Empty Nest Syndrome

By Deborah Rayfield Indian Trail Master Naturalist

I am suffering from empty nest syndrome, the avian variety.  We have 10 bluebird nestboxes spread over our place, but one is situated inside the fences near the house.  Actually, there are two boxes, one is meant for wrens to use and the other — a nice, built-to-specs bluebird house.

You can guess which one the new pair, affectionately named Toy and Taylor, chose to use this year.  Yes, the ancient, coming-apart-at-the-seams wren house.  No matter what I tried, they insisted on nesting in the old house, even when I exchanged it with the new bluebird house, they just moved further into the yard and re-nested in the old box.  Some birds, just like people, like old houses.  Toy and Taylor are perfect residents for Gingerbread Trail- loving folks.

The first nest was threatened by the last spring storm that tore through the area in May, downing trees and causing general havoc.  I peered out at the nestbox the following morning only to see the side opened up.  During the night, the old box had turned loose of the screw holding the door shut.  I ran out to the box in horror, knowing that the eggs were ready to hatch at any time.

There was one little baby in the nest, sitting on top of four dud eggs.  She looked to be about a day or two old, so what a night she must have had. The nest was dry where she was, so I left it alone and secured the box with a new, longer screw.  Not long after, Toy and Taylor began to bring juicy insects to the box.  Like clockwork, she fledged the nest on day 16.  I dutifully cleaned the old nest out and the bluebird pair began preparations for a second nesting.  Five more eggs were laid and Toy began the 14­-day incubation period.

This time, she seemed to know what to do, and stayed put on the nest even when we walked close by the box.  By this time, the heat was rising each day. I worried about Toy overheating in the box.  She wasn’t going to budge for anything, determined that more of her clutch would hatch.  I used a longer screw on the box, allowing the side to be open a bit more and giving her the needed extra breeze.  Together, our efforts paid off and five little mouths appeared where sky blue eggs once were.

The box was further modified so that even more air could reach the babies.  By the time they were ready to fledge, the babies were taking turns popping up to the entrance hole to get their turn at breathing fresh air. They were so accustomed to my looking at them, walking up to the box and talking softly, the babies would just look out at me in their quizzical way.  When fledglings start to spend so much time looking out at the world, you know that it’s just a matter of days before they make their first flight from the nest.  One evening they were there and the next morning, gone.  I could hear their soft peeps out in the cedars, Toy and Taylor working hard to round them up, about as easy as herding cats.

The babies would be fed and taught to hunt for the next two weeks, taking cover in the dense foliage of the cedars. Toy did nest again.  I switched the wren box and bluebird box, but she sought out her old home and laid five more eggs.   Deep into June, the temperature was just too hot to incubate the eggs.  I tossed them out just a few weeks ago.  I was really missing my early morning communion with the bluebird family.  There is something so special about their call, soft and reassuring with what sounds like “cheer, cheer.”

Last evening as I was filling up the various bird baths, I rounded the corner of the house and saw a flock of bluebirds.  There must have been at least 10.  They fluttered into the cedar, sounding that familiar cheerful tune. The nests are empty now, but the sky around our house is filled with heavenly blue.

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