New Year Nests and Resolutions

Non Birding Bill and I have been discussing our resolutions for the year. Some I started about a week ago--like the desire to lose 15 pounds (I'm tired of tight pants) so have been diligently monitoring my caloric intake and making a pointed effort to be active on a daily basis. My other resolution is to make more time for friends (we were at Mr. Neil's today, so there is a check off the list) and to become an apiarist (more on that in March).

What a perfect day to start off a new year! We had a lovely snow fall during the night and it was just cold enough to warrant a coat but you really didn't need gloves. The type of day you could easily spend the entire eight hours of daylight outside.

We finally cleaned out the wood duck box that was taken over by nesting house wrens. Check out the size of the nest we took out! It's huge, how could one tiny pair of wrens move so many sticks? This is the nest that had the saw-whet owl feather lining the nest cup. We've heard them and found feathers but have yet to see a live saw-whet owl on the property. I checked the bird banding lab and the oldest house wren documented is over 9 years old--wow! Must be the active life style.

As cool as it was to see how industrious a pair of wrens can be, I really hope we get wood ducks on the box this year.

I checked a grove of pines that I am positive will reveal a saw-whet to me one day and discovered a nest that I didn't notice over the summer. I have been to this spot countless times over the past year and never noticed this nest just 6 feet above ground.--that's only a foot above my head. No matter how in tune with nature I think I am, I always miss something (hmm, how many saw-whets have I passed??) How many times did I walk right underneath this little cup last spring and summer? I started doing a mental inventory of the birds at this spot in summer. Vesper sparrow? No, they nest on the ground. Eastern bluebird? No, cavity nester. Red-eyed vireo? No, pendulous nest, not a cup nest. Chipping sparrow? Hm, I would have to double check my Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North America.

Before I would go back and check the book, I wanted to photograph the nest to get all the detail I could for identification. I took a photo of the inside of the nest and found it full of snow.

While photographing the material on the sides, I noticed material that didn't fit all the grasses on the outside. There was a sticky matter and small stick looking shapes that zigged and zagged. It suddenly dawned on me: bones! The bones were part of a small bird's foot and toes and you could even see the tiny nails. Something had gone wrong with this nest.

I bent the branch down lower and blew my hot breath over it. After four blows, the snow melted and inside were the remains of what most likely was a chick. You can make out a scull towards the top center of the photo. The leg bones and foot extended up and over the outer side of the nest. I tried to take the pieces out, but they were completely frozen solid to the tightly woven nest. Even the sticky bodily fluids had become a tacky hard glue. There was no way to remove the fragile bones and I didn't want to trim the branch to take the nest.

So many questions: One chick left in pieces in the nest, what killed it? A snake would have swallowed them whole, as would a raccoon, mink, or weasel. Was it a blue jay, grackle, or woodpecker that came to eat the chicks and ripped them apart? Did the chick just die of some other cause like starvation or disease and then eventually a mouse found it and ate some of the dead carcass? Did the other chicks survive? What kind of nest was this?

Based on reading the nest book, it appears to be a chipping sparrow nest. The book says the nests are found 3 - 20 feet high, usually in a conifer and nest in a twig fork or among foliage. (check to all of that--the nest was 6 feet high in a pine on an outer fork) The book goes on to say that the cup is made up of dead grasses, weed stems, and rootlets; lined with finer grasses and hair. I see chipping sparrows there in warm weather so I'm going to go on a limb and call this a chipping sparrow nest--but I'm open to second opinions.

Alright, enough dead stuff. Let's end this entry with a great bird: a tufted titmouse! This wasn't my first bird of the year. That was a nuthatch that rouse me from my slumber early one, incessantly yanking outside the window. But I did get this little titmouse with the WingScapes Camera while we were at Neil's so it's my first photographed bird of the year. Whoot. I think that's a good omen for the year.