Juncos underground

Juncos nest on the ground (usually; sometimes they will nest higher, even reusing old robins’ nests, but I’ve never seen this myself. It’s probably because I’m short). This makes their nests tricky to find, since in the first place, there is a lot of “the ground” to search, and in the second place, you have to be really careful where you step while you search.

They don’t just nest on the ground, though: they often hide their nests underneath things. Some of them are quite good at it.

YABI's nest. What do you mean, you can't see it - it's right there!

YABI’s nest. What do you mean, you can’t see it – it’s right there!

See, there it is!

See, there it is!

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What we know about one nest

On July 1, 2013, we caught a female junco who we banded MABY.

MABY

MABY

An already-banded male, ARKM, seemed very upset about this. Sometimes juncos do hang around when we band their mates—it’s rather sweet to see them reunite when the banded birds are released—but ARKM’s behavior seemed different to me, so after we released MABY, I lurked behind a tree and watched.

Sure enough, ARKM went down to the ground: he had a nest.

ARKM and MABY's nest, just under the rock.

ARKM and MABY’s nest, just under the rock.

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Say “aah”

There are a few easy ways for baby juncos to distinguish me from their parents. For example, their parents have feathers and dark heads and are about their size, while I am a gigantic fabric-draped Godzilla monster. However, hungry chicks seem to not always be alert to such nuance, so I’ve accumulated quite a few photographs of the view down the gullets of baby juncos.

SEAL and NORA's chicks

SEAL and NORA’s chicks

In the above photo you can see how the bright pink/red of the mouth, surrounded by the yellow bill outline, makes an obvious target for a parent with food.

Mostly, though, I just like how these photos make the chicks look even more like crazy pink alien beings than usual.

INGA's chicks

INGA’s chicks

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Update on The Nest That Came Back

We banded the chicks from The Nest That Came Back From The Dead. They were all a bit small, looking about a day younger than their actual age; that might be because of their pinecone encounter, but it also might simply be that they aren’t getting much food. They hatched pretty late in the season, so there aren’t as many insects out now, and we’ve only ever seen one parent feeding them. Their “single mom” may be having trouble finding enough food for the three of them.

That may not sound great, but the important thing is that they’re alive. If they can make it another two weeks, they’ll be flighted and fattening themselves on fall’s plentiful seeds. The biggest of the chicks, ROAN, clearly can’t wait to be flying:

Big sister ROAN

Big sister ROAN

I can do it!!

I can do it!!

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The nest that came back from the dead

This summer we have lost nests to logging, cows, and natural junco predators. None of those shocked me. A pinecone as death-dealer, however, was a surprise.

2013_NCB1When I took this picture, I thought that this nest was dead. The chick you see was completely motionless and stone cold. The pinecone—which was not supposed to be in the nest—had (we think) prevented the female from warming her chicks up, and without their mother’s warmth these very young, naked chicks quickly got too cold.

But when I took the pinecone out to count chick bodies, one of the bodies moved. My field assistant and I took the chicks—there were three, all as cold as the morning mountaintop air—in our warm hands. I still thought they were probably dead: recently dead things may twitch when disturbed.

But as the tiny bodies began to feel less chilly, they squirmed more and more.

2013_NCB2 Continue reading

On the recent sparsity of posts

Hi TLB readers! First, let me apologize for the recent lack of posts, and especially for the lack of the lengthier science-y posts. I’ve been trying my best to keep up, but as I’m in the field about 4 out of every 5 days, it’s hard—and the field work has to come first.

Second, let me assure you that the state of affairs will improve in the (relatively) near future. Hang in there! Once the field work settles down I will have more time for in-depth posts on topics like color and parental care, or brood parasitism strategies.

In the mean time, I hope you don’t mind the shorter here’s-some-photos-of-birds style posts. And (because I’d hate to have a post without photos) here are some photos of junco chicks who think they can fly already—despite, you know, not entirely having feathers yet:

SSKA

SSKA

IREA

IREA

OAKK

OAKK

OAKK trying really hard

OAKK trying really hard