Garden Residents of the Day: Baby Robins

Well, it has happened. The baby Robins have hatched. I noticed in the early morning videos of the nest today that the parent robins were spending more time away from the nest as soon as the sun rose this morning. When they returned to the nest, they appeared to be carrying small insects and spent more time poking their heads into the nest than before, but I could not see any babies. By this afternoon the babies were indeed peeking above the sides of the nest looking for food. Here they are:

Garden Residents of the Day: Robins and Mourning Doves

We’ve had a lot of birds nesting in the yard this year. It really is a testament to how much life a small suburban yard can support if you make space for wildlife. So far, we’ve had:

  • 2 Robin’s nests (1 under the deck, 1 over it)
  • 1 Mourning Dove nest (in the crabapple tree next to the house)
  • 3 Carolina Wren nests (all in the birdhouse gourds I hung this spring)
  • 2 House Sparrow nests (1 in a wren house, 1 in a bluebird house)

And those are only the ones I’ve found – I suspect there is a Cardinal nest somewhere that I never found, since the cardinals were very agressive in the yard this spring, and there may be others in the tall trees that I haven’t spied.

I’ve moved the compost cam to the top of our deck’s arbor so I can spy on the latest Robin nest, which is in a prime sheltered location just under the eave of our house. Most of the cam clips are of the Robins taking turns incubating the eggs, but this one is a great shot of one of the parents rolling the eggs. Birds do this to help the eggs incubate. Ideas of why birds roll their eggs during incubation include making sure that the embryo inside has adequate access to the nutritional white in the egg, making sure the membrane around the embryo does not adhere to the wall of the egg, and making sure that the eggs are evenly warmed.

I’ve also been watching a pair of Mourning Doves nest in the crabapple tree on the south side of the house, just 15 or so feet beyond the Robin’s nest in the photo above. At first the doves would startle when I walked along the side of the house, which is how I noticed the nest. Now they are content to sit on the nest even when I come within a few feet of it (which happens frequently, since my veggie garden is very close). Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The nest looks fragile and cobbled together, but is quite well built. It has withstood a derecho and a storm that spawned multiple tornados in the area. After each storm I went outside expecting to find the nest on the ground, but it was still standing.
  • Mourning Doves (and other birds, I’m sure) are fearless. When I peeked out at them during the storm, one parent was always sitting on the nest, even as the tree looked like it would be blown flat to the ground.
  • Mourning doves lay 2 non-descript looking white eggs at a time. When their chicks hatch, the first you will see of them is when they are little grey balls of fluff.
  • According to sources on the internet, the father will sit on the nest during the day and the mother will sit on it at night. I sincerely apologize to Papa Mourning Dove for calling him Mama for several days before I learned this.
  • Once the chicks hatch, it will seem the parent caring for the nest never leaves it. I know they must leave at some point, but I have not been able to catch the nest unattended. Since they feed the chicks crop milk, is it possible that they don’t leave at all for 12 hours? That they eat as much as possible during their off shift and then use their reserves to feed hungry chicks while on shift? That is my best guess for what happens. I may need to move the compost cam to confirm.
Can you see the little chicks just in front of the parent?

Garden Crafts: Bird Gourd Houses

Yet another garden project with found – or rather grown – materials.

This is, of course, a craft you will find at any local craft fair. They are birdhouses made of a special type of gourd called a “birdhouse gourd” I suspect that gourd #3 may be a different type of gourd that snuck in to my seed pack, but since they are open pollinated, it could very well have come from what the seed grower thought was 100% birdhouse gourd.

I’ve never purchased a gourd birdhouse from a craft fair, but wanted to try my hand at making them. It was not terribly hard (although I’m sure you’ll agree – mine are not ready for the craft fair circuit yet).

Last June, I planted several birdhouse gourd seeds next to giant sunflowers in my garden bed. As the vines grew, they climed the sunflowers. This was good for a gardener like myself who does not like to put in more work than she absolutely needs to – because the gourds were hanging, I never had to rotate them in the field to make sure that the did not end up with a flat side.

