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.
Three years ago, I bought a nest box and placed it on a tree near our garage. It was a nest box intended for woodpeckers and my hope was that a woodpecker would use it. Despite having plenty of woodpeckers frequenting our yard every day, they didn’t use the nest box. Instead a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) took up residence in the nest box and raised a clutch of chicks.
Inspired by that family of nuthatches, I bought another nest box and placed it on a tree outside of our dining room. I was hopeful we would watch nuthatches raise a family while we enjoyed our dinner. A pair took up residence in the nest box and laid a clutch of four eggs. Unfortunately, a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) killed all the eggs, threw them from the nest box and claimed the box for itself.
When I discovered this, I was livid. Researching house sparrows, I learned they are an invasive species introduced from England and are known for taking over nest boxes and displacing native birds, in particular, blue birds.
I also learned I simply needed to narrow the opening to the nest box. House sparrows don’t tolerate openings that are 1 ¼-inch in diameter whereas native song birds such as White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees have no issue with an opening that small. To displace the unwelcome occupant, I opened the access panel to the nest box, dumped the contents and tilted it at an angle so that the house sparrow could not build a nest in it. It returned daily with nesting materials but all fell out to the ground. I then purchased the appropriate constrictors and attached them to the two nest boxes I had, preventing the house sparrow from entering.
This year, much to our delight, the nuthatches came back to raise a clutch of four chicks in one of the nest boxes. It was a joy to see the chicks following the adults around from tree to tree, learning how to forage for food.
I have a yearly schedule for 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.
We now have three nest boxes, this year one was occupied a Black-capped Chickadee family and another was used by a nuthatch family. The third was too close to another box, so, it remained unoccupied. I moved it further away this fall, I hope it will to be occupied next summer. If all three boxes are occupied next year, I’ll buy another nest box and place it in the other corner of our yard. With luck, in a year or two, we’ll have four families of song birds living in our yard.
I bought a game camera with the hope of recording the coming and going of a nesting pair of White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) that were nesting in one of our nest boxes. For various reasons, that didn’t work out to my satisfaction. Looking for a use for the game camera, I placed it in various locations in our yard to discover what it might record. Below are a few images captured by it.
As expected in east central Minnesota, there are plenty of Eastern Gray Squirrels to be photographed.
Another frequent visitor to our yard is the American robin, often with an eye towards the ground, looking for worms to eat. While gardening, I place any grubs I find on a stump for birds to eat. Robins are usually the first to snatch them up.
The Chipping Sparrow is a regular summer-time resident. I frequently see them hopping through the grass, looking for seeds and insects. They appear to be fairly bold birds, approaching within a few feet of Lizzie. Lizzie, for the most part, ignores them preferring to hunt for rodents.
This weekend was a good weekend for observing raptors. On Friday, I noticed a large hawk high up in the branches of an oak tree. Using binoculars, I confirmed it was a rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus). Supposedly the rough-legged hawk winters here in Minnesota but I have only seen it in the spring as they pass through on their way to northern Canada.
The camera on my phone couldn’t do justice to this bird, so I downloaded the image below from Wikipedia.
I’ve occasionally observed sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus) in our neighborhood and yard, but, last year, a pair of sharp-shinned hawks moved into the neighborhood and they returned again this year. While they are interesting birds to watch, I’m concerned they will scare off the chickadees, nuthatches, and other small birds that have made our yard their home.
Again, I couldn’t get a good photograph of the sharp-shinned hawks with my phone, so I downloaded the photograph below from AnimalSpot.
Later on Saturday, we were relaxing on the patio when a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew over head. When we moved into our current place, we rarely saw bald eagles flying over head. We now regularly see bald eagles flying above us.
The following photograph is from Wikipedia.org because I haven’t got a picture of a bald eagle flying over us.
There are two bird feeders hanging under the eaves outside of our living room, one for seed and the other for suet. I placed the feeders there so that we could enjoy the coming and going of birds as fed. I recently installed a game camera to photograph the birds that frequent those feeders. While I was happy for the photographs of the birds, I was disappointed with the quality of said photographs.
American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) are beautiful summer visitors. Unlike chickadees and nuthatches, goldfinches tend to hang out on the feeder for as long as it takes to eat their fill.
White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis), like the black-capped chickadees, are year-round visitors. Also like chickadees, nuthatches dart in for a seed and then quickly fly off. Nuthatches are the upside-down bird. They can frequently be seen walking upside down along tree trunks.