I had a new experience on the bluebird trail in mid-July. I went to band babies in Box 4 at Kensico Cemetery on July 13. The babies were 6 days old, and I was greeted with all four babies desperately begging for food – beaks wide open.
A similar experience last year told me that something had happened to their parents and these abandoned babies would starve to death if I didn’t do something. I made the quick but scary decision to get them adopted. We fortunately had two other nests at Kensico with nestlings a couple days younger, plus a nest at nearby Landmark commercial property with babies the right age.
I banded 3 of the 4 babies before I put them into the adoptive nests so I could keep track of them. Unfortunately, the 4th baby was a tiny runt and too little to band (even though it was 6 days old).
The first baby (not the runt) went to box 1 at Kensico, which already had 5 nestlings. I prayed I wasn’t putting all of them at risk by adding a 6th. The second nest at Kensico had 4 babies. I added a 5th, one of the adoptees, and then because I didn’t know what else to do, I added a 6th – the tiny runt. I took the last adoptee to Landmark, giving that nest a 5th nestling.
This was all during the extreme heat wave and I knew that it was the second brood for these adults, so I was more than worried about all these babies. I did observe that each of these 3 nests had both male and female adults bringing food to the nests.
I went back the next day. The nestlings were all alive, but some of the nestlings in the Kensico boxes were begging for food and the runt was begging non-stop. Had I done the right thing???
I went back the day after that. Again, the nestlings were all still alive . . . and all the birds now seem to be well fed (they were not begging) except the runt.
It occurred to me I might help a little by providing some mealy worms, and found some at a pet store. I tacked a cup of meal worms on the top of the boxes in Kensico and the adults immediately took advantage of the free food.
I fed “Tiny” a little extra for 3 days, but could only do this once a day.
I finally felt confident to band the rest of the babies. The adoptees were 10 days old and their nestmates were 8 days , but looked the same age. I banded the original nestlings on the left leg so I could keep track of which were the adopted ones. Tiny was still too little to band, but he was still alive.
I checked the next day (babies 9 and 11 days old). All were alive and well, except sadly, Tiny had finally given up the fight.
Cece checked for me two days later and all was well. After that, we couldn’t open the nestbox for fear of premature fledgling.
I went today and with breath held and fingers crossed, and opened all the boxes. I was greeted with an empty nest in all three!
At Landmark, I spotted both adults in the nearby trees. The male was making alarm calls the whole time I was there, and the female had an insect in her beak. I tried in vain to find the fledglings that I knew were hiding in the trees. The adults’ behavior assured me that the bluebird rescue was a success. We brought 3 extra bluebirds into the world that otherwise wouldn’t have made it.
Whew!!! A happy ending.