Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Quite possible crows made off with bluebird babies

STACEY COLE August 09. 2013 6:45PM

The bluebird nesting experience of Lorraine Carson, a former wildlife rehabilitator in Milford, encouraged a long-time Stratham reader to write: "I read with great interest your article dated Saturday, June 22, where you shared the letter written by Lorraine Carson. I, too, am a bluebird lover and have had them in our backyard for many years — summer and winter. Some nestings were successful and I questioned others. This spring there were 5 eggs in the box. The babies fledged on Mother's Day and both male and female were very busy.

The little ones flew to the tree-line boundary with our neighbors' property. The parents were feeding, non stop, for a few days. But then, I heard crows raising a ruckus and the feeding slowed down. Did the crows grab a couple of babies?

"The parents immediately built a new nest in the same box and when three babies came to our deck, they were completely ignored by their folks.

"The female, again, laid 5 eggs which hatched on Father's Day and the parents are feeding again."They have become quite tame and will come on call for suet and mealworms. I am sending copies of some photos our daughter took last February. Some unhappy faces, huh? I am also recommending a book: 'The Bluebird Effect' by Julie Zickefoose. Very Good!!!" Commenting on the recommended book, I will add that Julie is both an excellent writer and an especially good artist. She is the wife of Bill Thompson, III, co-publisher and editor of my favorite magazine, "The Bird Watcher's Digest."

Early in her letter, our reader inquired if the crows grabbed a couple of the bluebird babies would that cause the bluebird pair to immediately begin a new brood. That is quite possible as crows do take young birds whenever they find a nest with young in it.

In years past, I have witnessed a crow grab a baby robin from its nest and eat it, and later return for another. Those particular parent robins attacked the crow by screaming and dive bombing it, but to no avail.

In the case of bluebirds, usually, after young bluebirds learn to fly, there is a pause between broods. After the eggs of the second brood have hatched, the babies from the first brood will assist in the feeding of the young of the second brood. Although this behavior is not a common trait among many bird species, it is frequently so with bluebirds. The enclosed photos were excellent. I can't recall seeing such interesting bird facial expressions as were depicted in these computer photo-images. My congratulations to our reader's daughter for "catching" them on camera .

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A Merrimack reader wrote: "We've got a hawk nest in the woods behind our house. I wish I could tell you what kind. Recently, we've heard the high-pitched squeals of newborns, but oftentimes accompanied by the screams of blue jays as you would hear when they're on a raiding party of other birds' nests.

"This past weekend I saw one of the two 'baby' hawks taking several short solo test flights squealing all the way as it was being pursued and harassed by just one blue jay. Whenever the baby hawk landed, the blue jay would harass and even dive bomb the youngster. Despite the awkwardness of the baby, it is still hard to imagine the blue jay attacking a bird of prey that's maybe five to 10 times larger than itself.

"However, I've never been fond of how aggressive blue jays are. Now I've found another reason to dislike them." What do you suppose is going on?

It is a fact that blue jays do not like hawks of any kind. During the nesting season, they both compete for young birds still in the nest or floundering about in the trees and shrubbery. With respect to the vocal ability of blue jays, Lang Elliott, author of "The Songs of Wild Birds," published by Houghton Mifflin, wrote: "The blue jay has an extremely varied vocabulary, an immense repertoire of sounds that tend to grade into one another ... there are various squeaking calls resembling the sounds of a rusty pump handle or squeaky gate. In addition, blue jays imitate the sounds of certain hawks and have been known to fool expert birders into thinking a hawk is nearby. There is even a song-like sequence of soft clicks, whirrs, whines and liquid notes ... (an) incredible variety."

On several occasions I have heard a blue jay Imitate a red-tailed hawk that, as Roger Tory Peterson has said of its asthmatic squeal, "keeer—r—r! (slurring downward)." I have not seen the reaction of a red-tail, but have seen birds in our feeding area "freeze," and remain perfectly still.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.

Nature Talks

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