Unbeknownst to us, a mallard pair (Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) built a nest in our yard and laid eggs in it. We discovered it by chance when Lizzie accidentally scared up the hen while playing in the yard. On the second occasion of that, when I investigated, I found a nest with six eggs in it.
I placed recently dropped tree branches around the nest to dissuade Lizzie from wandering over to the nest. Lizzie has no interest in birds so I was not concerned she would pester the nest but I wanted to keep her away from the nest so as to reduce stress on the hen.
Unfortunately, two week later, the eggs were destroyed. I suspect raccoons (Procyon lotor) found the nest and ate the eggs.
During the drought this year, to assist the various animals that make our yard their home, I placed a bird bath at the bottom of our hill, in the wooded part of the yard. To learn what animals were using the bird bath, I placed a trail cam on a nearby tree to record the activity at the bird bath. Below are some of images recorded by the trail cam.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Robins were frequent visitors to the bird bath. Sometimes, families of 3-4 robins would take turns bathing in the bird bath.
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Prior to seeing the following image, I had not seen a Blue Jay bathe in a bird bath despite having multiple bird baths for years.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
American goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
After I saw the following picture, I knew why I occasionally found partially consumed animal carcasses in the bird bath. Crows were using it to clean their food.
Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus)
A Hairy Woodpecker would frequently visit nearby trees but never visited the bird bath.
Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
One apparently tired Gray Squirrel rested on the bird bath.
American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
The bird bath even had visitors at night. The camera recorded several images of mice visiting the bird bath at night.
Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
A pair of raccoons were recorded walking past the bird bath but they apparently had no interest in it.
On Thursday, I was working from home when I heard a low growl. Checking on Lizzie, I saw she was growling at a gobble of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) ambling through our front yard. She has seen turkeys previously but always at a distance, never this close.
The turkeys appeared to be eating acorns that had dropped from the oak trees. We have had single turkeys visit our yard but never this many at once.
Every Spring a pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) temporarily makes our yard their home. There is a small creek at the bottom of hill in our backyard. In the spring it has sufficient water flowing in it for mallards to float around on it. It usually dries up at some point in the summer but mallards find it a comfortable place to hang out in for a few weeks.
The mallards will often come up to the top of the hill and wander around near our house and garage. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a photograph or two of them. Having keen eyesight, they are quick to spot me, even when I carefully peak through a window.
On Thursday, I saw a hen and drake eating corn near one of our critter feeding stations. I quickly grabbed my phone but they, having seen me, ambled away before I could get a good closeup photograph of them.
This is the second year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:
On Sunday, March 1, 2020, I saw a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) investigating a nest box I had filled with pine shavings the day before. The next day, I could see they were preparing it by removing shavings. Nuthatches are cavity nesters. They will often stash shavings and chips they remove from a cavity in the bark of the tree they are working in. I saw a lot of shavings stashed into crevices in the bark of the tree the nest box is attached to.
Kat noticed buds on the maples and oaks on Monday, March 2, 2020. One of our neighbor’s trees has large buds on it. I don’t recall seeing that large before.
It appears that as of Saturday, March 7, it is still mating season for the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) mating season. I saw a squirrel being chased by another in a manner suggestive of one being a female in heat and the other an interested male.
I saw and heard the first American Robin (Turdus migratorius) of the season on Tuesday, March 10. It was perched in a fruit tree adjacent to our patio.
While walking with Lizzie on Friday, March 13, we heard Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) singing near the pond on the north side of the street.
The sound of dogs barking alerted Lizzie and I that something was afoot in the neighborhood. It is not unusual there are dogs barking in our neighborhood but something about the barking drew our attention.
While I listened to the barks trying to determine the reason for the upset, Lizzie let out a low growl which immediately grabbed my attention. Lizzie rarely vocalizes and very rarily growls. To my surprise, looking to where she was staring, thirty feet away, I saw a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I regularly see them flying overhead but this was the first I have seen in our yard.
Grabbing the binoculars, I saw it had been eating something. I could see blood in the snow and nearby what appeared to be the remains of an animal.
After the eagle flew off, Lizzie and I investigated the site, where we found tracks, blood, fur, and various parts of an animal.
It is that time of year again, time to empty the nest boxes. I empty the boxes in the fall on the first of October and fill them with wood shavings every spring on March 1st. Emptying and refilling them annually reduces the parasite load, thus, reducing risk for the birds.
This spring I purchased two additional nest boxes, bringing the total to five. I placed the two new nest boxes in the wooded area at the bottom of the slope at the back of our property. Additionally, I moved two of the other nest boxes so that there was greater spatial separation between all of the nest boxes.
Despite the additional nest boxes, only two were occupied this year. Again, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) took up residence in a nest box and raised a clutch of chicks. That nest box was occupied last year by a pair of nuthatches so I wonder if it is the same pair.
A nuthatch started building a nest in the other large nest box but abandoned it after a week. I don’t know if it was chased off by another nuthatch or if it moved to the nest box that was occupied this year. Come spring, I intend on moving the abandoned nest box further away from the other large nest box in hopes that I might have two nesting pair of nuthatches next year.
No Black-capped Chickadees took up residence in any of the nest boxes this year. However, I am confident a pair of House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) occupied one of the new nest boxes located in the wooded area of our property. I didn’t observe them entering or leaving the nest box. However, they were frequently nearby, I observed them on the nest box, and they made a raucous whenever I or Lizzie were near the nest box. (Lizzie, for her part, ignored them.)
The other new nest box was occupied by two mice when I opened it up. From the looks of it, they had not been in there for long as there was no nesting materials beyond the wood chips I had filled it with in the spring. They ran off before I could take a picture or identify them. Lizzie had a fun time hunting them in the brush pile they scurried into. She caught and killed at least one. I wandered off before I saw if she caught the other one.
This is the first year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:
Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – I heard but didn’t see the first red-winged blackbird in our yard on Sunday, March 31. This was 10 days after others had seen them in the Twin Cities area. I didn’t see or hear a red-winged blackbird again for at least a month. A pair, however, has set up home near us and are regular visitors to our tray feeder.
I saw the first bumblebees on Monday, May 13.
Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) – I saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird flying around our backyard on Wednesday, May 15. A day later I observed a male in our yard. They now visit our feeders numerous times per day.
Kat saw the first monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Thursday, May 16.