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Weasels and birds

A pair of bluebirds has been nesting here for over a month.  They laid a clutch around May 25 which didn’t hatch until several weeks ago (unless perhaps, when I go to inspect the box, they built a nest on top of the old unhatched eggs).  From what I’ve seen and read, bluebird eggs should hatch within about two weeks so this was very unusual.  I had been checking the 5 eggs every few days, till finally, on June 25, they hatched.

The father is an especially watchful and concerned dad.  He is always checking on the hatchlings, and he was always checking on the eggs too.  Three eggs hatched and lately, as they’ve been growing, the parents have been busy feeding those hungry youngsters.

Concerned dad

Long-Tailed weasel

I just returned from a Bioblitz over the weekend in the Pryors.  I headed out to check my trail camera in the woods and upon my return the bluebirds were really upset, making a big racket right outside their box.  I stood watching fairly close, wondering what the fuss was about.  Then I saw.  A head popped out of their house, and suddenly a long-tailed weasel emerged.  He ran off into a ground squirrel hole quick as a flash. Then I went to check on the babies.  One had fledged and was alive in the grass, but the other two were dead in the box.  If only I’d been a bit quicker I might have scared that weasel off.

I watched the birds for the next several hours.  The weasel returned for his prizes and carried them back into the hole, while the fledgling made his way through the grass uphill into deeper cover.  While the upset parents kept an eye out for the weasel, they also fed and protected their only baby that was left.

fledging hiding in bushes, making it’s way farther from the nest box

Meanwhile a menagerie of other bird species were coming around, interested.  Juncos, a female bluebird, and especially a pair of chipping sparrows wondered what the fuss was about, sometimes helping to scare off the intruder.  One of the most fascinating things was to watch the response of all the neighboring birds over the course of the several hours the bluebirds were upset.

That weasel, or its offspring, may have been the one that ate my pika two years back.  Oddly, he seemed to know exactly when to make his move for the birds–when they were just about to fledge, still helpless yet nice and plump.

mom still feeding the one chick left in the bushes

I rarely see weasels although I know they are around.  But being opportunistic carnivores, they have impeccable hunting skills.  Since I’ve watched this pair of bluebirds year after year, I feel a kinship with them and wanted to drive off that weasel.  I even tried to get my dog to flush him out.  Maybe the fact that the dog and I were gone for 3 days gave this weasel his bold chance.   Yet nature has it’s own ways and my human interference, well-intentioned though it may be, is probably more of the problem than a solution.

The Emergence of the New

Today was just one of those glorious days, the kind of day I’ve been missing and forgotten what it feels like.  A day that is the harbinger of spring. Warm in the sun, no wind, the body just responds and feels good, happy.

I’ve spent the last few weeks, in a random way, making 4 new bluebird houses.  I’ve gotten attached to MikethehowtoGuy whose simple guidelines I’ve followed, with a few modifications since I don’t attach my houses to poles.  Two years ago I made an observation house and took photos of eggs to babies.  That house was cruder but did the job.  The first year no birds used it, but then I heard it sometimes takes 2 years before they take up residence and sure enough it did.  These houses have a clean-out flip-out side door and are not for observation.  They take about 2 hours to make and are easy for a beginning carpenter like myself.

My new bluebird box

Another new box 5' up on a tree

Today as I was putting the finishing touches on my last house, last years’ pair of bluebirds came to inspect their old house.  What a welcome sight!  I greeted them and asked where they’d been, what mysteries they’d seen, how they’d fared on their long journey.  I felt a kinship with them for I too spend a few months in the winter working in California.

Old observation box that is in use

Just last week I saw a bluebird in the desert and my heart jumped, for I knew they’d be up here soon, the first heralds of spring.  Then I heard a chorus of Sandhill cranes, yet another indication that our long and cold winter is coming to a close.

In another month the hawks and eagles will begin nesting, along with my pretty bluebirds.

Golden eagle nest from last year with cliff swallow nest below.

The elk will move up country to calf in the Lamar; the wolves and coyotes will have their litters and settle into their dens; and the earth will be renewed once again.

Having lived all my life in California, the appreciation of new life isn’t quite as obvious there. Their seasons are wet and dry, and liveably warm all year.  The best time to plant is in their winter, and the time to rest is in the dry heat of the summer.   So I’m appreciating this obvious renewal.

In our modern world, we seem to always be on the road to ‘elsewhere’, that elusive moving target of completion of tasks, errands, or even our well-being and happiness, somehow always lies in the future.  But these little bluebirds today, back from their long sojourn, happily checking out their old home, reminded me:  Go slow, for life is a circle and all comes to pass in good time.

The babies and Medicine Lodge Park

Birds several days ago

Here are the baby bluebirds several days ago.  Now here they are today.  Boy do they grow fast.

Bluebirds today

Last week I took a trip to Medicine Lodge State park near Hyattville.  A well-tended State Park, the spot is an oasis in the Big Horn Basin.  This site was excavated in the 70’s by George Frison.  Its a continuous occupation site of over 11,000 years!  Here are a few photos.

