About me

Hi! I’m Katie LaBarbera. I received my PhD in 2016 from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley, spent a while studying treefrogs as a postdoc in the Acoustic Communication Lab at UMinnesota, and am now working to understand and conserve birds with the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory. My PhD is in Integrative Biology, but only because they don’t give doctorates in Chasing Juncos All Over The Mountains. Before I came to Berkeley, I did research on House Wrens at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University.

I am interested in animal behavior, evolutionary biology, and anything involving birds.

Disclaimer: I speak only for myself, not for SFBBO or UMN or UC Berkeley or any subset of the general scientific community. If you don’t like something I say, I’m the only one to blame!

Young me with a robin chick. My career path may not have exactly shocked anyone.
Young me with a robin chick. My career path may not have exactly shocked anyone.

65 thoughts on “About me

  1. Good evening ! I found this little fellow this morning (my cat did, but I rescued him/her) and because you’re specialized in birds (and obviously you love them! :D), I will ask your help in identifying this little one – http://carmenfortis.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/picture00234.jpg and a close view of the head – http://carmenfortis.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/micul-musafir-cine-sunt/
    I can tell that the bird has clean water and some fruits and seeds ( I have a little canary so I borrowed some of his food :D).
    Thank you very much and I wish you a wonderful day !

    • Hi Carmen,
      Wow, that’s a new one for me! The wings look like a swallow or purple martin, but the bill looks too long to be those species. Are you located in North America?
      Whatever it is, it’s a young fledgling: has all its feathers but still has some yellow around the gape. Its parents were probably still feeding it. I’d recommend feeding it for at least a few days (or taking it to a rehab center) before releasing it. Young birds rarely eat seeds – you’ll want to look for bugs, or try chopping a hard-boiled egg into small bug-sized strips. If it won’t eat food placed in front of it, try holding the food in your fingers and “swooping” your hand down to the baby, as if you’re a parent flying in. If the baby then opens its bill, put the food in.

      • Thank you for the help ! I am located in Europe, in Romania and unfortunately rehab centers don’t exist and the veterinary clinics are opened in weekends just on saturdays but untill 12 p.m. I have to say again the word unfortunately, by the night the little one seemed to be weak, of course I gave the bird food.
        When I woke up, the first thing was to check up on the little buddy but it died, maybe the reason could’ve been internal wounds created by the cat’s bites, I felt sorry because I knew it could have had a chance at life with the right help from a veterinarian.
        Thank you again for your help !
        Wishing you a sunny morning and beautiful day !

  2. Hi Carmen,

    It seems you get asked for advice on dealing with injured birds a lot… I hope this is not unwelcome.

    My cat recently brought in a little junco… he (not sure on the sex but lets say he) seems to be “ok” after the initial shock. I have had him in a dark box with some chopped sunflower seeds, almonds and walnuts (with a small water dish) for the last two days and tried to release him today. He was unable to fly and I had to re-capture him. He does seem to be moving around with no problem and seems very alert just unable to fly. I have back in a clean dark box with the aforementioned accouterments. I am not sure what to do next?

    I will try to contact some local wild life rescue institutions but last year I had an incident with a raccoon and nobody seemed interested in helping. If he is going to have to stay with me longer is there a way I should go about this? Should I leave him in the box or should I get a bird cage? I don’t know if he will be OK in the cage… I can leave him in an isolated part of the house where he won’t get stressed to often? Is there a better food I can get him? Maybe a bird seed mix from the local pet store?

    Any help you give me would be greatly appreciated… I love my cat but hate that this happens sometimes and would really like to see this little guy make it back into the wild.

    Thank you for taking the time.

    • Hi Christopher,
      If your local rehab places aren’t helpful – and they would definitely be the best thing for your junco – then I would keep him in a bird cage with a water dish and a seed mix (one of those wild bird mixes for birdfeeders). Give him a chance to recover; he may have injuries you can’t see. (One possibility is that one of his air sacs was punctured, which would take a while to heal.) In a decent-sized cage with a perch or two, he’ll be able to hop around until he can fly again. Keep him in a quiet part of the house – one where you can close a door to keep the cat out – near a window if possible, with a normal daily light-dark cycle. Don’t keep him in a dark box all the time, that sounds like no fun for him!
      I hope he gets better! Let me know how it goes. Thanks for taking care of him!

