Jul 01 2007

Bob’s Bird Blog

I put a webcam in a birdhouse. See my videos of birds building a nest, laying eggs, and feeding their young.

Bob's Bird Blog

(or, Alexander’s Avian Anecdotes)

28-Jan-07: It’s still winter, and the little birdies are busy vacationing in the warm weather down south. The webcam software and configuration are still undergoing testing in preparation for the spring. Until then, why not check out Building the Bird House?

11-Mar-07: The last couple of days, I’ve been noticing song birds tweeting away in the morning. It reminded me that I’d better get moving on this project, and get the bird house set up outside. I’ve ordered two active 16′ USB cables from Newegg and purchased PY Software’s Active Web Cam Pro. As soon as the cable arrives, and I figure out where to position everything, we’ll go live!

14-Mar-07: The bird house cam is now live! It’s outside my bedroom window. The shades are drawn on that side of the house and will remain drawn so as not to spook the birds. It’s a shady area, so grass grows poorly. Perhaps we can avoid mowing there. I’ve scattered bird seed nearby in hopes of drawing attention to the bird house.

It’s been 15 minutes so far, and no bird has moved in. What’s taking so long??!!

15-Mar-07: Someone visited! At 10:35 am, someone poked his/her (it’s so hard to tell) beak into the birdhouse. The video shows the beak entering at the left. At 3:20 pm, someone with a very similar looking beak again visited. Are they looking for a nesting place, or food? Beats me. Check out the following video and judge for yourself.

16-Mar-07: We’ve had a bona fide house hunter. Between 3:47 and 3:53 pm, a black-capped chickdee cased the joint, coming in and out three times. I’m no ornithologist, but I presume it’s a female, looking for a nesting site. The film is below. Was she satisfied? Find out later: same bird-time, same bird-channel!

18-Mar-07: We had a big snowstorm Friday night and Saturday morning. There hasn’t been any activity in the bird house. I hope it’s just the weather or the timing (e.g. the birds aren’t ready to start nesting). So in the meantime, try this: can you say “Bob’s bird blog” three times fast? I can’t.

19-Mar-07: Well, I feel like a real dummy. The reason there hasn’t been any activity recorded in the bird house the last couple of days was that the weight of the snow caused the USB extension cord to disconnect from the camera. I started getting suspicious when the picture that’s updated every 15 minutes showed a nighttime shot even during the day. The weird thing is, the date and time were still being updated. My software apparently reuses an old image when the camera is disconnected. I thought maybe the bird house was just covered by snow, and it was blocking the light. But noooo.

I generally want to stay away from the bird house, so as not to spook the birds. But I went over to it, treading on a layer of ice over snow thick enough to hold my weight and slippery enough, and uphill enough to make me wonder if I was going to end up a candidate for the Darwin awards. But I got there and reconnected the cable, hoping nobirdy saw me.

So it’s fixed now, and a chickadee visited again today. Is it the same one as before? Beats me. But don’t you hate house shoppers who just look and never buy? The latest video is below but frankly, if you’ve seen the ones from previous days, this is basically the same.

20-Mar-07: I came home to 136 new videos, captured by the motion detector software. I was excited. I figured the bird must’ve begun building a nest. Alas, it was a false alarm. It appears that the wind was blowing some branches in front of the doorway. That alternately blocked and allowed sunlight in, so the lighting inside the bird house was changing frequently. This was fooling the motion detector. So I’m sorry to say, we have no videos today.

23-Mar-07: Two more visits from the chickadee today: one at 11:01 am and another at 3:06 pm. I wish I knew what was going through that little bird brain. I won’t bother posting the videos; you’ve seen it all before.

I also got 37 videos of changing light and shadow. It’s mildly amusing to see how the sun’s light gets cast on different parts of the bird house as the day goes on and the sun goes around the Earth.

22-Mar-07: Today there were 73 new videos. Most of them were, again, triggered by changes in the light. But two showed our chickadee visiting again. The video is below. By the way, have I mentioned that it’s a real pain reviewing dozens of movies of moving shadows? Ah, well! As Super Chickenwould say, “you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.”

29-Mar-07: It’s been a while. We had a snow fall, and the webcam failed again. It appears one of the active USB extension cords stopped working. While troubleshooting, I opened up the bird house and removed the camera. I was worried my activity would be seen or smelled, and drive the chickadee away, but today our feathered friend visited six times.

