Wednesday, May 20, 2009

House Wrens - a lot of bird in a little package

Last fall when Kurt nailed his worn-out work boots to oak trees adjacent to our strawbale house I thought he had finally gone ‘round the bend. However, he assured me that come spring those boots would be very popular. With a wink and a smile, he wandered off to work on the Mercantile building.

You can imagine my surprise when this spring I noticed a flurry of activity around the boots. Before too long, they became the best show in town.

House wrens, tiny little birds with a big, beautiful song, had moved in. Unlike robins, which will build a nest just about anywhere, house wrens have a very complicated mating ritual. First the male picks out several possible nest sites (because house wrens are build their nests in cavities our boots were perfect candidates). Then, he builds nests in several of these spots. Then, and only then, he brings the female around. She looks at all of the nests he has built, and chooses one. The first thing she does? Redecorate! She takes all of the twigs he has so carefully placed and tosses them out the door. Then they rebuild.

Two baby house wrens in their nest inside an old work boot that has been nailed to a tree.

The photos are not very good – for that I apologize. But the boot was nailed to the east side of a great big shady tree. I think you can still get an idea of how much fun we had watching the entire process.

For more on house wrens and other songbirds, please click here

NOTE: the Cornell website says that the house wren “takes over all the birdhouses in its general vicinity, keeping all other species from using them.” This has not been our experience – we are fortunate to have many, many species of birds nesting nearby. The only birds we actively discourage are house sparrows and starlings, which were introduced to the US in the 1800’s. They are both aggressive and predatory, and wreak havoc on native songbird species.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dancing Rabbit Nature Moment, or, Grackles are Weird

Photo by Tony Tanoury on Flickr (he has some fantastic bird photos!)

Our home here at Dancing Rabbit is situated right across the path from some woods which are, as Robert Frost would say, "are lovely, dark and deep." They continue about 80 yards to the smaller swimming pond, giving us a buffer, at least on one side of our house, from the bustling humanity that is often DR. In the ten years since we arrived, the trees have grown taller and more lush, and provide more and more shade, and more and more entertainment.

Kurt's office window faces onto the woods, and so he spends a lot of time gazing out the window. In the last few days we've had torrential rain, and there is always something going on in the resulting puddles. This morning he said "the grackles keep flying up to the puddle and dropping white things in it." Wondering what these white things were, I speculated flowers, but that didn't really make much sense. I would have been content sitting inside on my butt, drinking coffee and speculating into eternity, but Kurt is a man of action. He went outside, scooped up a "white thing," and brought it in to show me. It was about the size of a quarter, white, gelatinous, and pretty gross. After a brief internet search, I found the following on the Mass Audubon site:

In late spring and summer, owners of swimming pools are surprised to observe large black birds repeatedly dropping small white sacs into their pools. The birds, Common Grackles, are dropping "fecal sacs" that have been removed from the nest. Young grackles excrete waste encased in these gelatinous sacs, an adaptation that promotes a clean nest.

Euwww. I hope Kurt washed his hands before eating breakfast!