A Mother’s Day: Wildlife Wednesday, May

As May opens, late spring wildlife breeding season is in fuzzy, feathery baby-oriented swing.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday and with a few shots, I’m celebrating mommies, daddies, and babies!

Athena and her two, bobble-headed babies.

Weeks ago, on a chilly, blustery day, I visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center where photos of flowers proved nearly impossible because of the whoosh of winds.  However, the resident Great Horned owl, named Athena and her 2018 offspring, rested quietly in their nesting spot above the entry to the courtyard, providing a good show for  admiring wildlife fans.

Oh, mommy, you’re so nice and warm!

I gaggled and goggled at the beauties, but Athena was unimpressed with me and probably, a bit tired.  All the humans were agog at the owls; it’s not often that we are privileged to see such birds up-close.

I looked for Athena’s mate, who was probably perched in a nearby tree, but didn’t see him.  Those who visit the center near to closing time have witnessed him bringing Athena and the babies a snack.  Good daddy!

The babies are expected to fledge any day now–if they haven’t already.

Sleepy mama!

For the first time in nearly a decade, no Eastern Screech-OwlMegascops asio, set up a nursery in my garden.  I’ve missed hosting an owl family: mommy and daddy working together, raising fluffy chicks to fledge, and then observing the family for another couple of months as the parents feed–and teach hunting skills–to their raptor offspring.

I only heard and saw one owl, who trilled sadly for a mate, with no return calls from another.  He or she rested for one day in our nest box, but apparently never found his or her true love.  Several neighbors in my part of the neighborhood used rat bate during the spring and winter and I suspect that the poisons killed some of our neighborhood adult Screech owls; currently, there isn’t an adult population in our neighborhood.

Please don’t use poisons–of any sort.  The collateral damage to other creatures exists and has devastating consequences throughout the food-chain.  It’s never only the critters targeted who die.  Leave unwanted and unwelcome rodents to the raptors and  rat snakes–that’s their role in the ecosystem and they fulfill that role admirably–if we let them.

Wishing Athena and critters everywhere success and safety in raising their families.  Diversity is the key to a healthy environment and we’ll all pay a steep price if that diversity continues to decline.

Kudos to mommies and daddies who love and protect their babies!

What wildlife happenings did you share in or observe this past month?  Please post about your wild happenings and leave a link when you comment here–and happy wildlife gardening!

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.

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.