We have a different type of video today, though. My “loving wife” (as she prefers to be called) Kathy was doing some research on when chickadees build their nests. It turns out they look for sites in January and February (so I’m lucky to have a bird, given that I set this up in mid-March) and build a nest in early April. This information comes from the chickadee page of Sialis.org, a site dedicated to bluebirds and other cavity nesters. They also suggest that people put some wood scraps in the bird house, to give the chickadees something to clean out of the house, as they would if they were excavating their own hole in a tree. Perhaps this makes them feel invested in the site. You know, garbage in, garbage out. So today, I have a video of detritus being dumped into the bird house. Enjoy:

31-Mar-07: It looks as if MLW (“my loving wife”) was right. We’ve now gotten our chickadee to perform tricks. She’s starting to clean out the wood chips.

04-Apr-07: Today was a red-letter day in the bird house. First, we saw our avian amiga industriously doing her spring cleaning. Then, she left and came back to do some more. While she was working, another bird poked it’s beak in! Mr. Chickadee, perhaps? It would make sense; she’s doing the work while he’s watching.

But the news is even better than that, at least for me. Regular readers might’ve noticed prolonged outages on camera and blog updates. Perceptive readers might have correlated those outages with precipitation in Massachusetts. Yes, every time deadly dihydrogen monoxide fell from the sky, the webcam would fail. I’ve been experimenting with different techniques for waterproofing the webcam and the USB connection. Today, despite a snowstorm, the webcam stayed up! So, I’m happy, Kenny’s alive, and Mike can continue to get his bird blog fix.

Here’s today’s video:

05-Apr-07: I’ll be honest; today’s video is not that interesting. It’s just more wood chip cleaning, and we’ve seen it all before. But I had to wade through over 200 videos today, all but three of which were triggered by lighting changes, so darn it, I’m going to post something. My one observation is that our birdy buddy visited three times today, at 12:08, 12:27, and 5:32, and removed one wood chip each time. I’ll say this for her: she really knows how to pace herself.

06-Apr-07: The chickadee visited 24 times today. Each time, she took one, and only one, wood chip. Maybe she took my criticism of her yesterday to heart. But now, I think she needs to improve her efficiency.

09-Apr-07: I spent a fruitless weekend trying to improve the videos. The camera I bought boasts 30 frames per second (fps), but I’m only getting 4 fps at best. My first thought was that I was limited by the USB 1.1 on the old laptop I’m using, so I got a USB 2.0 card. That didn’t help. Then, I plugged the webcam into a modern laptop with a faster processor and USB 2.0 built in. I got about 8 fps. So, I can only conclude the camera’s specs are a little, shall we say, exaggerated. I think that if I do this next year, I won’t look for a camera with LEDs built in. I’ll just get a fast camera and wire up LEDs separately. I also have a dream of putting in two webcams and using red-blue filters to make a 3D video. But don’t hold me to that.

Meanwhile, the chickadee is still coming a few times a day, but there’s nothing really new to show. When she starts building a nest, I promise I’ll post more videos.

13-Apr-07: It’s been a few days, but I’m still here, checking videos every day. I’ve been getting almost no false positives (where changes in lighting trigger the motion detector) but I don’t know why. The chickadee continues to visit multiple times per day, and the camera continues to work through inclement weather (though a nasty storm is on its way). Here’s a video from one of today’s visits, where the chickadee does the back-breaking job of clearing out two (yes 2) wood chips.

04-May-07: We’ve seen at least two birds here before (one in the bird house, one sticking its beak in). But now it’s time for Bird the Third. We have a whole other species visiting today; I believe it’s a house wren. Chickadees and wrens like the same types of bird houses, so it’s perhaps surprising we haven’t seen one until now. The wren comes in and out a few times, then a half hour later, a chickadee visits. Here’s the video:

10-May-07: It’s a red letter day here at Bob’s Bird Blog, full of good news, bad news, and some big surprises. The good news is, we have a nest! Heck, that’s great news; I was starting to lose hope. The bad news is that the camera went down during the initial stages of the construction. I went to check on the system and saw that the bird house was filled with branches! Fortunately, this is Massachusetts, so the construction will be going on for a while, and I have plenty of video now that the camera is up and running again.

