Friday, July 06, 2007

On the Road: Northern Mockingbird Chicks in Nest

Over the 4th of July Holiday, I visited my childhood home. Dad always enjoyed observing and feeding the birds - mainly sparrows, robins, mockingbirds, and the occasional sea gull off of the Chesapeake Bay. So it was not a surprise to find a northern mockingbird nest in the front dogwood tree.
I learned at an early age that mockingbird parents aggressively protect the nest - they'll attack you if you get too close to the nest. Having learned that lesson many, many years ago, I took a fellow birder (nephew-in-law) to watch my back as I climbed a ladder that I had positioned next to the tree.
The work of getting a ladder and the potential mockingbird attack were well worth it as the resulting photos were super.
Photo 1: As I pulled back the leaves to see the chicks, they instinctively opened their mouths for food. Look closely there are two chicks in the nest.
Photo 2: A close-up on one of the chicks. Click on the photo to see it enlarged. Note the size of the still growing flight feathers. I am guessing these guys have another week in the nest.
Photo 3: Although this parent did not attack us, he stayed within 1.5 feet of the nest.
Photo 4: Here is the nest in the dogwood tree - easily seen by the passerby. Note the parent above and to the right of the nest visible through the leaves. In the Colvin Run Habitat, this nest would be attacked by predators - squirrels, hawks, crows, possibly even raccoons. The only nest that I have ever observed in the Habitat - other than in my boxes - are abandoned nests seen after the leaves fall from the trees in the fall.
Thanks to Associate Producer Clayton Ahrens on this posting.


  1. So glad I found you, I didn't know where to go with this. After seeing a bird alight in an artificial tree on our backyard deck, I investigated and found a nest. It had chicks. After doing some research I decided it was mockingbirds (State Bird here in Texas). It was only about 6 ft off the ground so I stuck my camera up there and snapped some pics, but they came out blurry. I checked the nest every 2-3 days; if the adult was there it flew away as if trying to lure me, but didn't feign injury or attack me. It's been 10-14 days since I first discovered it with the hatchlings already in it, but today when I went out there the whole nest and all birds were gone! I couldn't believe it, not a twig remained, only a small piece of lint (like from our clothes dryer) and what appeared to be baby bird droppings. There were about 4 twigs on the deck below the nest, but they seemed to be too large to have been part of it. Any suggestions as to what might have happened? I have 6 pictures and will share if you give me an email address. Don

  2. Birds will nest in the strangest places. Yours is the second interesting places that I have heard about in Texas this year. In the other, some sparrows nested in a wreath located on a front door. If your mockingbird did not go after you, consider yourself lucky.

    Mockingbirds, like many other birds including the killdeer (which I photographed in Texas last year), will also distract you away from the nest or as you suggested feign injury.

    But back to your mockingbird chick disappearance. I have never heard of a nest disappearing – the contents of the nest – yes – but not the nest. If the nest was still there, I would suggest any number of larger birds from crows to a hawk, or any number of predators from domestic cats to raccoons to even snakes. I lost three chickadee chicks from a bird box this spring. I am convinced that a raccoon managed to get a paw in the box and extract three of the chicks – one survived. But all of those creatures would leave the nest. Even if they knocked the nest out of the artificial tree, the nest would be spread out on the deck.

    Other possibilities…wind knock over the tree, then blow away the nest? Or, have any kids in the neighborhood who may have decided to take the nest? Regardless, unless the birds were about ready to fly out of the nest anyway, it is unlikely (in my opinion) that they survived.

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  4. Anonymous3:23 PM

    I had a similar experience with the mockingbird chicks disappearance.I have a small tree in the front of my house and one day I saw a chick sitting under it. I looked up and saw the nest with another chick in it. Mother bird was sitting near watching me. I placed the baby bird back into the nest and he was fine. I kept coming back every night to quietly check on them without disturbing their peace. One afternoon, about 5 days later, I found the nest empty. I was wondering what happened because chicks were still too young to fly away. So I guess another bigger bird came by and ate them? We don't have any squirrels or racoons, it must be a crow.Irina, NC