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Titmouse Tales – Our First Nest of the Year

We have been excitedly watching one of our nest boxes in Florida which, since early March, has been the home of a Tufted Titmouse pair. These adorable small songbirds are a first for our Nest Box Live cameras. We are captivated by the close-up view we are getting into their nesting lives. 

Female Tufted Titmouse Incubating
The female Titmouse sits on her recently-laid eggs. Image by Nest Box Live.

The Arrival of the Tufted Titmouse Pair

In early spring, flocks of Titmice begin to break off and form male and female pairs. These bonded birds look for nesting cavities to build their nest within. Just like Bluebirds, Tufted Titmice aren’t able to excavate nest holes themselves and instead look for already-made holes suitable to house their nest. These can be natural holes in trees, the old nests of woodpeckers, or in this case an artificial nest box.

Tufted Titmouse Nestbox in Florida
The Nest Box Live home for the nesting Titmouse pair. Image by Adam Scheiner.

After our Titmouse pair were first sighted in early March, they began busily bringing nesting materials to the box. Tufted Titmice build cup-shaped nests, using grasses, damp leaves and moss to create the structure. They then bring softer materials like fur, hair and cotton to line this cup. Titmice are dedicated nest builders, and will even pluck the hair off a live animal (including humans!) to get the perfect material for their nest. 

Our Titmouse pair were no different, and excited us by picking up shedded snake skin for their home building supplies.

What was surprising about this broody pair though, was that they left the middle of the nest cup empty and didn’t create a soft surface for the eggs to be laid. We suspect that our couple may be ‘first-timers’ still perfecting the art of making a nest box a home! 

In general, Tufted Titmice spend 4-11 days building their nest until the first egg is laid. The parents will continue to bring in nesting materials after the eggs are laid. 

The Titmouse Lays Her First Egg 

On the 11th of March, after a few days of home furnishing, the mum-to-be began giving the signs that the first egg was on its way. She nestled herself into the middle of her cup nest and her muscles started to contract.

After a few minutes, the first egg was laid. She took some time to ‘eggs’amine the new addition before leaving the nest to find food and more nesting material. Shortly after, the curious male Titmouse appeared in the nest and had a look at the new arrival.

The female Titmouse lays her first egg, shortly replaced by the male to check-out the new addition. Video by Nest Box Live.

The eggs of Tufted Titmice are just short of an inch, white and freckled with small brown spots. 

Over the following few days after, the female titmouse laid 5 more eggs. By the 16th of March, she had started incubating her 6-egg brood, an average clutch size for this species.

The Female Incubates Her 6 Eggs 

For Tufted Titmice, only the females incubate the eggs. Incubating female birds have a brood-patch: a featherless, fluid-filled area on their abdomen that helps to transfer heat to the developing eggs. They use their beak to gently move the eggs under this area and shuffle themselves down to keep them there.

Our male Titmouse will still have his duties though, being tasked with bringing more nesting materials and food for his partner. He will also play an important role once the eggs have hatched: helping mum to feed to chicks.

The Latest Titmouse Nest News

Tufted Titmouse Incubating Eggs
Titmouse female spends most of the day and all night incubating. Image by Nest Box Live.

It has now been 17 days since the first egg was laid. At present, the nest is looking a lot more comfortable. Additional soft material has padded out the previously bare centre of the nest, keeping the eggs warm and safe.

Our female bird is now almost always sitting on her eggs, spending night and day keeping them warm.

Tufted Titmice incubate their eggs for around 12-14 days, until one by one, they will begin to hatch. As our Titmouse female began incubating 12 days ago, we are expecting the first cheeping chick to appear very soon. 

If you want to follow along the journey of these nesting Tufted Titmice, check out the livestream here. We are broadcasting this nest box 24 hours a day so you can stay updated. Let us know in the comments if you are excited as we are about seeing the first tiny Titmouse chick hatch!

Categories
Garden & Outdoors

Spring Birds To Look Out For in Your Garden

One of the first signs of spring across the U.S. is the change of bird song drifting in the canopy. Birds will sing and tweet throughout the winter, but as early as mid-February they announce the imminent breeding season through drawn-out tunes and whistles. 

Once you hear the change in birdsong, it isn’t long before southern migratory bird species arrive. These birds are sure signs of spring, and with their arrival comes the promise of warm weather and lengthening days. Keep your bird feeders clean and stocked, set out a bird bath and perhaps a nestbox, and you’ll be sure to invite some migratory birds into your garden. 

US Birds to Look Out for in Your Garden This Spring

The spring birds that may appear in your garden this year depend on your region. 

Many migratory birds winter in the far south, so it’s common for spring arrivals in the northern United States to be wintering birds in the south. The south is also the first place for birds who winter in the tropics to arrive. 

As we dive into each spring bird species, I’ll cover their migratory pattern and when that bird may arrive in your area. That way, you can prepare for their window of arrival, and you won’t miss their beautiful plumage or enticing melodies. 

American Robin

American Robin Perched
Image by Gavin Edmondstone via Flickr.

