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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Banding Baby Bluebirds

Last week I got to go out with someone from the San Juan Preservation Trust to help tag baby western bluebirds. Last year they completed their five-year reintroduction program of the species to the San Juan Islands, but they still plan to closely monitor the population. There are thirteen active nest sites right now, and this one had six chicks in their first brood!

Here's the open nest box.  I didn't know this, but bluebirds make their nest only of grass. By looking inside a nest box, you can tell what species used it by what the nest was made of. This nestbox was pretty wet, probably because it was facing into the wind. We added some dry grass before we left. Three of the chicks were out for banding when I took this photo:

These chicks were an estimated 14 days old - it's amazing how fast little things grow! There were four males and two females in the brood; you could tell which gender a chick was by the shade of blue on the wings, with the males having a more brilliant color. The chicks were amazingly docile about being held. This was one of the little males:

Part of my job was to hold the chicks while the bands were put onto them. I was amazed at how warm they were, and you could really feel their heart beating. It was especially cute when they would chirp. It was less cute when one pooped on my hand! Here's one of the chicks with bands on:

The parents were both nearby during the whole process. While they seemed nervous, they weren't dive-bombing us or anything like that - more just watching the whole thing very carefully. I don't usually get to see adult bluebirds so up close, so that part was pretty neat too. Once we had the chicks back in the nest box, we left the adults a treat of mealworms on the roof to thank them for letting us intrude. The female is on the roof collecting some here, and the male is feeding some to the hungry chicks inside:

It was a pretty cool experience! Next up: finally, some whales!

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