I left them up until the vines were completed dried in the fall and the first frosts were threatening. Then I moved them into my garage for the winter. Would it be too cold for them in the unheated garage? It can get down to -20F here. Things freeze. I wasn’t sure, but given that several sources warned that they would give off a terrible moldy smell as they cured, I decided to take my chances. I did have to save them from my husband, who tried to throw them away every time he found them. I can’t blame him. They did look strange and gross.

In the spring, I checked them. They were hard and dry. The seeds inside rattled when I shook them. They had a bit of mold and discoloration on the outside. Perfect!

Next I:

  1. Wiped them off with a bleach solution.
  2. Sanded the outside lightly.
  3. Drilled a 1″-1.25″ hole in each one.
  4. Removed as much of the seeds and dried innards as I could.
  5. Painted them with tempera paints I had on hand for painting Easter eggs.
  6. Hung them from branches in my yard with garden wire.

I did not seal them with poly. I meant to, but did not have any at home and in the spirit of using only materials on hand, I decided not to buy any. I suspect I will need to repaint them for next year, but since I enjoy painting and always have plenty of paint on hand, I’m ok with that.

I’ve also saved seeds for planting this year, so I won’t need to buy new seeds for next year. I took the seeds only from the 2 best gourds with the strudiest, most regular shells. Natural selection and all that.

Garden Visitor of the Day: Kissing Cardinals

These are two videos I’ve collected over the past couple weeks from the trail cam of our resident cardinals. First enjoy the videos and then I’ll tell you about the downside of encouraging birds in your yard.

Kissing” cardinals…the male shares a morsel from under the feeder with his mate

This cardinal couple (and as far as I can tell, it is the same one) has made itself at home in our yard from the spring migration through the fall migration for each of the past 3 years. They like our yard so much that they are willing to take on any cardinal they see to ensure that they don’t lose it as their territory.

There are no other cardinals in our yard regularly, but there are a whole lot of windows. You can see where I am going with this, I’m sure. For the past 3 years, the female cardinal has spent most of her day flying at her own reflection in our windows. She starts around sunrise (hello, 5 am!), takes a break mid-morning, comes back in the afternoon, takes another break later in the afternoon, comes back in the early evening, and then breaks again once the sun goes down and her reflection is gone. She primarily attacks three windows: the master bedroom en suite, the window for a storage room directly under the master bedroom on the east side of the house, and the guest bathroom on the south side of the house.

We have tried:

  • Closing the blinds/drapes (completely ineffective)
  • Hanging wind chimes and garden decorations that move in the wind in front of the windows (ineffective)
  • Writing on the window with a highligher (ineffective)
  • Taping bird silhouettes on the window (ineffective)
  • Covering the outside of the window with bird netting (ineffective)
  • Taping cardboard over the window (effective, but too ugly for the humans to accept)
  • Taping strips of mylar over the window (same, plus it could not survive the storms we get here in the Midwest)
  • Scaring the bird by running up to the window, banging on it, yelling, etc. (effective, but only for an hour or so)

Finally, we bought this little guy:


He is a lifesaver. I wired him into the cherry tree right outside our en suite window a month and a half ago and the cardinal now stays away. The instructions said to move him periodically, because the bird might realize that the owl isn’t moving and get suspicious. I dutifully moved our new little owl friend up into another tree about 7 feet away from the window after a week to give the illusion of flight.

The cardinal came back that very day. Apparently, an owl two feet away from her window is too scary, but 7 is no big deal.

Now Owly (Yes, we’ve named him, and yes, we are very creative) is back in the cherry tree just outside of the window and has been for 5 weeks. Mama cardinal still has not caught on that he is always there. Even if she comes back tomorrow, he will have been more than worth the $18 we spent on him at our local Ace Hardware for the extra hours of sleep we’ve gotten this spring.

And if he stops working, I’ve decided that I am raiding our Halloween display supplies and putting this guy up in our bathroom window. I’m sure I’ll have a heart attack every time I walk into the bathroom and see him there, but it will be worth it.