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Three’s a crowd

Toa Kyle | Sep 28, 2006


I’m back for a quick stopover in town.  Things are proceeding well in the field.  We’ve now got three active nests and another five that are being guarded.  Our first nest with chicks is one to remember.  When I first climbed it to perform health checks for the nestlings I was surprised to find three nestlings there.  As I mentioned before, one chick has been the norm the past two field seasons.  Two of the chicks were in good shape.  Their crops were full (indicating their parents were feeding them adequately) and they were full of energy.  The third chick was basically being neglected by the parents.  They weren’t feeding it and it was pushed off to one side of the nest opposite the other chicks. 

We kept this third chick alive for 3 days by first giving it Ringer’s solution to prevent dehydration, then moving it onto formula in the hopes that the parents would accept it with time.  Alas a cold front came in on the third night of our work with this nest and the following morning the chick was near death, shivering intensely and extremely weak.  Although this is only one nest with this type of situation, similar observations of a neglected third chick will justify pulling this bird to raise in captivity for subsequent release.  Wild Blue-throat chicks are too precious a commodity to leave for dead in the nest.  On the bright side, the other two chicks are doing well.  The first chick has already shot up to 200g (half a pound) at 10 days of age and the second isn’t far behind. 

Hopefully this particular nest will weather the coming storms.  It’s the worst nest (in terms of structure and strength) I’ve seen in four field seasons down here.  Very fragile (another palm snag).  Why exactly Blue-throats regularly nest in these types of low quality nests remains unclear.  Hopefully with time they’ll start using the nest boxes we put up in August.  I’m afraid that most of the nesting pairs we’ve found had already committed to a nest tree by the time we got our boxes up.  We haven’t seen any interest from Blue-throats towards the boxes.  Some boxes show bite marks on the edges though.  Likely frustrated Blue-and-Gold Macaws that can’t get inside!  Predictably one of the nest boxes has been taken over by bees (my punishment for destroying a hive a few weeks back?).  Maybe if the boxes don’t produce any Blue-throat chicks this season we can at least get a couple of jars of good honey…

I’ll head back to the field this weekend to work with two other nests we’re keeping an eye on at 7 islas.  I climbed the nest with three eggs (nest 27 from now on) expecting to find several chicks the other day and was disappointed to find that one of the eggs had hatched but no chick was present. 

We don’t know if the chick was predated or died shortly after hatching and was removed by the parents.  There are still two eggs in the nest though and the female is actively incubating them.  We’ve put a 12 hour watch on this nest should nest predators show up while chicks are hatching.  I’ve seen Crane Hawks in this island before, so that’s my first choice for a culprit.  This raptor has long legs perfectly adapted to reaching into nests to grab small nestlings.  That the nest was missing a chick but still had eggs is interesting.  Crane Hawks eat nestlings but not eggs.  Toucans eat both. 

I won’t celebrate any nests being active until the chicks get up to three weeks of age.  By this time they’re likely too large to be taken by either toucans or Crane Hawks.  We’ll still need to be concerned about Great-horned Owls and of course the ever present threat of humans robbing nests but I’ll feel a lot better about a given nest once it gets over that three week hump.  Another nest is incubating at 7 islas, a mere three km (two miles) from nest 27.  For Blue-throats this is rare as active nests are usually highly dispersed (given their rarity).  To work with two nests this close together bodes well for us.  Easier for us to monitor (and more importantly, protect from predators).  The next three weeks will determine how these particular nests fair.  Keep your fingers crossed for the birds (they need it).