  3. Being of a scientific mind, you might not go in for this goofy award system, but I listed your site in my blog post today for the Beautiful Blogger award. Your blog is awesome and I’m so glad that I found it and would like others to see it, too. Thanks!

  4. Hi, how can i contact you, i need to communicate with you about something urgent that is happening here in iran’s wild life. You would be amazed!

  5. my name is Justin and I have a question regarding city sparrows.

    I noticed that during and after a windy rain storm, a lot of young sparrows are blown onto the ground and unable to fly temporarily due to wetness, sometimes they are really young and cannot fly period.

    do you think it is a good idea to pick up and relocate the above mentioned sparrows to a big park where it seems friendlier with trees.
    these sparrows that I’m talking about are located in heavily cemented areas with a lot of cars and buildings.

  6. Hi Katie,
    “My” baby juncos are about two weeks old with real feathers, I think, and still in their nest. They are fledgling. I came across your blog because I am researching about how to increase their chance of survival when they just leave the nest. I am afraid they might be attacked by squirrels or jays around here.
    The juncos’ nest is in one of my flower pot in my front yard.
    I want to buy food and bring water close to their nest so they don’t have to wander far.
    Thank you for your advice.

    • Hi Anne,
      There are a few things you can do. Young fledglings rely on hiding for protection, so the more shelter there is available – think dense bushes – the better, especially if the shelter makes pathways that would let them move places. If your yard already has bushes, you’re fine; if not, see if there’s any way you can move some shelter there temporarily. Maybe move some potted plants outside for a few days? (If it was January, I’d say leave an old Christmas tree out.) Any kind of clutter is better than a bare lawn.
      Your food and water idea is a nice thought but not necessary. Young fledglings don’t need to drink, and they’ll eat bugs at first, which will be hard for you to provide. (The fledglings themselves won’t be searching for food; their parents will find it and bring it to them.) Also there’s a danger in putting out food and water in that it may attract the jays you’re worried about, as well as various other birds which may themselves attract bird predators.
      If you have a cat, the absolute best thing you can do for your juncos is to keep the cat indoors for a week.

  7. I just stumbled across your blog while researching (“researching,” i.e. surfing the net–not real research like yours, unfortunately!). This is fantastic! I’m so excited to find other birders online, especially one who writes as well as you do and provides such valuable insight. Thank you! I’d be honored if you checked out my own birding blog at aberrantplumage.wordpress.com.

    Best wishes–keep up the great work! I’ll be reading enthusiastically!


  8. Absolutely enchanting blog.I stumbled on you in my so far fruitless search for an ultra violet image of the UK House Sparrow. I understand that the House Sparrow, despite being a tough little brown bird to us, displays impressive markings under UV which are critical in the battle to get noticed in the mating game.

    ToughLittleBirds helps make the web a brighter and happier place. Thanks for sharing some of your work

  9. Congrats Katie! Have you had a party or will you for the event?
    The last 5 days were pretty cold in Mountain View, CA when the nights dipped into the 30s. My plants look miserable but some show early signs of Spring like cymbidiums and jasminum mesnyi filled with flower buds.
    I also saw a few couple of juncos wandering around. They must love my garden because it has many shrubs and bushes they can hide. My husband said they are in their early house hunting. Is that right?
    Thank you

    • Thanks! I had some low-key celebratory events right after I graduated, yes – and also turned my brain off for a few days and watched Disney movies :-)

      I agree with your husband—juncos in the Bay Area are just starting to think about breeding. The males are starting to sing songs, and all of them are scurrying around in the brush considering nesting sites. I hope they do choose your garden!

  10. I need some advice asap! I discovered a dark eyed junco nest in the tall grass in my yard. There were 5 eggs and the parents were present. Well it’s now a week and a half later and when I came outside today a black cat had found the nest. It appears to have killed the mother bird and possibly 2 of the newly hatched babies. There are still 2 half bald babies and one egg in the nest but I haven’t seen the father return & ive chased the cat off 3 times now!! What can I do to help these guys? It’s now dark outside and I can’t stay up all night chasing off this stupid cat !! I live out in the woods so I guess any predator could potentially harm them at this point?
    I’m seriously considering putting some chicken wire as a barrier around the nest with a small opening, should the father return. Am I wasting my time? Could I be causing more harm than good? Think I’m gonna go ahead with the chicken wire for tonight …
    I have to do something!