Although often seen as spring birds, American robins are considered a residential species and stay in their breeding range year-round. However, they are still a sign of spring because many robins fly to southern states during the winter, and the robins that stay around aren’t as active in lawns or gardens. Rather; they stick to the tree canopy or dense shrubs, relatively out of sight. 

In this way, flocks of robins hopping around on the ground looking for worms and insects are a joyous sign of spring. Plus, around mid-February to early March, they’ll start perching at the tops of trees and sing rich caroling notes in the morning and evening. These delightful melodies will last through the warm season into early Autumn. 

Red-Winged Blackbird 

A Perched Red-winged Blackbird
Image by Frank via Flickr.

Red-winged blackbirds are a year-round resident in the South and parts of the West. However, red-winged blackbirds are one of the first spring birds to arrive in the Midwest and Northern United States. In the Great Lakes region and Northeast, they arrive mid-February to early March. 

Red-winged blackbirds’ preferred nesting habitat is wetland areas where cattails are abundant. They will visit bird feeders if it’s near their nesting habitat. Because they often fly in flocks together, common grackles will also arrive around the same time as red-winged blackbirds. 

Purple Martin 

A Pair of Purple Martins
Image by Bonnie Ott via Flickr.

If you’re lucky, purple martins may visit your garden bird feeder as they migrate from South America to their northern breeding ground. These early spring birds arrive in the southern United States as soon as mid-January and can reach New England around mid-April. 

Purple Martins predominantly breed in the Midwest to the East Coast where they almost exclusively nest in specialty purple martin birdhouses. They are rare in the west where they prefer old woodpecker cavity nests.

As the largest North American swallow, purple martins are beautiful and unique birds to attract to your garden. Their numbers are in decline, which makes it even more critical for birders in the east to provide nest boxes for this species. 

Tree Swallow

A Tree Swallow Calls
Image by Insu Nuzzi via Flickr.

Tree swallows are early migratory birds, arriving in the southern United States in late January to early February. They steadily make their way north and can reach the northernmost parts of the U.S. by March or April.

Tree swallows are one of the easiest birds to attract to a nestbox. Because of this, you can invite them to your garden by setting up a cavity nest box.

House Wren 

House Wren Singing
Image by Larry Cusick via Flickr.

The house wren is a delightful springtime visitor to gardens across the United States. House wrens winter in the southern states and migrate to northern breeding grounds which span across much of the United States. They arrive from late March to early May. 

These little birds love brush piles and dense foliage. If you have shrubs in your garden, they may stop by for a visit. If you wish to attract a breeding pair to live in your garden for the season, consider setting up a nest box. 

Indigo Bunting 

Indigo Bunting in Spring Blossom
Image by Matthew Studebaker via Flickr.

The Indigo bunting is a wonder to behold. In the spring, you can attract these beautiful dark blue birds to backyard bird feeders as they migrate to breeding grounds. 

Wintering in Central America, Indigo Buntings migrate to the United States and southern Canada to breed. They arrive in the southern states around the end of April and in the northern states from late May to early June. 

Indigo buntings are common from the Midwest to the East Coast and are much less common in the West. 

Orioles 

Baltimore Oriole Perching
Image by John Munt via Flickr.

Orioles are brightly-colored birds whose arrival marks the height of Spring. The Baltimore oriole is the easiest backyard species to spot compared to the other, more conspicuous orioles (such as the Orchard Oriole). This striking bird arrives in the Eastern and Central United States from early April to late May. 

The western counterpart to the Baltimore oriole is the Bullock’s Oriole. This oriole is common in cottonwood tree stands throughout the west during the breeding season. 

Leave fresh orange halves or grape jelly out and you’ll likely attract these common orioles to your garden. You can even purchase oriole bird feeders that provide sweet nectar water. 

Grosbeaks 

Grosbeak on a Bird Feeder
Image by Eva Orleans via Flickr.

As strikingly beautiful birds with equally impressive songs, grosbeaks signal that spring is here to stay. While there are a few species across North America, the spring species to pay attention to are the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the Blue Grosbeak, and the Black-headed grosbeak. 

Rose-breasted grosbeaks are a treasure to the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes region, and New England. They frequent bird feeders and will stick around your garden if there are plenty of trees nearby. They arrive at their breeding grounds in the north early to mid-May. 

The blue grosbeak shares a similar range to the Rose-breasted grosbeak but tends to breed farther south. 

In the west, keep a lookout for the black-headed grosbeak. If you have a bird feeder, this beautiful orange and black bird will stick around and gift you with a lovely song day after day. 

Warblers

A Yellow Warbler Perched
Image by ksblack99 via Flickr.

We can’t talk about spring birds without mentioning the many warblers that migrate across North America. These cheerful little birds love to visit gardens and dense shrubs. However, you might miss them if you don’t keep a lookout! Warblers move quickly through areas, but if you have a variety of native plants and shrubs, they’ll likely come again. 

Some of the more common spring warblers to see in your garden include the yellow warbler, Wilson’s warbler, common yellowthroat, American redstart, and the Magnolia warbler. 

