Saturday, June 2, 2012

Chickadee Nest

Any information you read about bluebird boxes will stress the need to check them frequently and remove the nests and eggs of sparrows and other small cavity nesters who have the gall to raise their family in your box.  Sorry, but I just don't have the heart for it.

We have 15 boxes on our bluebird trail and each year we will have one or two nestings of "undesirable" birds such as these chickadees this spring.  I don't understand how you could throw out the very birds that you entertain at your bird feeders.  We therefore run an equal opportunity nesting organization.

Part of the entertainment in bluebird box maintenance is guessing the bird species by the eggs.  This used to be difficult, but now a site at makes it quick and easier.  (This is listed on the resources page along with our other favorite links.)  These speckled eggs could be chickadee or nuthatch.

These little chickadee chicks on day one looked even more naked and vulnerable that the usual nest of day old bluebirds.  They were so scrawny and still that I thought they were dead, but by the next day, their mouths were open, begging for food like I was their mama.

Last Tuesday I filmed this video of newly hatched bluebird chicks just a few hours out of the egg.  They look identical but they were much more active.  You will see one of them confusing its siblings neck for food with the fifth baby's beak just cracking out of the egg.

Chickadee Nest-
One thing I didn't appreciate until now was how distinctive the nests are with different species.  I am used to the dry grass nests of bluebirds but hadn't noticed that the green nesting material occasionally found the boxes was typical of chickadees.  The web site shows the nest pictures and the chickadee nest is quite different from the nuthatch nest.

You will notice these chickadee chicks the day before they fledged are tightly nestled down in soft moss, not the dry scratchy stuff of bluebirds.  Once again they didn't even bother to look up at me.

When you remove the empty chickadee nest the soft spongy feel is quite distinctive.  To quote, "The nest has a moss base and a cup made of grass, plant down, and feathers. The female lines the nest with finer materials such as fine grass, fur, and hair."  In fact it feels just like the deep moss beds I look for when I catch a nap while I am supposed to be cutting firewood in the winter.  Don't tell Barb.


  1. Enjoyed this. I am in full agreement - I could not remove any so-called undesirable tennants either.

    Tana Pulles

  2. My understanding (at least here in California) is that only House Sparrows and Starlings should be removed. Any other cavity-nesting bird is protected and can't and shouldn't be removed.

  3. I sent this by Tim Smith, MDC Ombudsman. His reply: "It is correct that active nests of native birds are protected by state and federal laws. Birds that are not protected are the European starling, house sparrow, and rock doves (pigeons). Of course, the routine winter removal of previous year’s nests or other inactive nests from bird boxes is allowed.

    Personally, we remove the compacted nest once the birds of what ever species have fledged and the box isn't being used, to reduce disease and make room for new renters. We commonly will have 3 nestings in a box.