Monday, June 04, 2007

Belle Reve

It's been hot so we're spending a lot more time outside. I can't say that makes Blanche Dubois happy. Oh, did we tell you that we've named our little Violet-Green Swallow Blanche Dubois? If ever a bird was leading a classically neurotic life, it is this high-strung swallow. It occurred to us, after her little takeover of the chickadee nest, to carefully watch her behavior. As far as we can tell, she's busy nest building, but she has no mate. She's alone, but she has big plans. We think she'll have a pretend clutch, and go through all the motions. Blanche is just that kind of bird. She flies at me every time I walk past her nest box. She hasn't come to terms yet with her reliance on the kindness of strangers. We are thinking about naming her nest box Belle Reve.

We're glad to report that she has stayed away from the chickadee nest box, where the chicks are progressing very nicely. On Saturday we noticed for the first time one of the chicks was sticking its head out of the box. That means they'll be fledging soon. We are looking forward to their leap. Once they are gone I can go back behind their box and start pulling some of the weeds. Part of what makes the yard attractive to the bobcat is how tall the weeds are back toward the fence. The chickadees scold me every time I go back there, so I will wait. But once they're gone, we can reclaim that part of the yard.

Another important reason for wanting the chickadees fully fledged and independent is our need to rethink our bird feeding strategies. Two weeks ago, we read in the local newspaper about a salmonella outbreak in the Pine Siskin population in British Columbia, which was heading south. We hadn't noticed any sick Pine Siskins until last Thursday when I photographed what looked to be a lump on the platform feeder. Bummer. Another sick one showed up on Friday. We took down our large three-tube feeder, and brought out one that does not have a tray and therefore has nowhere for the birds to defecate directly on to food. We bought a second feeder today that is a single tube and is small enough to fit into our sink where it can be cleaned thoroughly, once a week. I really wanted to just remove all the feeders, but the birds are feeding their young, or bringing them here, and I didn't want to stress them any more than they already are. We will just be that much more vigilant in keeping things clean. The white tray on the platform feeder is a plastic cutting board. We put that up two years ago because it is easily removed and can be cleaned, which we did regularly. We've taken that down and removed the wooden platform that held it.

It is a heartbreak to see sick birds, and fortunately we only saw two. Everyone else looks rather fine. The parents are bringing their babies around to see where the good seeds are. Sometimes they stop and feed them right outside on our gravel drive, where there's just natural wild seed that comes from all the crazy plants that push up. Just seeing that parent feed the baby makes all the efforts absolutely worth it. Even if Ms Blanche Dubois never learns to say thank you.

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