    • Hi Cherine,
      That’s a bad situation! I’m not sure there’s a lot you can do. Depending on how old the chicks are, they may not be able to survive without their mother’s warmth (male juncos don’t keep the babies warm). When you say they’re half-bald, are they mostly pink skin and fluff, or do they have real feathers?

      Are there wildlife rehabilitators near you?

      • They’re so small it’s hard to tell but I don’t believe they have “fluff”.
        If you zoom in on the pic you can almost see them. I did end up putting some chicken wire around the nest but now my biggest concern is they stay warm throughout the night. I did feed them both some small worms in hopes of helping them survive. I didn’t know what else to do! Fingers crossed they’ll hang in there till morning. I’ll keep you posted.

        • They made it thru the night!! Yay!!
          I was so happy to see their daddy perched on top of the chicken wire this morning. I’ve been watching him go in and out to feed his babies as if it wasn’t even there!
          So sad he has lost his mate. Will he find another after the chicks leave the nest? I have to go to work but I’ll check on these guys again at lunch! Its gonna be a good day! 😊

          • That’s great! The photo isn’t showing up for me, but if they made it through the night then they are big enough to generate their own heat without mom. VERY good sign that dad is feeding them!

            Yes, the male will try to find another mate once his chicks are independent.

          • I’m sad to say that although the daddy returned to feed his babies, it wasn’t enough. They needed their mom to keep them warm and unfortunately they died huddled together in the nest.
            Breaks my heart. I know this stuff happens all the time but when it happens to you personally,
            well. . . it sucks.

  11. Hi, I just found your site and wondered if you might have some thoughts on some missing robin fledglings from my yard. This spring/summer I’ve the joy of watching three robins nests from egg laying through fledgling. First and third nests were built above screen door, and second one was built in satellite dish. First nest produced four babies and all fledged on the same day. For the first week, I saw them frequently flying around the small trees in the yard. Once, two of them even flew back and stood for a few moments next to their nest. The second week of their fledgling, the babies in the satellite dish hatched. Two hatched one day and two the next. In day 11, the largest baby either fell out or jumped from the nest. For two days, the baby stayed closed to the nest and then crossed the road to a wooded area where the father stayed when he wasn’t feeding. Another baby fledged on day 13 and the next day crossed the road to join the father. On day 14, the last two fledged together and that afternoon crossed the road to join siblings and father. Mom also joined them and came back to our compost for worms and then returned to them. Spotted babies often flying in wooded area and occasionally near nest. Then the first mama returned to the porch and built another nest (we removed the empty one, as it was very nasty with droppings.) and then left for several days. I wondered if she would return. She did and laid an egg each for four days. I checked the nest again one week after she laid the first egg and was surprised to see a fifth egg. The first two babies hatched on the 15th day after the first egg was laid. The next day, two more babies hatched. The fourth baby was very tiny and survived only a day and then disappeared from the nest. Not sure if the parents removed it or pushed it down in the nest. The fifth egg did not hatch. The three babies thrived and grew larger than the babies in the other two nest. Their wings also seemed more developed. Last Saturday, a rainy and stormy day was the 13th day for two of them. I hoped they would wait until Sunday to fledge. The largest one stepped out of the nest twice onto the door sill and then stepped back into the nest. An hour or so later, it was gone. I walked outside and found it. Upon seeing me, it lifted off the ground and flew to the back of the house. It wasn’t flying high but stayed airborne for about 50 feet. I lost sight of it and didn’t see it anymore. A few hours later, another baby left the nest while it was raining. It went to a small tree and stayed there until dusk. I watched the mother feed it there several times. It then left the small tree and came back to another tree closer to the nest. Early the next morning the third and last baby left the nest. We were gone from the house a couple hours and returning home, we saw a baby following a parent near the driveway, with two squirrels in pursuit. As we parked, I lost sight of the baby but saw the squirrels in the ditch and went to see if they had the baby. They didn’t have it. I didn’t see it anywhere. Went inside the house and a few minutes later saw a parent at the nest with a worm. Nest was empty except for the unhatched egg. Couldn’t figure that out. Parents kept close watch on nest and had to know it was empty. Was the parent possibly checking the nest for a missing baby? I have not had any sightings of a baby since that one yesterday. Every time I looked outside yesterday afternoon, I would see both parents on the ground circling the yard and looking around. It was out of context for parents of fledglings, at least from the other two nests I watched. The parents would walk around with worms in their beaks for 5-10 minutes looking around but never delivered them. It was heart-wrenching watching them. These were not the busy parents of fledglings I watched previously. They seemed to be waiting and watching for their babies to come back. Today was the same. This afternoon, I saw the mama robin walking through the small bushes underneath the nest site, as if she was searching for her babies. When the other nests fledged, there were signs of where the babies had been…poop sacks and chirping from the bushes. Except for the one sighting yesterday, there has been nothing seen from this nest…just the endless circling in the yard by the parents. What are your thoughts? Could the babies be lost or lost scent of their parents during the rain/storms? It’s so sad that these three babies that appeared so healthy and well developed have all disappeared. Sorry for the long post…just wanted to provide details.

