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Carolina Chickadee parenting failure?

chickadee nest failure

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#1 Nobeeper

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 12:41 AM

I have been watching my Carolina Chickadees with cameras inside the nest boxes for about 12 years. Their nesting habits have been completely consistent year to year give or take only one or possibly two days:
3 days to build the nest, both birds build.
4-5 nights the female sleeps in the nest box.
5 to 7 eggs, beginning on the 4th or 5th night.
12-17 days incubation.
Once the female begins sleeping over in the box, whether she has yet laid eggs or not, I have never, ever seen her leave the box for any reason at any time during the night.


This year, the pair built as usual, female slept in the box 5 nights, began producing eggs, laid 7 eggs, incubated 12 days. Eggs hatched over a 30 hour period, all chicks vigorous, eating and eliminating. The parents were perhaps even better than usual at feeding the chicks. Last egg hatched at 4:15pm. At about 8:30pm, the female settled down on the nest for the night. At midnight she awoke from sleep, made a few chirps, went to the entrance hole and looked out, then settled back down on the chicks. Several minutes later she again awoke, chirped, went to the hole, chirped, then left the box. She did not return until almost 8:00am the following morning. When I watched/listened to the tape of the night, there was no threat behavior, no sound of another bird or predator on or near the box, no calling from the mate. The temperature overnight was approx. 36°F and all the chicks died of exposure. On returning in the morning, both the parent birds arrived with food, tried over and over to feed, eventually removing the dead chicks from the nest box. Two days later, they chose a different nest box, feverishly built another nest on Sunday, the female slept over on Monday, Laid her first egg on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. There was no egg produced on Friday. Second egg laid on Saturday morning. Third egg on Sunday. Fourth egg on Monday (today)

My questions are:
1. Has anyone ever seen a female leave the box overnight with hatchlings in the nest? Any guesses as to what could induce her to do such a thing?
2. Any reports of a Chickadee skipping a day in egg production as has happened on this second attempt at nesting?


#2 spookyjimjams

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 01:42 AM

Wow. This is interesting! 12 years of nesting habits is amazing...Could a raccoon be in the area?

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#3 Nobeeper

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 02:20 PM

Have never seen a raccoon in the area, even on the overnight backyard cams. Skunks & possums, but no raccoons. Cats in the area, but as I said... Both parent birds back next morning attempting to feed. The only deaths were hatchlings from exposure.

#4 spyonabird

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 03:58 PM

I have never heard of this. Kudos to you for watching for 12 years.
Is it possible that she got spooked or even went on a little "extra-marital" affair. (Very common even though we think of them as a pair) Maybe in the dark, she couldn't see well enough to get back in the birdhouse? Just throwing some suggestions out there...


You are probably more of an expert on Chickadee behavior than most people here. Maybe try sending your question to Cornell? They might lend some insight.
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#5 grammarcat

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 05:44 PM

It kind of sounds like she got spooked by something - the way she went to the door then back to the nest then back to the door. A sad story but also an interesting display of how the chickadees were driven to pass on their DNA, building a second next and laying another clutch so quickly.

#6 Nobeeper

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 08:07 PM

Just an update on the Chickadees... They built their new nest, laid the 5th egg on Tuesday morning, then at 10:30am, a dreaded House Wren went into the nest box and punctured 2 of the eggs. I had been a little worried about this happening, since the second nesting threw the Chickadees later, and increased the chances of overlapping the House Wrens. I try not to allow the House Wrens to nest here, but just one male checking out the boxes was all it took. When the female Chickadee returned later that morning, she ate about half of each shell, then took the remaining half containing most of the egg material out of the box. Calcium being at a premium during egg production, I was a little surprised that she ate only half the shell. When the eggs hatch normally, she eats every crumb of the shells. That left her with 3 surviving eggs. Wednesday morning (today) she produced her 6th egg, giving her 4 now. Fingers crossed that the Wren has moved on down the street...

#7 Nobeeper

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Posted 12 May 2012 - 05:33 PM

Another update on the Chickadees... She stopped with the 6th egg on this second nesting. As above, the House Wren had broken two of the eggs, so that left her with a total of 4 eggs in her clutch. She incubated for the usual 12 days, 3 eggs hatching morning on 5/7/2012, the remaining egg hatched by noon 5/8/2012. Again, the parents are doing a better than average job of feeding, all the hatchlings look vigorous, eating well and eliminating right on cue. What goes in must come out... This time there has been no out of the box activity for the female after they are all tucked in for the night, usually around 8:15-8:30PM. The bad news is that today I saw a House Wren checking out the back yard. First time I've seen one since the attack on the Chickadee eggs on 4/24/2012. Naturally, I'm very concerned about this. That wren could kill the 4 day old Chickadee Hatchlings with no difficulty, and if he were dedicated to doing just that, I doubt the adult Chickadees could stop him. Chickadees just aren't built for battle, either in the aggression department or the hardware department. Fingers Crossed for these little guys.

#8 Kallpayoq

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Posted 12 May 2012 - 10:34 PM

Thank you for updating. This is fascinating!

#9 Gwanatu

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 01:19 AM

REALLY fascinating, I would love to hear more theories! The ones said thus far sound pretty reasonable to me. My biggest guess would be getting spooked, especially since you said Chickadees aren't built for battle.





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