Last Sunday, ProfessorRoush was really wanting to rest and read, but the outside weather was so temperate (55ºF) and sunny that I just couldn't make myself stay put indoors. I also knew that if I stalled cleaning out the bluebird houses any longer, it would only lead to the task being critical later when the temperatures were 20ºF and a blizzard was forming. If you're responsible for a trail, you can't just let it go. The bluebird houses need occasional repair and removing the old nests decreases parasite and disease incidence. And I needed a walk, so the Bluebird Trail was calling out to me from the brown prairie. "Come out, Come out. I need your care." Perhaps, ProfessorRoush was just, himself, nesting for winter.
I always gain a nice warm fuzzy feeling as I find all those nests where happy little bluebirds and various other species have raised a family under my roof(s). When you are walking a trail of houses, you can easily tell the ones that hold bluebird nests because their nests are thin and haphazardly constructed, usually of soft prairie grass, as pictured in the top photo. Other birds, usually wrens, sometimes nest in my boxes, and those nests are formed of coarser twigs like the one at the left. They are also loaded much higher, sometimes stuffing the box to the top except for the opening entrance. This year, of my 19 self-designed, NABS-approved nesting boxes scattered over the edges of 20 acres with another 80 acres around them, I counted 10 bluebird nests, 6 wren nests, and 3 empties. The empties were all houses laying on the ground where the donkeys had rubbed them off the posts. Donkeys seem to have something against random bird houses around their pastures.
Walking the perimeter of my land is always educational as well. I was surprised to notice this small nest within a dried up Babtisia australis (Blue Wild Indigo) floating around the pasture. These prairie legumes bloom early in spring and normally grow perhaps 2.5 feet tall and round alone or in clumps over the prairie. In the fall, they dry up, break off, and blow all over the prairie like tumbleweeds, clogging fences and flower beds and becoming perfect tinder for prairie fires. I've never known that they might serve as shrub hosts for low nesting birds, but here is the proof, a deep little cup formed within what was once thick green foliage.
You can see, in the closeup at left, the careful construction and perfect form of the nest. It seems a little big for hummingbird, but whatever was here was a pretty small little guy/girl. I would put odds on it being a Dickcissel nest, since that species is ubiquitous on the prairie and nests on the ground or in low prairie shrubs. Whoever the architect was, I hope it was a safe home, because birds and the prairie are meant to be together.