    • I’m sorry to say I agree with your conclusion that something bad has befallen these last three chicks. Not seeing them isn’t so bad – sometimes fledglings move along, as you observed, or just decide to be very hidden – but seeing both parents wandering around with food that they do not deliver is a very bad sign.

      It is strange that all three disappeared so quickly, and at such an advanced stage of development. The most dangerous time of a young bird’s life is before it can fly; it sounds like all of your robins were flighted. I don’t think the rain was the problem: at that age, the babies can keep warm about as well as adult birds, and as long as the parents keep feeding them, they should be fine. Robins don’t use smell to locate their chicks, they use sound (and, as you’ve seen, search if they don’t hear anything) so that wouldn’t be an issue.

      My guess would be that something agile and smart got them. Do you have jays, crows, or ravens hanging around the area? Or martens?

      I hope I’m wrong and you see them again! Keep an eye on the parents – if they keep not feeding, that’s bad news.

  12. Love your blog!!! Found a fledgling this morning in an area that had no cover or low lying brush- It was on the street (along the curb) in 90+ farenheit weather with only puny newly planted city trees and no visible nests. I picked it up (it was very weak and did not object) and brought it to my house. Put it in a box in basement with two plates of moist cat food pate. Went to work and ran home at lunch to check on him/her. The bird seemed stronger so I went back to work. When I came home at night the bird was making loud calls (for parents I assume) so I decided to release him/her in my enclosed back garden. The bird was much more active in terms of running along the ground next to the brick walls with bushes for cover. Since I live close less than a block from where I found the bird and I have bird feeders, and the baby was making loud calls, am really hoping parents showed up. Can’t find the bird in the back yard any more so maybe he/she could fly. Though from what I have subsequently been reading online, I think I should have left the bird alone. I guess we can only do what we think is right at the time. Very rarely, crows come to our yard so am really hoping my little bird was not taken or devoured….

