My daughters are 28 and 22. I know about the whole empty nest thing. But this spring it’s been déjà vu all over again with our first bluebird box.
We set it up, started monitoring, and May 6 we opened the side wall and cheered to see five turquoise eggs. (see my post If You Build It, Bluebirds Will Come). May 22, the eggs were replaced with little birds, all belly and beak, and we watched them grow and grow.
Yesterday, after reaching a stage that resembled the old image of a dozen people jamming into a VW bug, we found nothing but very flattened straw in the box. Our babies have fledged.
I don’t expect to see them ever again. We never saw a bluebird before we put up the box. Despite their brilliant plumage, they have the survivor’s habit of blending into the woods edge. But though I may not see them, I know where they probably are and I am wishing them well. They will need it.
When songbirds fledge, they have to make it on their own facing starvation and predators. Cats, raccoons and bigger birds are a threat. I’ve never seen a cat on our land, and only one baby raccoon. The sky often contains a circling hawk or turkey vulture.
According to Jim Beix, Pierce County Coordinator of the Bluebird Association of Wisconsin, writing in the Spring 2010 newsletter,Little is known about Passerine juveniles and their life after the nest. (The Passerine are sparrow-like perchers –this includes a lot of the bird world.)
Eastern bluebirds, like other cavity-nesting birds have a longer nesting period than open cup nesters. Those extra days of development, hopefully give them an edge.
We were told to site our bluebird house near young trees to give the fledglings a reasonable target for their maiden flight or they can end up on the ground where they do NOT want to be. We made sure there are many perchable young pines in the vicinity. We often watched the parents watch us from the tops of these trees.
What I hope is that they are following standard bluebird operating procedure, having relocated to the oak woods near their nest where their devoted parents continue to feed them for a week or two. Then their mom will start building a new nest. (Our instructions are to get the old nest out of the box and keep monitoring.)
While Mom gets to work preparing for the second brood, Dad continues survival classes with the first hatch. These newbies will remain hidden in the trees, lying low between practice dives until they learn to drop from their perch, scoop up bugs near the ground, snatch insects out of the air and grab a foliage salad now and then. They have a lot to learn, but within three weeks, they should be pretty good at getting their own food.
Like wobbly young adults everywhere, they strike out at that point, leaving the siblings and parents they jammed into that little house and huddled in the branches with. Perhaps they will meet up again when they start flocking with other Eastern Bluebirds for migration this fall.
Migration is a challenge. Beix cites research that predicts 87% make it from the nest to independent life, but only one in three will make it to the next breeding season.
Are they out there in the woods now? It rained last night. Did they get enough to eat? Did they stay warm and dry?
A mother wonders.