The stone wall palette

Fat marmot

Bluebirds and coyotes

Last years box; this year's first inhabitants

Last year I made this blue bird box but no birds liked it.  Then I heard that it takes a year before they’ll use it.  And, voila, some birds came and are nesting.

Bluebird clutch of eggs

That was several weeks ago.  Just a few days ago, I heard some little ‘peeps’ and thought ‘They’ve hatched!’ I built the box as an observation box so I waited till momma and daddy left, then peeked in.

The babies

Sooo cute!

Well, they’re only cute because they are so little.  Actually they are funny looking without any feathers yet.  I was told that I should knock before entering.  That way if there’s a bird in there, they will leave.  But a few times I’ve knocked and then opened the top and there’s momma sitting on either the eggs or now the babies.

Mom and Dad are such good parents, watchful all the time and constantly getting bugs for the babies.


The other day I had a weird thing happen.  Early one morning I heard a crashing in the forest, lots of squirrel alarms go off, then nothing.  I thought maybe it was a bear.  I looked up at my fence line up the hill moments later, and there stood a young buck.

‘Strange’ I thought.  Deer don’t usually crash through the woods.  Maybe he was being chased.

Later, around 2 pm, I looked up towards the same area I saw the deer in the morning and noticed some large animal lying in the grass.

“Strange’ I thought again.  “Its too hot for an animal to be lying in the sun mid-day”.  I went up to look and there was my young buck, dead.  He hadn’t been killed by an animal, he hadn’t gotten tangled in my fence.  Only his eye was bloodied.

I called the game warden.  He needs to know these things and besides, I don’t want a bear in my yard tonight.  He examined the deer and also had no idea how or why he died.  He took the buck, along with my trail camera, to a remote area.  We thought we’d get some good grizzly pictures, or maybe wolves, but instead got coyotes on the deer.  Here’s a clip from my trail camera:

This video doesn’t exist

“A hike is just a walk in a place where you can pee”  Demetri Martin


I’m told we’re having typical March weather–one day its snowing and the next its 50 degrees and sunny.  But it must be spring because I’ve seen mountain bluebirds.  The previous owners built nesting boxes and put them all around.  I decided to check all the boxes, fix them up and clean them out.

I’m not a very good birder.  For some reason, bird identification is really hard for me.  I’ve done lots of walks with birders, looked at the books, listened to tapes, but I just can’t remember most birds.  Plants I only have to see once and then I’ll remember their latin and common name.  But birds are just hard for me.

I assumed that I should clean out the boxes.  There’s at least a dozen or more old boxes on the property.  I knocked the tops off to clean them, and most needed repairing.  Sure enough, when I opened them up, all were filled to the brim with twigs and nesting materials.  In one I found 2 perfect small eggs that never had hatched.

Since two boxes completely disintegrated, I decided that I was going to make replacements.  I got a plan online from the American Bluebird Society, complete with materials list and to-scale drawings.   I bought some cedar in town, and began my project with excitement.

I like carpentry and also don’t really know what I’m doing, so of course, I didn’t quite read the measurements right.  I saw the 5 1/2″ wide and assumed that every side was 5 1/2″s.  Nope, some were 7 1/4″.  My birdhouse is full of improvisions and fudging, but it didn’t come out too bad, especially for a first time carpenter.  Making the cuts with the power saw and putting something together from scratch made me feel ‘powerful’, the illusion of a self-sufficient woman.  The good thing about my birdhouse is that I can open the lid as its only attached by wires.  That way I can view the nesting process. My new deluxe box.  Not bad for an amateur carpenter!

But here’s the bad thing:  I don’t really like the birdhouse.  Its so big compared to the rustic ones that came with the house.  Even though I made it to the “professionally advised mountain bluebird specs”, its just so big and clunky.  The ones already here are funky, falling apart, have different sized holes, have pencils for perches (you’re not even supposed to have perches!), are small, but the bluebirds LOVE them!  They fill up every year; even though they’re not kosher homes.Funky houses that came with the property

So instead of making more of these ‘trophy’ homes, I found scrap pieces and fixed up the old ones best I could.  It wasn’t easy, because everytime you put a nail in, you risked the box falling to pieces.  These nest boxes were on the verge of disintegration.  In fact, one of the worst looking boxes is the most beloved of the birds.  Instead of the hole being 1 9/16″ like the drawing says, this hole has been pecked over and over again with the years so it’s 2 1/2″ wide.  There is no roof overhang and the side has a big air hole in it.  I fixed it up with scraps here and there, so at least the breeze wasn’t a gale inside and I put on a roof with an overhang.  They love the funk!

I like my bluebird ‘shanty town’.  In these hard economic times, I think the bluebirds have the right approach.  They don’t need much, they reuse, don’t really care what it looks like, and seem happy enough with the cramped quarters.  I’ll just bet that all my old boxes are filled soon. I’m not so certain about the new deluxe model.