But something was puzzling. For almost two months now, we’ve been getting visits from a chickadee that makes sloths look industrious. Remember, this bird would remove one wood chip from the house and call it a day. How could she have have built so much of the nest in such a short time? The answer is, she didn’t! It was the wren. The chickadee was here first, but once the wren discovered the place, she moved quickly. I guess it just goes to show, the early bird doesn’t always get the worm.

I have three videos for you today. In the first, allow me to introduce you to Mr. & Mrs. Wren. These two lovebirds make a cute couple:

Next, we have an interesting bit of behavior. The wren comes in, does some work, then sits down. I thought it was just resting, but then it starts opening its mouth. It must be calling out. Soon, the other wren arrives. Things move fast at that point, and the camera’s low frame rate doesn’t help us figure out what happened, but by going through frame by frame, I can see that the bird that was calling leaves quickly, and the bird that arrived does some work. Is one bird calling another for help with a branch? Is the first bird merely tired, or is the second bird stronger? I just don’t know. But I saw this behavior repeated a few times today.

Finally, a sample of the nest building in action. It appears that the bird puts a big stick through the door, then goes inside and pulls it, bending the stick, to get it all inside. I bet I know what she’s thinking: “I wish I had opposable thumbs.”

11-May-07: I have a new video today, but first a couple of announcements: (1) Some readers thought they saw the new birds identified as nuthatches on this site; these people must have been imagining it. If you examine the old postings here, you’ll see that they all refer to the birds as wrens. (2) In unrelated news, my neighbor Judy has been named Chief Ornithologist of Bob’s Bird Blog.

And now, down to business. The nutha… uh.. wrens continued to visit the bird house today. The video shows the first visit of the morning, at 5:28 AM, with the bird house illuminated only by the infrared LEDs. The interesting thing about it is that the wrens are not spending the night in the bird house yet. Then, I have a clip from 6:50 PM that demonstrates the eagle-eyed sensitivity of the motion detecing software. If you watch the left side of the video, you’ll see a wasp came in and crawled around on a branch. It’s another lifeform we’ve encountered, but if it hangs around when the wrens come back, it could be a snack.

12-May-07: Today, we bring some action and adventure to Bob’s Bird Blog with an exciting chase scene. But first, my wife Kathy has done some research on wrens and uncovered some interesting, nay, disturbing facts. The nest of sticks is built by the male wren. In fact, the male wren can build several nests of sticks. He then takes his better half on a tour of them, and she chooses which one to use. She rebuilds the nest using soft material (it takes a woman’s touch to make a house a home), then lays eggs. So the first disturbing thing is that the nest we see might not end up being used. It could take three weeks to find out.

Also, wrens are aggressively territorial, adopting a scorched earth strategy. If any other birds nest in the area, a wren will peck holes in their eggs. So this means that cleaning the sticks out of my bird house might not be a great alternative. There are, however, schemes for building a wren guard over the door.

And now, the video. A wren enters, carrying a non-stick object in its mouth. This is actually the second time this wren has come in today (it had the object both times). It made me think that, perhaps, it was the female with soft material, starting to rebuild the nest. But then, another wren comes in, chases the first (I promised you action, adventure, and a chase scene, remember?), then works a little more on the sticks.

22-May-07: The wren visited again today, multiple times, and moved some sticks around. That’s encouraging; he wouldn’t do that work on a decoy nest, would he? Would he? So I won’t clean out the bird house… yet. Here’s the video:

28-May-07: It’s another red letter day at BBB, and as with the last one, I missed it! I think those birds are on to me; everytime they do significant work on the nest, the camera fails. It’s almost as if they sabotage it. They’re probably plotting against me. But I’ll show them! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! I’ll win in the end! No one makes a fool of me and lives to chirp the tale!

Now that I’ve gotten that out my system, let’s return to just the facts, Ma’am. On May 26, at 9:05 PM, the alleged wren allegedly visited the alleged bird house multiple times. The suspect had altered his or her M.O. in that he or she had rarely if ever made nocturnal visits. The evidence is provided in the following video (exhibit A). At some point between then and the morning of May 27, when the camera typically begins capturing videos again, we suffered a warp core breach total system failure. By the time the person responsible for the system, one Bob Alexander, got off his keister and checked the computer on May 28th, an entirely new nest had been built, as predicted by sites about wrens. The evidence can be seen in the still image updated every 15 minutes (exhibit B).

