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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bluebirds mate-feeding & breeding

"Here's a tasty morsel for you, my dear"

Birds are in full time breeding mode right now. Many birds do mate-feeding as part of their courtship and nesting. Males will get food and feed it to the female. She may quiver her wings as she is getting fed. In bluebirds mate-feeding continues from the start of pairing on into the nestling phase. Cardinals and other birds also do this. Whether it's just part of the pair-bonding, extra nutrition for the female or other reasons, it's just adorable to watch.

People do not always understand a bird's breeding cycle. Someone just asked us
"I put my bluebird house up late. They did start making a nest about a week and half ago. I haven't seen them around for a whole day. I did check the nest I could not see any eggs. Could they have possible left the nest by now?"

To help you better understand bird behavior, here is some basic information on the breeding cycle of birds. This is generalized information for most songbirds, certain species may vary from this.

Breeding begins by a male singing, forming a territory and trying to attract a female. If he is lucky, a female bird will choose him and join him on the territory. He then usually diminishes or stops singing.

The female builds the nest and it may take a day or several days. There may be a pause before the eggs are laid. The pair will mate, then the female lays 1 egg per day until the clutch is complete. Most songbirds lay 3-6 eggs. She usually lays the egg in the morning and does not stay near the nest the rest of the time. So if you see 1 or 2 eggs in a nest it does not mean it is abandoned, chances are the female will come back the next day and lay another egg until she has a complete clutch.

Then incubation begins. It is done mostly by the female and usually lasts about 12 to 14 days (12-18 days for Eastern Bluebirds). During this time the female is quiet and the male stays somewhat near and does not sing.

When the eggs hatch both parents become very active bringing food to the nest. They carry away from the nest fecal sacs, little white packages that are the droppings of the young. This keeps the nest clean. The young, called nestlings, stay in the nest for about 12-14 days (longer for birds thart nest in birdhouses, for Eastern Bluebirds it's 16-21 days). The young at first have very few feathers. Then they have "pin feathers", feathers enclosed in sheathes. By the time they are ready to leave, the feathers have broken out of the sheathes, the young are fully feathered, and they call loudly.

When the young "fledge", or leave the nest they are called "fledglings". At first they may not be able to fly that well and for the first few days stay in the vicinicy of the nest. They are still fed by the parents for another several weeks. The fledglings often stay scattered in trees and call constantly. So if you hear constant chirping and see adult birds carrying food to different bushes or trees, chances are they are feeding fledglings. During the fledgling phase the adults may start a new brood. The male may sing again, mate with the female, and she will start a new clutch of eggs. even while he is still feeding fledglings from the first brood. The fledglings will eventually learn to feed themselves and the parents stop feeding them. and so the whole thing starts over.


Curlygirl715 said...

Great picture! I also love watching the male cardinal feed the female at our feeder....even though she's RIGHT THERE!

Ashira deSembre said...

I'm very excited for your new field guide. Will you be doing a tour/signing once it comes out?

JoAnne Russo said...

so when do the young learn their particular song? I understand it's not innate, they need to learn it but if the parents have stopped singing before they hatch, then when is it learned?

hendraskinny said...

hi,,,i'm hendra from Indonesia,,
my english is bad,,but i like this blog,and the birds...
it's so beautiful,,,

Lillian and Don Stokes said...

JoAnne, Learning song in birds is complicated. Some may be learned, some may be innate, depending on the species and circumstances. Young birds may learn a basic, but plastic version of adult song early, then fine tune it later as adults. Adult birds do sing during the breeding season while nesting, maybe not as much as in territory formation. So young birds do hear adults sing.

Lillian and Don Stokes said...

We will do various book signings once the book is out.
We are looking forward to it.