October 2011 – Nesting stories

By Patti Muzny

I was trying to think of some interesting events that enfolded in the month of September, when what’s left of my mind began to wander back to birding events of the past that were amusing. So I think I will resurrect a few thoughts.

Many years ago, during a summer OCAS birding field trip to our Byars property, some of the participants were able to witness the untimely demise of a fully-feathered fledgling Pileated Woodpecker. The parent birds had chosen a cottonwood tree in which to make their nest. The nest was nearly 20 feet from the ground and looked like a safe spot. It was indeed until a snake climbed around 30 feet up and coiled itself around the trunk. The fledgling Pileated Woodpecker chose this most inopportune time to embark on its first journey out of the nest.

A Nuthatch would have been OK, since they tend to creep downward on a tree trunk. The woodpecker began to inch upward while several birders stood helplessly below. When the woodpecker got within striking distance, the snake lunged for its head and this story nears its conclusion. Who would have thought that a snake could disengage its jaws enough to completely swallow a bird as large as a crow while coiled around the trunk of a large tree?! We had photos!

A large family of Chickadees chose a nest box on a pole near our cabin porch, in between the cabin and the area where we park our vehicle. At the time, the nest hole faced the rear of the truck, which we always back in. I was loafing on the screen porch and watching the parent birds trying to keep that box full of ravenous fledglings fed. Suddenly the entire box of at least six decided to fly out – one right after the other.

The only hitch to their plan was that the rear hatch of the Suburban was open and about 6 feet from the box. Oops…about half of the clutch landed in the back portion of the truck. It took a few minutes, but I managed to round them up and deposit them into some bushes and wish them well. Fledgling Chickadees are some kind of feisty cute, too! We turned the house around after that!

We once had an old car that my husband altered for me to check birdhouses. This old Datsun had been in a crash once, so it wasn’t real pretty, but it was quiet and it ran well. The hood of a Datsun is not sturdy enough to stand on to peek into the bird houses. So, he made a hood of plyboard. I could open the door, swing up between the top of the window frame and the top of the car and get onto the hood without even getting into the weeds. Pretty cool arrangement for me. Granted, it wasn’t pretty, but perfect for my causes.

I went out to monitor all of my bird boxes early one morning. All was well until I hastily opened one that was not the abode of some little cavity nesters of the feathered kind! I quickly and without much thought, removed the nail released the front of the box down so I could peek into it and record who and what used each box. My nose was practically in the nest hole, which turned out not to be the most desirable arrangement. Coiled into the box was a black rat snake that resented being disturbed. The snake struck out toward my face and I must have set a record for leaping off of that hood platform and into the air and into those pesky weeds I’d been trying to avoid! No harm done – I was about 25 years younger and still thought I could fly! Moral to this story: ALWAYS open boxes slowly and gently peek into them from the SIDE.

Other boxes have held flying squirrels, field mice and my most dreaded – paper wasps! I usually have a “live and let live” policy with most of Mother Nature’s pesky creatures, especially snakes, but the element of surprise can sometimes cause humans to hurt themselves! Fortunately our pasture is sandy and I didn’t have that far to reach the ground. It would have made one funny video, tho!

During my banding years, I had my mist nets set up down along our creek. It had been a slow day of fall migration and I had not processed many migrants. Our Sunday afternoon was fading into the sunset and I zipped down to the creek to take my nets down. I had checked them about 30 minutes earlier.

To my delight and dismay, I found my nets held 27 green-colored Painted Buntings. It takes one person several minutes to meticulously extract each delicate set of claws from a mist net. Then each bird has to be measured, sexed (I asked each to check the “m”/”f” box!)and weighed. Needless to say, we returned to OKC a little late that evening. But…27 Painted Buntings were an amazing sight!

I could go on and on, but I’ll save the rest of my stories. Anytime we are out in the field in pursuit, we have the opportunity to witness the myriad of marvels in our natural world. Mostly we are just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. What a pleasure!