Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lizzie's chickadee nest box

When I moved up to Ipswich, MA, four years ago there was a bird nest box already hanging from the neighbor's Eastern Red Cedar. My husband can't quite remember who put it there, possibly his old roommate, but either way the box hung on our side of the fence and I have adopted it.

In the four springs I've lived here I've never bothered to clean it out, which I know is an important thing to do if you want to have healthy birds nesting in it. Last year was the first year I really paid attention to the box and I caught an adult chickadee exiting it many times. I knew someone must be using it, but I never looked inside, not wanting to disturb a potential nest.

A few days ago my toddler and I were doing a yard clean up (well, I was raking and she was sprawled on her stomach, completely covered in dirt, digging in my veggie raised bed with her bare hands, she totally takes after me) and I noticed the box had fallen in the wind storm the New England coast went through a few weeks ago. Meteorologists say we had winds up to 80 miles an hour and damage equivalent to a category two hurricane.

I picked up the box, located the chain buried in last year's leaves and carefully pulled off the bottom sliding piece of wood. Inside was a wondrous site, click to enlarge:

The old nest fell out in two pieces. The bottom half was soft sphagnum moss most likely collected from a few houses away where my neighbor has a patch of it along the river. The moss layer was an inch thick. Did it start as a tiny piece and grow in there? Four years of not cleaning it out could I suppose grow moss that thick.

The top layer was the nest, a little cup mostly made of animal hair. The neighbors who own the cedar tree have an enormous, friendly, shaggy, golden retriever named Baker. I have a feeling a lot of that hair is his.

I pointed out all the parts of the nest to my 17-month-old who has far too many words for her own good. As I hung the box back up in the cedar tree she ran around in circles screaming "BIRD NEST BIRD NEST BIRD NEST!!!"

Just this morning over her sippy cup of milk and my mug of coffee, which we always drink in a big chair looking out at our bird feeder and the nest box, we saw a chickadee going into the box. I'm not sure she could see it so I told her a chickadee went in her nest box. An hour later we went outside to play and she ran over and said "Chick-chee bird nest?" "I sure hope so, and you can take care of it" I told her, and she laughed. Having one's own little nature pupil is the best thing in the world.


  1. Wow, she is super keen and aware - species specific knowledge already huh?

  2. Wow! That is some detritus in that box! I'm sure they will start over and will probably be glad for the cleaning. How lovely to have a pupil of nature to teach all kinds of things. You are so fortunate, Kate... and I'm glad you have a blog so I can join in.

  3. This post made me teary eyed. I love Lizzie's excitement. I love how much joy it gives you, love your patience and curiousity and sharing. What a treat to share these simple, important things. I just love how you captured it all here. Thanks for sharing.
    Love her sprawled in the dirt too. Oh and your photo of the nest is fabulous. How curious. I've never seen a mossy nest like that.

  4. How cool. I hope you have little baby birds poking their heads out later this spring. I bet your little one will love that.

  5. Your daughter is a very lucky little girl to have such a wonderful mommy to take the time to teach her all these fabulous things about nature.

  6. So glad you all loved this story. I get teary-eyed all the time when I watch her little brain soaking up everything I show her. I could never imagine how much fun this could be, in all my years of environmental education I've never come across a pupil who has so much excitement and interest. I'm very lucky to have her.

    If I see anymore action in the nest box I will update you all about it with more pictures. And hopefully we'll have baby "chick-chees" soon! Thanks for reading everyone!

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