Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bluebirds - Secret Polygamists Polyandrist or Failure to Launch?

Now wait a minute you all are saying . . . but really. I can only report what I observe with my own eyes and I can hardly make this stuff up.

I've been tracking bluebirds on my property for seven years now and have seen many a pair of bluebirds successfully fledge young every year, but this season has been wild and woolly, unpredictable and strange.

See below the sentinel bluebird male guarding his box with insect in beak, ready to feed his hungry babies.


I watched for about a half our while he and his wife flew off with purposeful wing beats which time and time again brought them fruit for their labor. Green worms, black worms, black gnats, creepy centipedes, long-legged winged things... If they could catch it, it could be brought back and be fed to the babies in their nest box.

I sat in the field and timed my photos trying to capture some good aerial shots of the bluebirds; I was not really studying the whole picture. But then I stopped looking through the viewfinder and studied the situation a little more closely.


And I observed that not one, but TWO different males were feeding the babies in the box. It was one of those both eyebrows raised to my hairline moments when I could not believe what I was seeing.


The boys would take turns with the female feeding the hungry brood! I have heard of offspring from the first clutch of the year feeding the second clutch of the year, but this was a full grown male and this was the first clutch this season . . .


It was cool to catch two birds in the same frame (above). To me it's a very hard task to accomplish when they are on the wing.

Side note: I am amazed at birds maneuverability in the air. They are so graceful and fast and accurate all at once. It's no wonder we land stricken humans want to fly.


And the chow kept coming. Mom then DAD and DAD(?) brought in food. To be truthful, I immediately thought that the second male feeding the babies must be a full grown son of the two breeding birds. He had to have overwintered with them and traveled back to this nest box where he was born with his parents.

With one claw carefully gripping the entrance hole, this momma bluebird will reach through to feed her young.


Then parents will reach through and grab a baby bird dropping out of the box and drop it outside (see photo below). The bluebird parents routinely remove offal from the nest box. And I observed all three birds take droppings from inside the box to keep it clean. Now that's a great big brother to help like that. Now he just needs his own woman and to move away from home.


And another shot of the man of the house giving me the evil eye.


"Stay away from my house!"

And the weirdest part of this story is that a few days ago, I put up a new bluebird box to replace one that had been ripped off by a HORSE. (Naughty horse but that is another story...) AND the mom bluebird seen above, abandoned ship and started to set up a new nest with a third male bluebird who was hanging around our property. Meanwhile the Dad and Son kept on feeding the babies in the box minus MOM!!!

I took the new box down in hope that she would go back to her babies but no. The bluebird males were left to fend for themselves with four hungry bluebird babies.

There are strange things afoot in the world of bluebirds on our property. Strange indeed. The babies should be fledging in the next few days so if I can, I'll try to keep track of what the "dad's" do with their four kids.

10 Comments for OSL:

Melodie said...

It's a bluebird soap opera around there!

karenscarvie said...

I hate to correct you in public like this, Julia, but the word is polyandry, not polygamy. Signed, Auntie Karen

karenscarvie said...

And, I might add, it was a GREAT story!

Doris Sturm said...

That was very interesting - I didn't know bluebird mom's abandoned their young? I love your photos!!!

Julia said...

Karen - oops!

Sharkbytes (TM) said...

Interesting social events there. Who knew?

theUngourmet said...

You got some incredible shots in! I love these "birdy" posts so much!

Hey, here is a question for you. The other day I was in the grocery store parking lot and I witnessed two male ducks attacking a female duck. I actually stopped my car and tried to get them to break it up. What do suppose was going on...a jealous husband or boyfriend? A fight over mating?

Grand Pooba said...

Holy crap I can't believe you got those shots! You're amazazing!

Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

Amazing shots!

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