The good news, of course, is that this means we do not have a decoy nest. We’re going to have eggs and hatching and chicks and late night feedings and baby bird poop. So come back often. Here’s the last video from before the nest reconstruction:

28-May-07 Part 2: Construction on the new nest continues in the following video. Also, look for the wren mooning the camera, and then we skip forward a few hours to see our wren curl up to spend the night in her new nest.

31-May-07: Great news! Our wren, hereafter known as Wall Street Wren, laid an egg at 5:34 this morning. What does a bird look like when it’s laying an egg? Check out the video. Notice how she stretches her neck out a couple of times. We haven’t seen that behavior before, and I think she was pushing the egg out at that point. I’ll have more pictures, videos, and information tomorrow. I have a lot of material to sort through.

1-Jun-07: Before I could finish posting everything from yesterday, Wall St. went ahead and laid a second egg. So I have a couple of new videos today. Let’s start by finishing up yesterday’s business.

Wall St. laid her first egg around 5:34 yesterday. I already posted the video showing her straining her neck as she did it. If you watched closely, you could also see her beak open and close, probably chirping or screaming that she hates her mate (I promise that if I do this next year, I’ll get audio working).

Afterwards, there was still lots of motion in the nest. She’s not sitting on the egg 24/7. She comes and goes, sometimes bringing more material for the nest and putting it in place, sometimes ducking her head underneath her body, presumably to adjust the egg, and sometimes getting up to look outside. Then, she sometimes just fidgets. If you feel like pitying me, please do so: I have lots of videos to go through every day. I’ve read that wren eggs take about two weeks to hatch.

I think this first video is sort of cute: she snuggles onto her egg and then looks up with those big, adorable eyes.

Now, let’s talk about egg #2. It was laid at 5:44 AM today, almost exactly 24 hours after the first (and given that the bird does not have a watch, that’s pretty cool). Here’s the video of her laying the second egg. She comes into the bird house, sits on her egg, and a few minutes later (long pauses have been cut out of the video), gets to the business at hand. We can’t see the neck stretching as obviously, but the beak opening and closing is clear. Then, after a few more minutes, she gets up and we see the results of her labor (pun intended).

Finally, in case the regularly updated picture doesn’t give you a good view, here’s a pic of the two eggs in the nest. That’ll be all for today, but if I were a betting man, I’d wager we’re going to get a third egg between 5:30 and 6 tomorrow morning!Two eggs in the nest

3-Jun-07: We now have four eggs. The latest was laid between 4:47 and 5:03 this morning.

Kathy found some information about wrens that says we’ll likely get 6-8 eggs, and that they’re not actively incubated until the second to last egg is laid. I guess that’s why Mommy is spending so little time sitting on the eggs (she is spending much of the night sleeping next to eggs, not on them, but gets on them occasionally). Ben, the site also answers your question, saying the eggs are “glossy white, sometimes tinted with pink or buff. They are uniformly and profusely marked with fine pinkish brown, reddish brown, and brown specks”.

Meanwhile, I came across a site that’s so cool, I had to mention it here. A guy has put a camera on his cat, and gets to see pictures from the cat’s daily adventures. See how he did it here, and the results here. It almost makes me wish I had a cat or dog.

The third egg was laid at 4:56 AM, which is only 23:22 since egg number 2. So if any budding scientists (like me) had hypothesized that the wren was laying on a extraordinarily accurate 24 hour cycle, that hypothesis must be discarded. So ends today’s lesson on the importance of observation in the scientific method. Here’s the video:

5-Jun-07: We’re up to six eggs, and it appears that incubation has begun. I had about 500 videos today, most of which were of the wren on her nest, fidgeting. She’d snuggle the eggs (which I still think is cute), and duck her head under, presumably to adjust them. Or sometimes she’d get up, look out the door for a little while, then sit back on the eggs. She left the nest occasionally, but not often.

When wrens start incubating the eggs, they have only one more egg to lay. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t on the nest as much yesterday as she was today, so this is probably the first day of incubation. That means we should get one more egg tomorrow, for a total of seven.

6-Jun-07: It’s not the best egg laying video I have, but it’s the last (at least for this brood). Egg #6 got laid yesterday at 5:43 am. We see the characteristic squawking movement of the mouth. But unlike previous days, the wren doesn’t get up immediately. It’s a full 15 minutes before she hops up and shows up the new egg. Perhaps that’s because she’s started incubating, or perhaps it’s just because she feels like it.

