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Field Notes

Early Nesting Results

The first round of nesting is nearly complete for some of the cavity nesters.

Five pairs of bluebirds began in late April when they took up housekeeping in scattered boxes at the observatory.  All five nested successfully and together fledged a total of 20 young blues.  Those young can fly on their own now but will stick to the thick cover while they perfect their flying and hunting skills.  The male bird will feed and protect as well as train them in how to feed themselves.

Meanwhile, the female will start nesting again.  In fact, three of those same five birdhouses have new nests built and two already have five new eggs in them.   They don’t always use the same nesting area or house if they can find something better, but then they may follow the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  By mid-July, hopefully there will be another batch fledging.

The other 15 birdhouses on-site are mostly filled up with tree swallows.  They start nesting a couple of weeks later than the blues and will take a little longer.  They also will have larger families with at least two boxes currently holding six young.  Unlike the bluebirds, the swallows will be content to nest only once.

Occasionally blues will do the second – and rarely the third – nesting in the same box after the tree swallows leave.  Also house wrens will move in and do some late nesting even up into August.  Counting the occasional unsuccessful attempt, many of these birdhouses will have up to three different nests built in them over the course of the summer.

There have been less predators and less failed nests so far this year than usual.  It will be interesting to see what may happen the rest of the summer.



Wood Ducks are also cavity nesters and will prefer to lay their eggs in a big hole high in a tree.  When the young ducklings hatch out, they bail out and fall to the ground, then follow the hen as they walk into a water source.  They can swim immediately but it will take six-to-eight weeks before they have enough feathers and strength to fly, so hens are always looking for a safe and secure area to raise their families.

Every year, we have two or three woodie families show up at the wastewater pond on the NRAO, with each hen having six to 12 young.  This year there appear to be upwards of twice that number.  Six hens were recently spotted floating around on the ponds with nearly 30 ducklings.

They may have already lost half of their young to the predators around the ponds.  Hawks, owls and snapping turtles will take several ducklings, but the biggest predators are probably the crows.  They hang out there constantly and will harvest and kill young ducks every chance they get.

However, the woodie hens appear to be working cooperatively to protect and defend the young flock.  Often the ducklings will be in one close group and nearly impossible to count.  Six mother ducks can certainly put up a better defense than two or three.  If the young make it to three or four weeks of age, they may have a chance of making it to adulthood.



The operative word to describe the summer so far may be the word “too.”

So far, it hasn’t been “too” hot or “too” wet.  It was really “too” cool Sunday morning in Arbovale at 40 degrees, but the farmers are beginning to knock the hay down and the gardens have a good start if it doesn’t get “too” dry.  The Bike Rumpus is over again for another year and most of the participants had “too” much fun.

Maybe it’s “too” early to tell since the summer doesn’t really start until Saturday, the 21, when the Summer Solstice begins.  It is a certainty that the summer is going by way “too” fast.

Dave is a telescope operator at the NRAO and can be contacted at dave curry51@

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