  13. I have a question that’s been bothering me for a week now. I’ve always loved birdhouses and anytime one has caught my eye, I had to get it. I have some on my patio and some on post in the ground. I have a couple of bird feeders I keep out and a bird bath. I love birds, I love all God’s creatures but I’ve never really observed them or knew much about their habits or way of living until these last 3 months, and I want to say It’s been the most amazing 3 months of my life. I’ve never experienced anything like this and I’m glad I got the opportunity to and hope I get to experience many more. I could go on and on but this would be a 10 page post so I’ll try to make it short. I have reached out to NABS, NC Bluebird Society, Audubon Society, Cornell Nestwatch and other organizations during the past 3 months with all sorts of questions and concerns that I could never find answers to. Yes, I was a total wreck and worried day and night over a pair of nesting bluebirds. My kids think I’ve turned into some crazy bird lady (neighbors probably think the same). The first pair that ever came to my yard didn’t make it but another pair showed shortly afterwards. I went above and beyond to keep them safe and I done everything I could possibly do to make things right. I never even knew certain species preferred a particular type of nest box, I thought birds would use any type of birdhouse if they needed to. These birds had my mind so consumed, I couldn’t hardly do anything else, I had it bad. I didn’t want to leave home and always hurried to get back but that was because they nested in a birdhouse in front yard, right by driveway and front walkway. There were a couple of roaming cats in meighborhood and other predators I worried about. I stood guard duty at my window constantly, running outside at 2 or 3 in the morning, with spray bottles in hand or water hose in arms reach whenever I would hear the slightest noise. Anyway everything went ok, they nested, laid 4 eggs and they hatched July 3rd, at least I saw one for the first time on the 3rd. I have read that sometimes they don’t hatch at same time and sometimes not even same day but I was told by someone else they do all hatch the same day. Either way, July 20th they were 17 days old. I read they fledge between 16-21 days. I saw mama and daddy blue feeding them the evening of July 19th. When I went to put out some mealworms the next morning, I saw mama and daddy flying around chirping and acting a little more hyped up than usual. I didn’t think much of it because they are normally waiting on me sometimes in the morning to come out with their treat so I thought they were just being impatient that morning. They are usually in maple tree by birdhouse but they were flying around back and forth watching my every move and then went to roof and sat. Mama was flapping at daddy like they were fussing, he went to perch beside her and she started flapping her wings and clicking beak at him. I thought they weren’t acting right and my heart fell to my stomach because first thing I thought of was something has happened so I walk over to birdhouse and peeked in and didn’t see any of the babies. I panicked opened little door on back put hand inside and felt around and there was nothing in there. They were 17 days old and they could have fledged. The nest or outside the nest was not in any sort of disarray. No feathers, no straw hanging out holes, nothing. There wasn’t even any poop in there it was very clean. So I said ok they flew out and I was upset because I missed it but then I’ve been thinking, if they fledged, why was mama and daddy still outside around yard that morning? If they fledged shouldn’t one of them be with the babies somewhere while other one came to get meslworms? Why were both of them in front yard that morning but no sight of babies anywhere? It’s been 6 days and I’ve not seen them at all. The parents did take some mealworms after I sat hem down that morning and they flew off and I haven’t seen them since either. I thought they would stay in area or at least that’s what I’ve read but I also read other sites that say the parents generally take them away from nesting arean for week or so and they will probably come back around. I don’t know what to think. I’ve been out everyday calling them ( I’ve always did a short whistle and they knew it was mealworm time and they always came) but not now. I’ll come out everyday hoping to see them and I haven’t. I put a extra long overhang on that birdhouse and had it where if a cat or something tried to get on top, it would flip them off but after chasing them off with water and putting shake away around perimeter I never really had a problem with the cats anymore. Do you think they fledged or did something get them, which in my heart I feel if something did, it wasn’t from anything waiting or sitting on top of birdhouse, because believe me I had it rigged up. Unless it was another bird. I can’t stop analyzing this. Sorry such a long post, it’s hard sometimes just getting straight to the point.

    • It’s hard to know what happened, but what you describe doesn’t sound bad to me. It’s a good sign that the parents disappeared – they probably did take the fledglings elsewhere (as you note, they can stay in the same area or not: it varies). I’d be much more worried if the parents were hanging out in the area and obviously not feeding fledglings, or were building a new nest.

      As for why they were acting odd that morning: that sounds to me like the babies had just fledged, and were probably hiding not far away. The parents were watching your every move because they were worried you might find the babies. They won’t feed the fledglings if a potential predator might see them, so they didn’t feed the babies while you were watching. The bill clicking may have been a warning noise, advising the chicks to hunker down and be quiet.

      The state of the nest also sounds good: most predators would mess up the nest at least a bit. Baby birds in cavity nests (holes, or birdhouses) are pretty safe, and predators have to make a mess to get at them. The only exception to that I can think of is a snake. But even if a predator had come, the babies were old enough that while it ate one, the others would have fledged and escaped. (I don’t think that happened, though – if a predator had come, the parents would have been much more agitated, and would have moved the babies far away from the nest immediately, not hung around fussing at each other.)

      Unfortunately it’s impossible to know for sure, but my best guess is that they fledged just fine. I hope this makes you feel better!

