ring-Necked Pheasant

 

Photos by Peggy

 

Visitors to the Homemade Suet

Suet Feeder

While I was out there putting the new homemade suet in the feeder, I heard, and then finally found a Flicker in the neighbor’s yard.  I haven’t seen him at my suet feeder yet, but I hope he comes to visit.  In the meantime, the last couple of days I’ve seen Chickadees, a Downy Woodpecker, a Red Breasted Nuthatch and a squirrel on the suet feeder. They seem to like this new suet!

Suet Feeder

 

Suet Feeder

 

Suet

 

Suet

 

suet

Something, well, probably that darn squirrel, knocked the feeder onto the ground. The Downy seemed to have liked the homemade suet so much it also went down to the ground to eat it.  I’ve never seen a woodpecker eat off the ground.  He must have been really hungry!

Suet

 

Suet

 

Suet

Since I am hoping that spring is coming soon, I decided to put the other suet cake I made out for the birds.   I don’t have another feeder, so used an empty onion bag.  We’ll see how that works.

Homemade Suet Cake

Homemade Suet Cakes

I was at my favorite local butcher shop (Prime-N-Tender Meats) the other day, and asked if they had any suet I could have to make homemade suet cakes for the birds.  They went in the freezer and came out with this bag containing a big bag of fatty glop.

Homemade Suet Cakes

I’m not really sure what I was expecting.  This was a bit of a last minute idea that I came up with while I was there.   I thought seemed like an quick, easy project.  Oops.  I really should have thought this through a little better.  But in the end, I did get some really nice looking suet cakes for the birds.  Would I do it again?  Yes 🙂

Making Homemade Suet Cakes

Ask your local butcher for suet.  You may need to ask around, as not all will carry it, and some may charge a nominal fee for it.  Cut it up into small, even chunks.  Put everything in, even the stuff that doesn’t look at all like anything would eat it.  The fat then needs to be rendered.  After trying a couple of different ways, (see below), I found that the best way was to use a crock pot over low heat.  I felt confident that I could safely leave it to cook all day without worries of starting a grease fire.  To get the rendering started, I added a 1/4 cup of water.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Then cover and let it cook all day until the the remaining fat is crunchy and there’s a good amount of liquid fat in the bottom.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Strain out the crunchy remains and place the liquified fat (and little crumbs) in a bowl.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Now it’s time to pull together the ingredients to make the suet cakes.  There’s lots of things to use that the birds will love.  This time I chose:

  • cornmeal
  • peanut butter
  • bird seed
  • sunflower seeds

Homemade Suet Cakes

To the 1 c of liquified fat I ended up with, I added about 1/2 c cornmeal, 1/2 c peanut butter, 1 cup mixed seed and 1/2 c sunflower seeds.  It should be fairly thick.

Homemade Suet Cakes

 

Homemade Suet Cakes

I then used 2 glass storage containers to make the cakes in.  I don’t have a lot of plastic containers around anymore, but you can use whatever you have in the cupboard–plastic storage containers, plastic tubs, paper cups, whatever you might have around that is the right size.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Place in the refrigerator to harden.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Remove from container and use immediately or store in freezer bags in the freezer.  I got them to release from the glass bowls by putting them in warm water for about 30 sec.  They may also needs a little coaxing with a knife.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Yum!  Now I have 2 very tasty smelling suet cakes ready to be put out for the birds.  Whatever you don’t use you can freeze for later use.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Notes:

**Everything I’ve read says it’s not a good idea to have suet out in the warmer weather.  It can melt, go rancid, start to smell bad or can simply damage birds wings or your patio.  All good reasons to store the leftover suet in the freezer until next fall.

**When I first started to try and melt the suet, I tried the big chunks in a saucepan, and then cut up in the saucepan.  Both terrible ideas from a fire safety standpoint.  If you do want to use a saucepan, a double boiler would be a much better idea.

Homemade Suet CakesHomemade Suet Cakes

**My mom, Peggy, simplifies things even further by just putting the fat from the butcher in a net or cage and let the birds go at it.  They love that, too.

 

 

Angel Wings in the Snow

Of all the tracks in the snow this winter, I have been the most fascinated by the ones that look like angel wings.  Every so often in the newly fallen snow, I’ve found soft little wing-like brush marks.  Are they from birds dancing?  Showing off for a potential mate?  Or just stretching in the sun?  Whatever the reason, they leave the softest little flutter marks to be enjoyed by us.  I’m not positive, but I think these have been left by the Cardinals.

IMG_5288 (1)

 

IMG_5286

 

bird wings in snow

 

bird wings in snow

 

bird wings in snow

Or maybe they were just making snow angels that no one, including my husband Steve, can resist making in fresh, fluffy snow.

IMG_5081

Hidden Nests

I am one of those that snoops gently around in the bushes in the spring looking for those secret nests.   But, I’m not usually very successful, so one of the things I love about fall and winter is finding those hidden nests that were so painstakingly made and camouflaged so well.  I am always so surprised when the leaves fall off the bushes and there they are! How did I miss them?

We walk right under this crabapple tree to get to the backyard.  We could tell that birds were hanging out in this spot because of the mess on the bricks below, but the leaves were too dense to spot the nest until the leaves dropped.

bird nest

 

bird nest

 

bird nest

This one was in a fairly young Redbud.

bird nest

bird nest

A friend needed a nest for a classroom project. Luckily she asked in the early fall so I knew just where to get a perfect one for her.  It had been abandoned in a Blackhaw Viburnum.

bird nest

 

bird nest

Then there’s the ones you stumble upon out in the forests and fields.

bird nest

 There’s actually two nests in this shrub.  Pretty unusual to be so close together, so maybe one was from a prior year.  

bird nest

And of course, there’s the squirrels who need to nest as well.

squirrel nest

Winter Visit to the Morton Arboretum

The other day, before the polar vortex descended into the Chicago area, Steve and I went out for a walk and lunch at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL.  The Arboretum is a real local treasure where we can always find something interesting every time we visit.  Today we walked around one of the very snowy and quiet trails, and then took time to walk through the Children’s Garden.  Even though we had no kids with us today, it’s a beautifully laid out garden, easy to explore on a snowy day.

Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum/Bird Nest

You never know what you’ll find when walking around.  I’m still not sure who made these beautiful nests, but I’m leaning towards a Red-Eyed Vireo.  The nest is pretty small, would fit in the palm of my hand, and was about 6 ft off the ground.  Any thoughts?

Morton Arboretum/Bird Nest

Morton Arboretum/Bird Nest

Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum

Once we had enough outdoors, we were lucky enough to get tickets to the last day of the 12th annual Enchanted Railroad Model Train display.  It’s definitely for all ages, no kids are necessary to enjoy.

Model Railroad/Morton Arboretum

Model Railroad/Morton Arboretum

Model Railroad/Morton Arboretum

Model Railroad/Morton Arboretum

Model Railroad/Morton Arboretum

Model Railroad/Morton Arboretum

Model Railroad/Morton Arboretum

Thanks LGB Model Railroad Club of Chicago for such interesting displays every year.

And of course, the trip was topped off by lunch in the Gingko Cafe and a trip to one of the best gift shops around.  Whenever I stop in there, I am reminded that the book “Man of Salt and Trees: The Life of Joy Morton” by James Ballowe is on my “to read” list.  

A Man of Salt and Trees

Pelicans in Illinois?

We were down at Detweiller Park in Peoria, IL this weekend to watch a huge high school cross country meet.  As we were standing around after watching our team race, we noticed a huge flock of birds up in the clear blue sky.

IMG_7601

First thoughts that were tossed out by people were Sandhill Cranes, Canadian Geese, ducks? Just didn’t look right for any of those.  They were flying too low and quietly for Sandhill Cranes and size and flight pattern didn’t fit with geese or ducks.  Luckily, I had my binoculars with me and I was able to take a good look.  I could have sworn they were pelicans, but we’re in IL and we don’t have White Pelicans here. Looked some more to get a good look at identifying marks. Quickly got out my iPhone iBird Plus App (Mitch Waite Group)and they were definitely White Pelicans. Still puzzled though, since according to the range maps on this app and the Audubon Bird App they were not supposed to be found in this part of IL, even when migrating.  But, there was no mistaking the identification.

After some investigating, it turns out that over the last 10 years or so, a few of these pelicans began migrating up and down the Illinois River. Until then, the furthest east they were known to migrate was via a Mississippi River route. Over the years, it’s become a regular event and their numbers have grown. Why their migration route, back and forth from fresh water lakes in Canada and the North Central US to the southern US, Mexico and Central America, has shifted east to the Illinois River is unknown. One theory is that a storm threw them off track. Since migration is a learned event, they learned the wrong route one year and then kept following it. Whatever the cause, it sure was exciting to see these huge, magnificent birds flying overhead on their way south for the winter. I’ll be writing this sighting on my lifetime list.

IMG_7616

 

IMG_7617

 

IMG_7602

 

IMG_7604

 

IMG_7609

 

IMG_7611

Photos by Steve

Now for a little fun. If you’re still reading, we’ve discovered the best “off the beaten trail” places to grab a bite to eat on our way back home. Heading about 15 minutes north on Rt 29 from the park, Castaways Bar and Grill in Chillicothe, IL is my recomendation for grabbing a delicious bite to eat. Looks can be deceiving, but it is a family friendly place with an extensive menu and friendly staff. We’ve enjoyed their burgers, green bean french fries and an assortment of sandwiches. We’ve not tried one of their famous “O” burgers, maybe next time.  And maybe we’ll see you there after the next XC meet in Peoria.

rip pretty little ovenbird

The other morning, right after the kids left for school, I heard an odd, unexpected thud against the front door.   I went to investigate, thinking one of the kids had heaved the newspaper up on the porch and hit the door by accident. But, much to my surprise laying on the front step was the most beautiful ovenbird.

IMG_3545
IMG_3547_2

What was so confusing at first when I saw him, is that we don’t get ovenbirds around here in the neighborhood, let alone have one fly into the house.  A house finch, house sparrow or even a cardinal maybe, but not an ovenbird.   He must have hit terribly hard since he was already dead by the time I opened the door.    I asked my mom what she thought, and she suggested maybe it was migrating since all her birds have been leaving northern MI the last week or so in preparation for winter.  I don’t know for sure what brought him here or confused him so much, but that was a very sad way to start the day.  We decided a little burial was appropriate, so he now resides in my garden.

Sunday Feature: Holes in the Mountain Ash

**Today’s post is from guest blogger, Peggy**

IMG_0052

For almost 10 yrs, the 2 mountain ashes in our yard has had a woodpecker, or something similar, making quite an interesting pattern of peck marks in it. Hard as we’ve tried, we’ve not been able to spy the culprit.  The trees were quite small when the holes started showing up, so we thought for sure they’d be dead soon.  But year after year they grew, and the holes kept coming.   There were often bees or wasps around, so we thought maybe it was them somehow. I finally identified those as Bald-Faced Wasps, but they just don’t make holes in trees.  It really looked like some kind of woodpecker, but how could they be so secretive for so many years?

Well, finally, a few days ago, he was there. A yellow-bellied sapsucker! He was so intent on his work, I was able to get right up close and snap a few photos.  And I was so intent on taking these pictures, I actually got stung by one of those darn wasps!

IMG_0054

IMG_0055