Birdie Turf Wars and Fosters... Don't Try This at Home!

Eastern Bluebird Male feeding FledgelingLots of birds are busy nesting and raising families this month, Tons of parents feeding babies right now- and if you close enough there's cardinals, thrashers, house finches, wrens, robins, nuthatches, chickadees, doves and of course, beloved bluebirds among others!

It's not easy being a bird because real estate is tough out there! Competition for nest boxes is real and happens before our eyes! The fact our area now has thriving starling residents does not help native songbirds in the least as they're busy enough guarding their own territories.

Earlier this month, we saw a strange occurrence when a bluebird removed the nesting material placed in a nest box by a chickadee. That in itself isn't so strange, but the bluebird took the material to a nearby birdhouse and actually placed it inside the box. As if to say "here, you nest here, the other is my box!" Now the craziest part is that the chickadee went inside, grabbed his moss and proceeded back to his chosen birdhouse! This went on for some time and resulted in neither of the boxes being occupied.

For those who "don't feed birds in summer", yes- it's true, they don't need your charity. But we can promise... you're the one missing out! Colors and song of migratory birds alone is something every backyard birder anticipates. Orioles, buntings, grosbeaks, and for most... hummingbirds. It's simply the best time of year for backyard bird watching!

Colorful Migratory Birds, Grosbeak, Bunting and Oriole

Once you've been bitten by the "bird bug" you're hooked, it's addictive, it's magical, and can be awe-inspiring. Some folks even devote their time and resources to certain species, becoming hosts or landlords for bluebirds or purple martins. They manage these trails or colonies in the name of science, with passion and a simple love for the birds themselves.

So, back to the turf wars and this bluebird monitor's experience... which you shouldn't try at home:

"This spring, the bluebirds took a different box on the trail than usual.  There was a chickadee nesting there and they took over.  At some point they abandoned, and the black capped chickadees returned to lay five eggs.  I don't think the bluebird egg was ever incubated- but it hatched today ahead of the chickadee eggs, and looks like it is gaining in size already"

I don't imagine this poor bird will be able to survive in a chickadee's nest.  I am wondering what can be done.  Right now I have not come up with any solution to the problems.  I think it will be at least five days before the chickadee nestlings hatch."

Now one great thing about being a monitor or landlord is the support and resources available from other experienced folks within said group.

"Big issue with the chickadees raising and fledging the bluebird chick is that this bluebird may think it is a chickadee when it comes time next year to find a mate. After fledging, the chickadee’s will teach the bluebird to become a chickadee as they search for foods completely different from what bluebirds usually look for and the types of food they will eat. Chickadees will try to teach the baby bluebird to hammer out the seeds of sunflowers and other smaller nuts and hard shelled seeds.
The baby bluebird is not going to act like a chickadee baby once they all leave the nest. This may cause the chickadee adults to abandon the baby bluebird"

So, best advice was given to foster out the baby bluebird to another bluebird nest. But how? Because bluebird monitors share one common goal:

"I found no candidate nests on my trails in Southeastern Ma, but a monitor from Northeastern, MA had a nest that hatched on the 24th with only four hatchlings.  When I arrived this morning, I noticed the hatchlings in that nest had achieved a nearly identical size as my baby from Monday.  It was impossible to tell the difference between my foster child and the others!"

Bluebird Hatchling in Chickadee Nest

"Update on Foster Child in Massachusetts.

I think he/she is one of the smaller ones, even though it is a day older than the others.  The chickadees had four of five hatched the day I took her to her new home.  They are all doing well too."

Bluebird babies with new foster kid

So all's well that ends well and it looks like this little blue will do just fine thanks to the efforts of a caring bluebird monitor and combined knowledge within the group. Grow strong and thrive little guy!

And by the way, here's a pretty good reference should you find a baby bird on the ground, because it may not need your charity. Nature is resourceful... happy birding!

Last update on the foster:
Photo taken of the clan was at 10 days old. Email yesterday from monitor said all have fledged from box :)

Bluebird clutch with foster at 10 days old

Bluebird images and story courtesy of Bill Apgar - a dedicated bluebird monitor in MA.