      • Thank you, I feel a little better that you say that. Like I said in previous post, I analyze everything and I’ve thought of every scenario I could and a snake did cross my mind. I haven’t seen any snakes in my yard in about 12 yrs and I believe the only reason I saw them then was because they were clearing out a bunch of woods behind my house to build more homes. I haven’t seen any since but that doesn’t mean anything. I was wondering about what you said, if it was a snake and while it was eating one, the others would have flew out. If a snake comes in through the entry hole and grabs one, how would the others be able to get out? Wouldn’t the snake be blocking entry hole with his body half in? Also, isn’t it some what unusual that I haven’t seen the babies or parents since? When they fledge shouldn’t I have at least seen them somewhere in yard at first, then parents take them away? I’m sorry asking so many questions, it’s just that I really wanted to see them so I can feel better knowing they all made it. I felll in love with them birds and I hated being away from home, afraid something would happen. I feel lost without them around and constantly being occupied by them. Thank you for your feedback, I really need it.

  14. Hi Katie, My husband and I have been watching a nest full of four baby Steller Jays beginning June 2, 2018. We set-up a spy cam on June 3rd and could see the four newborns. All four appeared to have vigorous appetites, parents were very attentive and the weather up here in Nevada County has been warm. Parent started leaving them alone at night beginning June 12.
    All four seemed strong and developing at the same pace. The biggest chick appeared to be ready to leave the nest on June 17th. On the morning of June 18 we could see only three live chicks We assumed (wrongly) the biggest baby left the nest earlier that morning. During the 18th we observed three chicks continuing to feed energetically. On the morning of the 19th, we observed only one active chick and at least two chicks no longer alive. That chick left the nest that day (yesterday the 19th) around 12:20 pm. The parents continued to check on the nest till around 5:00 pm. Today (the 20th) we removed the nest from its place under our roof eave and were heartbroken to see there were actually three dead babies (including the biggest one). Their bodies were intact and the nest was protected from predators.

    Can you help us understand what happened? Why did they die especially when they were so close to being able to leave?

    We are very sad.

    Thank you very much for any help/light you can shed.

    • What a sad story! I hope the remaining jay thrives under his parents’ undivided attention. I wish I had a clever explanation for you, but as you’ve described it, this situation is rather baffling. A disease or bad food could kill apparently-healthy chicks, but I would expect them to visibly deteriorate for a day or two first. Any predator should have consumed them. A competitor for the nesting site or the female jay’s fertility might kill the chicks and leave their bodies, but you should see some mark on them (e.g. damage to the skull), and I would expect the other chicks to flee the nest while the first was being killed.

      Has it been very hot? That’s the only thing I can think of, besides a very sudden and severe disease. I’ll ask some colleagues and see if they have better ideas.

  15. Thank you for all your sage info. I DO have an important question. Are dogs a big threat to fledgling Robins? My less-than-quarter-acre-yard has always belonged to my two med-large dogs. And one of the fledglings–now just 24 hours fledged–landed in THEIR yard. I’m particularly fond of this baby who fell? from a twenty foot high nest. Initially it had no coverage! It then walked 40 ft up the side yard path to ME! (Did it remember my voice as I tried to caution it about falling from the nest?) It has coverage now in my hardly-weeded yard and a parent has visited at least a couple of times, BUT I have seen it just hopping around in a clearing several times and I want to cry out to it. I have cats that do not frequent the back yard but are nevertheless restricted a lot now. BUT WHAT ELSE CAN I DO? AND WHAT ABOUT MY DOGS? Please help! I understand there’s about two weeks before Baby Hop-a-long is flying. I may have a nervous breakdown before that time.

    • In general, yes, dogs are a big threat to fledglings at this hop-and-hide stage. (Cats are worse, but dogs are still a threat.) Right now, the robin is very vulnerable because it can’t fly. As the robin gets older, it will get better at flying but also more adventurous, and so more likely to flop right in front of one of the dogs. To give the robin its best chance, you need to either restrict the dogs or move the robin. If there is good habitat outside your yard (i.e. good coverage, not a busy road, not lots of cats) then moving the robin is a decent option. Restricting the dogs would be the least-interfering strategy, and the one I’d most recommend, but you may or may not think that’s an option.

      I hope it works out! Also keep an eye out for the robin’s siblings to follow any day now – usually the chicks all fledge at around the same time.