7-Jun-07: Kathy wanted to see what an expectant mother, facing two weeks of being cooped up in the house, with the man being no help at all, does with her time. So today we have a video that I call “FidgetCam – All Fidgeting, All the Time”.

19-Jun-07: Regular visitors know that the camera went down again this weekend. Once again, its timing stank. Just as the camera went down when the first nest of sticks was built, and again when the second nest of soft material was built, it went down this weekend as the eggs were hatching. They’re all hatched now, and we missed it. If you’re bummed out, imagine how I feel.

I had to go out near the bird house to track down the problem, which turned out to be the USB extension cord. I must’ve come at an inauspicious time (since I couldn’t see inside the house, I had no way of knowing when an auspicious time would be). I stayed behind the house, so that birds looking out the door couldn’t see me. But at least one of the parents was outside, sitting in a tree, and watching me approach the house. He or she got pretty frantic, chirping away, and hopping from branch to branch. In order to work on the cable, I needed my back turned to the trees, so all I knew was that the wren was there, the wren was moving, the wren was mad, and, worst of all, I had read on the web that wrens will attack people. I was thinking of calling my daughter out to ride shotgun, or at least to let me hide behind her. I figured she wouldn’t appreciate that, though. However, I’m happy to say, I escaped with my life.

Anyway, the camera is back up, we have a healthy brood of chicks, and I have a few videos to share with you. First, we see everyone waking up in the morning. The mother spends the night (and much of the rest of the day) sitting on her chicks. Definitely not something we humans should emulate. In this video, she gets up and we see the babies. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Did she hatch six eggs, or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, with the bad lighting, I kind of can’t count myself. Be being as there’s at least one egg visible when the wren gets up, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: how many eggs were unlucky? Well, how many, punk?

Next, Mommy goes out, presumably to look for food, but has nothing for the hatchlings when she gets back.

OK, that was mean of me. You didn’t come to this site to see baby birds not being fed. But indulge me one more time before I get to the pièce de résistance. Here, we get a good look at the mother’s back feathers as she does something or other with her kids. Is it just me, or do the feathers look a little frazzled? I think the little dears are, shall we say, ruffling some feathers?

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. One parent comes in, holding what looks like a caterpiller, and feeds the chicks. Notice, by the way, that the chicks open their mouths before the parent comes in. How did they know? Also notice that some of those chicks really seem to be glued to the parents beak: he/she has a hard time getting them off. Then, the parent goes and immediately a wren re-enters the house. Is the first one really fast at finding more food, or was the other standing perching by, ready to fly in with more food?

20-Jun-07: I had wondered yesterday how the babies knew the mother was coming back, and they should open their mouths. This video reveals the answer: they just always open their mouths. Notice how the mother gets up, and some of the babies are immediately ready to be fed. And as they’re waiting for the mother to return, they try opening their mouths just on spec.

24-Jun-07: Looking at the feathers, it was impossible to count how many babies we had. But this video makes it clear, from counting the beaks, that there are six. All the eggs hatched successfully! Notice at the beginning, when they all go nuts begging for food, that one is much less aggressive than the others. I’ve heard that can happen with broods, but we can’t conclude from one video that one chick is consistently less aggressive.

26-Jun-07: Remember when the babies just sat in their ditch and plaintively begged for food? Well, those days are gone. It’s no more Mr. Nice Bird. The babies today bear a closer resemblance to their vicious carniverous dinosaur ancestors. We see them surging out of the nest, demanding to be fed. Any moment, there could be a riot. We’re talking an avian Who concert, here. If I were the mother, I’d be scared to venture into this place. Check out the terrifying Video of Voraciousness:

27-Jun-07: So what’s life like for a baby bird? Well, they spend all day, and I do mean all day, staring out the door, waiting for Mommy or Daddy to come with some food. I have literally thousands of videos of them, just squirming around as they look out the door. Then, the great moment arrives. The parent, probably scared to hang around too long, jumps in, drops the food in someone’s mouth, then turns tail and skedaddles out of there ASAP. Among the chicks, pandemonium suddenly rules. Then, as one of them digests and the other five resign themselves to gnawing hunger for a little longer, they go back to forlornly gazing out the door.

Hey, it’s a life. Check it out:

1-Jul-07: Kathy was watering some new hollies near the bird house, and noticed that the babies were poking their beaks out the door. That inspired me to try taking a picture through the doorway. Here’s the best one I got.

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