Additional Birds to Look Out For This Spring

Spring is a joyous time for birders across the U.S. as thousands of birds migrate to breeding grounds. In addition to the birds listed above, keep an eye out for hummingbirds, thrushes, kinglets, and sparrows. These birds will likely stop by if you have a garden with native plants and shrubs, a stocked birdfeeder, and a bird bath. 

Which Spring Birds Have You Seen in Your Garden? 

How many spring birds on this list have you spotted in your garden? Are there any birds that frequent your feeder you didn’t see on this list? Because of all the different species migrating across North America in the spring, you’ll likely have some visitors not mentioned here. Let us know in the comments below; we’d love to hear from you!  

Categories
Conservation

The Bird Extinction Crisis in North America

The devastating decline in bird populations across North America frightens backyard birders and scientists alike.

The numbers are staggering, and sadly, most people are completely unaware of the ongoing and worsening bird extinction happening not only in our wild spaces and across every wild biome, but also in our backyards.

Knowing the numbers and what birds are at high risk spreads awareness and encourages everyone to be a part of the solution. Let’s look at the numbers.

The Endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow
The Saltmarsh Sparrow, listed as Endangered in 2020. Image by Evan Lipton via Flickr.

Bird Extinction and Endangerment 

Birds are experiencing a long-drawn major extinction event, primarily due to humans. Over the last 20,000 to 50,000 years, ten to twenty percent of avian species have fallen prey to extinction. This is not a natural occurrence. 

Three to four species would disappear in a 500-year timespan if left untouched. Instead, we are causing an acceleration of loss, leading to upwards of 187 species in the last 500 years. 

The Facts and Figures of North American Bird Decline

The facts don’t lie. Birds are in a dire situation and need our help. How bad is it? 

What Bird Species Are Considered At-Risk of Extinction?

The Endangered Tricolored Blackbird
The Endangered Tricolored Blackbird. Image by Travis Williams via Flickr.

The list of at-risk birds is, unfortunately, far too long to share in this article. For a more in-depth listing, refer to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the listing provided in the US FWS Birds of Conservation Concern publication. 

Endangered Birds of North America

Here, we share some of the most commonly known and appreciated birds teetering on the brink of extinction:

  • California Condor
  • Whooping Crane
  • Tricolored Blackbird
  • Saltmarsh Sparrow
  • Ivory-billed Woodpecker
  • Ashy Storm-petrel
  • Brown-Capped Rosy Finch
  • Black Rosy-Finch
  • Marbled Murrelet

The Tipping Point

The tipping point is when a bird population has an immediate need for help as it faces a severe risk of landing on the endangered species list. Species are considered at their tipping point when they have lost fifty percent or more of their population. These species are typically on track to lose the other fifty percent within a short period of time.

Currently, over seventy species are considered at their tipping point. Most species are considered common birds. With over 11% of species already extinct, it is imperative we take action to eliminate the possibility of a future without birds. 

What Causes the Extinction of Bird Species

The California Condor, a Critically Endangered Species
The California Condor, a reintroduced species after its extinction in 1987. Today, it remains critically endangered. Image by Dorothy Sutherland via Flickr.

The current rate of bird extinction is not natural. What is causing the rapid loss of bird populations? There are several factors, but they all link back to one common denominator. Us.

Bird Population Decline Contributing Factors

The primary factors significantly influencing the critical decline in bird populations across North America are listed below:

Is There Hope?

Is it too late to stop the extinction of birds? Can we positively impact the future? The answer- we can, if we start now.

Why should we act to prevent bird extinction?

Birds are biodiversity indicators. This means their health status represents that of the overall habitat. Therefore, if the birds are dying, the ecosystem is too. In the end, this leads to a fatal outcome.

Luckily, there are a lot of actions that can be taken to prevent this disastrous future scenario. Each action helps, both small from the individual standpoint and large from the organizational and governmental standpoint.

How To Save Wild Birds

The Endangered Whooping Cranes
Whooping Cranes, a North American bird species endangered with extinction. Image by Todd Leech via Flickr.

Here are some ways you can help to save the wild birds risking extinction:

  • Write letters to government agencies pleading for the protection of wild birds through needed legislation.
  • Prevent the use of pesticides and fertilizers both in your backyard and by advocating for the elimination of their use in big AG.
  • Plant wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. Research what native birds need to thrive in your location and provide a backyard sanctuary. (Be sure to keep up with your act of kindness! The birds, native and migratory, will come to depend on your backyard oasis.)
  • Donate to bird conservation organizations.
  • Get engaged! Appreciate the birds around you and share that appreciation and newfound knowledge with your peers. The more people that care and the deeper they do so, the more likely it is we can save the future of birds.

Bird Conservation Resources

Getting involved in a community structured around bird conservation is a great place to start your conservation efforts. These organizations typically offer educational resources, in-person philanthropic events, and virtual opportunities to get involved. 

Look for local groups or learn more about resources available through the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s website, the American Bird Conservancy, and the Audubon organization. National and State parks additionally provide educational programs and volunteer opportunities.

You may also refer to our website, where we regularly share insights, information, and inspiration on all things related to bird conservation.