      • Thank you! I’ll be careful with my dogs! Cats abound in the neighborhood and as mine are old and seeking shade from the heat, I’ll leave the little guy where he is, feed the cats well, and be vigilant. How long before he can fly well?

        He/she? was the last to fledge of the three. The first two wisely chose my nextdoor neighbor’s yard (tree was his and nest was above the dividing fence. It was a very well hidden nest, 20 feet above the ground which I’d watched for over a week and, like a “crazy” I talked to the chicks everyday!

        Thanks, again.

  16. Your article about scaring the baby birds out of the nest was spot on. My husband and i did exactly that and after putting them back in several times very carefully using gloves was a no go for they kept hopping out. I was pretty upset until I read your article. Thanks for the laugh AND the reassurance that I just didn’t let 2 baby birds to die. :)

  17. The past 10 years I”ve had Dark Eyed Juncos nesting in my hanging basket (i’m on a 2nd floor of an apt) this years clutch was to hatch tomorrow, but yesterday, a Scrub Jay, came and stole all the eggs, sobs. I had a camera in the basket and everything. Will the juncos come back to at least feed from my deck? any possibility they’ll renest in the basket in the future? Alison in Kirkland, WA

    • Oh no! Jays are very adept nest predators. I’m sure the juncos will keep feeding from your deck if they have been. They’re unlikely to nest in the basket again this year, since it’s clearly a dangerous place (and they shouldn’t – the jay will likely be checking there in the future), but they will probably nest in the area; their territories aren’t very large. Keep any eye out in other hanging baskets/potted plants/even just on the flat ground for a new nest!

  18. Great useful and BUSY blog about birds and their little ones. Found you during a search of why a starling I saw was acting like a human kid and waving its wings around as if it were an airplane! Funny to watch but I wonder why that bird did it… am in Western New York (WNY) but originally from SF. Will be back and thanks for such an informative and useful blog! Stay safe!!!

  19. Thanks for your quick reply!! I had already written out a reply BUT WP ate it!!! I looked at the cute bird in your video, and it was NOTHING like that at all! It was just as if it were a kid waving slowly and holding out his arms/wings outstretched and turning slowly this way and that, just like a kid acting like an airplane! Stay safe!!!

  20. Hello! I love your blog, it’s so informative and very humorous!

    I have a question though. How ethical is it to “flush” a junco out of their nest or to look at a junco/junco chick in their nest? I ask because a junco has built a nest under a plastic bag in my lawn and occasionally I peek under the bag at the nest.

    The adults doesn’t seem to get as scared by me as they used to after they first built the nest – or at least, whenever I bend down to look at the nest from ~2ft away, they just watch me watch them.

    The question gnawing at me is if this is ethical. I’d hate to think I’m causing this little birds stress, especially the chick. I wouldn’t want them to die of a heart attack or something! The rationalization I’ve been giving myself is that the juncos have spent a decent amount of time around me, simply because they built their nest in a part of the lawn that I have always spent a lot of time in (honestly, I’m not really sure why they chose that spot given how often humans are hanging out there). So I thought that maybe they’ve learned that I don’t eat them? But maybe they aren’t that smart.

    Anyways, I was hoping you could shed some light on this situation.

    Also, is it normal if the bird only had two eggs, of which only one seems to have hatched?

    • Wow, building a nest under a plastic bag is… very junco, I guess XD Little innovators!

      We know that humans being near wildlife does stress them out, so your peeking isn’t completely harmless. However, it’s also probably not a big deal, especially for a human-acclimated bird. Here are the guidelines that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nestwatch program uses for folks monitoring nests: https://nestwatch.org/learn/how-to-nestwatch/nest-monitoring-protocol/ (You should add your nest to Nestwatch and contribute to our understanding of juncos!) Checking the nest every 3-4 days, as they recommend, will let you follow along without bothering the parents too frequently.

      Two important considerations: if the parents make a big noisy fuss when you peek, they could attract predators like jays or crows, which could find the nest and eat the eggs/chicks. You want to avoid that! Also, when the chicks are 10 days old or older – past the “pink jellybean,” “scrawny alien,” and “porcupine” stages into “fully feathered and actually bird-looking”, they may run out of the nest if you peek at them, so starting at 10 days you’ll want to keep your distance.

      I’m sure you’ve already thought of this, but if you have a dog or cat, keep them inside for the next few weeks!

