Not Such a Dummy After All


In my recent post, Dummy, I wrote about an intrepid pair of Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus, building a nest in a hanging bird house that Bee/Bird Daddy built some time ago.  It was the first avian interest shown in this house, and I was tickled that Titmice chose this bit of bird real estate.  Some of the cutest birds around, Black-crested Titmice are frequent visitors to my birdbaths and black-oiled sunflower feeders, and are year-round resident songbirds in Central Texas.  Over the course a few days, I enjoyed observing their nesting preparations, as I’ve never been privileged to see those activities up-close.

Throughout nest-building project, I noticed House SparrowsPasser domesticus,    harassing the Titmice at every turn. House Sparrows are invasive birds, ubiquitous in urban areas.  I’ve mostly tolerated them, not necessarily considering them particularly destructive, and enjoying their chatter–and there’s plenty to be had of that!  They are piggy at the feeders, but they never appeared to displace other birds.  I’ve read that they bully and even kill native songbirds, but never witnessed those heinous acts.  But since the Titmice began prepping the house for their own offspring, I’ve observed intimately the House Sparrows’  nasty behavior toward another bird species. While no direct songbird murder occurred (that I saw), the Sparrows certainly impeded the Titmice family planning.

When at home, I’d chase the Sparrows off–yelling at them as I bolted out the front door.  (My neighbors are accustomed to my, er, eccentricities in that way).  While the Titmice continued bringing bits of nesting material to the house, singing and calling at one another as they worked, the House Sparrows proved persistent oppressors.

My concern about the Sparrow activities increased as I observed their determination to tyrannize the Titmice.  I researched about various methods of discouraging them from successfully driving off native songbirds, especially during nesting season.  One of the articles discussed affixing monofilament or fishing line around the bird house, because House Sparrows are inexplicably spooked by the fishing line, though it apparently doesn’t stop native birds from building.  I also removed the rain chain, hanging directly in front of the house, so that the Sparrows couldn’t perch on it as they were bullying the titmice.

My focus was to photograph the Titmice, but the House Sparrows would perch on the rain chain and the house perch.

Alas, all measures were too little, too late, and too lame.  I realized last weekend that the Titmice were no longer working at the house.  As well, the Sparrows were scarce–they’d intimidated the titmice successfully and after rendering their competition moot, they moved on.

After a few days of quiet at the bird house, I wanted to see exactly what the Titmice had used to build their nest, so opened up the bird house and discovered that they’d made far more progress than I’d realized.

Pretty, speckled eggs. Each egg was about one-half inch in diameter.

Sniff.  Three lonesome little eggs that will never become charming Titmice chicks. True to the literature on Titmice nesting, the nest was full of animal fur, soft pollen, and bits of cut grass.

Lots of fur in this nest. I recognized the coloring common to Virginia opossums.

I’ve learned some things with this experience.  Next spring, early in the season, I’ll remove the rain chain and will also re-string the fishing line around the nest box.  I’m also planning to saw off the house perch.  It’ll limit the Titmice from landing, but as I observed  the Titmice entering the house, they mostly flew directly to the entrance, without a perch-stop.  However, the House Sparrows perched on the perch, blocking the Titmice from entering the house.

I hear Titmice song everyday–though not in my garden–especially in early morning and near sundown,  so I hope they found a safer spot to raise their babies.  There are significantly more House Sparrows than Black-crested Titmice in my neighborhood and I imagine there’s fierce competition for nesting spots.

I’m sure I’ll see Titmice, but I’ll have to wait until next year for any possibility of hosting a family of these darlings.

A companionable House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) shares with a Black-crested Titmouse.

Purple Reign

Purple is the color of the week in my garden.

A purple Spiderwort flanks a potted Ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense), setting the mood for a reign of purple.

 

Oh sure, there’s yellow, red, and orange too, all vying for attention with their look at me! petals and am I not gorgeous? spring-green foliage.  But it’s the purple array of Spiderwort–demonstrating pollinator-driven color and petal variations–that is stealing the wildflower show at this moment in my March garden. 

Some Spiderwort flowers are darker and suggest an affinity for geometric arrangements.

The petals are curling, heralding afternoon heat.

 

Other Spiderwort flowers trend pink, though purple is definitely a part of the petal pedigree.

 

Still other Spiderwort are shy and soft in color, with hint of blue and only a suggestion of exhibitionist purple.

 

The pollinators are busy, busy, busy and Spiderwort blooms are a favorite dining spot!  This diminutive syrphid fly caught my attention as I was chasing a significantly larger butterfly.  I failed at photographing the butterfly, but I followed the syrphid, or flower fly, as it visited several Spiderwort blooms.  The syrphid was a work-horse pollinator at the flowers, spending more time at each bloom than the flighty butterfly.

 

Part of the honey for next season will come from this Spiderwort and its farming honeybee.

Check out Ms. Honeybee’s pollen pantaloons.  The proper name for this part of the honeybee is pollen basket or corbicula, but I prefer my own addition to bee etymology:  pollen pantaloon.

 

Purple reigns in the garden, though it–in the form of Spiderwort–hasn’t quite taken over.  If I want a diverse garden community next year, I’ll need to cull a fair number of these randy Spiderwort plants–they’re rather a promiscuous bunch!    That’s fine, I’ll be donating some to plant swaps and cajoling neighbors into planting some of my extras.  (But will those neighbors ever speak to me again, after they, too, reap the bounty of Spiderwort?)

A stalk of purple passalong iris photobombs the cluster of spiderwort.  In time, this iris and  its compadres will likely  assume the mantle of purple.

Spiderwort: a reign of purple and a prince of flowers.

Dummy

Late last week, I was excited to see a pair of Black-crested Titmice entering and exiting a bird house, having apparently decided that it was a nice place to raise their little ones.  The charming birds worked diligently for three days, one bringing bits of leaves into the house, while the other perched on nearby branches singing, calling, and standing guard.

All I managed to photograph was the tail-end of the bird as he/she entered the house,

…and its darling face as he/she exited to gather more material.

Titmice gather soft materials like new leaves, feathers, animal fur, moss, and similar items for their nests.

Sunday was windy.  I saw them working that day, but I didn’t watch closely.  By late Monday, having been in and out during the day and not having observed regularly, I realized in late afternoon that there was no activity around the bird house.

It seems they built a dummy.  Birds will build a nest, then abandon for any number of reasons, including that they’re spooked by a predator, or that they built in several spots with the female then choosing one–not all–of those spots for her nesting.  I don’t know why this couple decided against the house, perhaps it swayed too much in the wind or maybe it was just too close to the garage door.  Maybe they thought the rain chain was  a little tacky.  Who knows what titmice think?

Whatever their reason, the house now sits empty. There will be no itty-bitty baby titmice for me to observe this spring.

I’m sorry that the cute bird house won’t house cute birds.  They’re still visiting my garden, though their home-sweet-home is somewhere else.  I wish them well in their family business and hope they bring their youngins to my garden for a drink and a nosh.