      A two-egg clutch is pretty odd for a junco. I’d expect to see that for a late-season nest, and I don’t know of anywhere where May would be late in the breeding season for a junco. Having one egg not hatch is perfectly normal, but the two-egg clutch means you now just have one chick, which is definitely fewer than normal. Maybe your junco mom didn’t have sufficient energy reserves? Maybe the hatching egg is actually a cowbird, which usually hatch faster than the host eggs? Or, if you wrote this right after the first egg hatched, maybe the second egg will have hatched a day later – eggs often hatch a day apart.

      • Thank you for the reply, and thank you for all the information!!! I appreciate it :)

        The parents never made any noise when I approached the nest. When they first made the nest, if I got too close they would fly out. After that, I stopped going that close 😁. Though, later on, they would let me get within two feet without doing anything (I never went any closer than that though, so I’m not sure what their tolerance was).

        As for the timeline, the one egg that hatched did hatch around 13-14 days after the second egg was laid. So it seems like it was a junco egg.

  21. I think the parents of a junco nest in my yard got caught in our rat trap. Now they are survived by a single chick. The chick hatched >8 days ago. How should we take care of the chick? What do we do? Should we bring it and its nest inside?

    • Oh no, I just saw your other comment, and now what a terrible development! Are you sure both parents are dead? A single parent will still care for the chick. If you’re sure they’re both dead, you need to bring the chick to a wildlife rehabilitation center – just google that phrase and your city/town – he’s several weeks too young to be on his own. Don’t try to feed him or give water on your own; do keep him warm until you can get him to licensed rehabbers. Baby birds are remarkably easy to kill with kindness if you don’t have wildlife training.

      I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier.

      • Well, the traps were perhaps 12 yards from their nest, in a place where I had seen the parents collecting food before. I had no idea juncos would eat peanut butter!

        So at the time I wrote that post, I was pretty confident that the parents were dead. Further, about an hour or two after the second parent died, the fledgling started to chirp periodically and only stopped come nightfall. I also never saw the parents return to the area.

        The next day, the fledgling resumed its chirping at least by 6AM. I left the bird alone and just watched through the windows until 7AM, but no adult juncos were in sight. After that, I decided I needed to try to take the fledgling into a rehabilitation center, but I didn’t know how to capture him.

        Oddly, after about an hour of chasing the fledgling (which was an awful experience, the poor bird got so stressed :( ), a pair of adult juncos appeared. I fled the scene as to let them do what they want. One of the adults flew to the fledgling, who flew to meet him. They kind of flew around each other and did a little dance for a few seconds before both the adult juncos left, never to return.

        The poor little fledgling sat at the exact spot the adults left him, not even hiding, just out in the open, and resumed his constant chirping. I left him be for maybe a half hour after that, but no adults ever came again. So, eventually, I was able to capture him by placing a large, soft t-shirt over him, gently scooping him up in the t-shirt, and placing him a shoe box. I got him to a rehab center after that.

        For the rest of the day, I saw no juncos. The day after, I saw a single junco once, perched on our peach tree. Yesterday, I saw two juncos foraging on the ground where the parents used to forage. Then today, I saw three juncos (though they seemed to be fighting, 2v1), one of which foraged where the parents used to forage.

        I tell you all this because I now I am not sure who the two juncos that were caught in the rat trap were. Is it possible that the parents are still alive?

        If the parents really did die, the only explanation I can think of is that the juncos were territorial and so now that the juncos residing in our lawn have died, other juncos are coming to the recently vacated land.

        • I’m so glad you were able to get the chick to care! I agree with your guess that the new juncos are making use of the recently vacated territory. (Juncos are territorial during the breeding season.) Since they didn’t feed or seem interested in the chick beyond that initial investigation, I think you can be certain that they weren’t the parents.

          I’m sure you’re already doing this, but – maybe a more junco-proof kind of trap in the future? (Not sticky traps, those are a nightmare for wildlife.) Your yard seems to be prime junco habitat!

          • That’s a relief to here. I was really starting to wonder if the chick’s parents were still alive.

            We’ve decided to no longer use those traps. It’s not worth it. The juncos are too precious! :)

            Thank you for all your advice and help!!!

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