Every Blooming Thing: A chokecherry and bluebird story

Wild birds love to feast on the fruit of Red Bluff Garden Club member Judy Paul’s chokecherry tree. 

 

During these days of stay at home COVID-19 guidelines, we have had plenty of time to enjoy our backyard, flowers, trees, and birds. It is good to find something positive to focus on throughout these challenging times.

My husband has built some bluebird houses for our backyard, and we have had some prior success with enticing a pair of bluebirds to use the house a few times. Several years ago we had one successful hatch, which fledged safely, other times, a few problems ended the cycle.  

This spring he built a new hanging style which he secured in our Brandywine maple tree. We had bluebirds come and peruse the house several times which is a very fun ritual to watch. We make up words for them as they browse, like, “Oh honey, this is just perfect. Love the trees around us…let’s build here.” The female always takes a long time to agree it seems!

Well, as our luck was good and watching time available, the pair chose our house in April. The female built the nest inside the house with just some grasses as the male stands watch. Eggs were laid and the nesting began. The Western bluebird sits on the eggs for approximately 14 days.  After hatching the nestling phase lasts for about 3 weeks. Both male and female will feed as Mom also spends time in the nest to provide warmth as needed. The “poop sacs”, or diapers as we call them, seem to be more often removed by the female!

When fledging time drew closer we could see a change in feeding patterns. Sometimes we could see the little heads peeking out the hole. Mom and Dad would come to the house and try to entice them out. Finally, about 8 p.m. one evening, three fledged. One hesitant one remained in the nest until the next morning when the parents finally convinced her out. We were thrilled and saw the family several times in the following days.  

My husband read that sometimes bluebirds will nest a second time, and the young of the first batch will help feed the new babies.  Well, our luck was the best, as he immediately cleaned out the house, hung it back up, and bluebirds were back checking it out again.  Now of course, one never can be positive of the identity, but we are sure it is the same pair as we often see the little ones with them.  The parents will continue to feed the young for 4 - 5 more weeks and teach them how to find food. They have all been very busy. We saw the juveniles bringing in food too. Again, our luck was perfect as Sunday morning, July 12 while we were having coffee on the deck, the three new young ones fledged!! We surely had countless hours of enjoyment watching these two wondrous life cycles of nature right here in our backyard!

Now for the rest of this story! Several years ago we planted a chokecherry tree in our backyard to provide a food source for the birds.  We knew that in Wisconsin they grew wild and shrubby, but the very small cherries made tasty jelly, jam and syrups.  

I went to the internet to learn a bit more about them. The chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae.  It is native to North America and is widely found in Canada and northern United States. Native Americans used all parts of the tree as a food source. Wildlife like birds, bears, and raccoons like them, but they can be toxic to horses, cattle, goats, and deer. The small stone or pit, as well as the foliage can be poisonous. The berries which are very small, have an astringent bitter taste for us humans.

The tree is tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions and is quite drought resistant once established. Grow it in full or part sun.  Two possible drawbacks are that it can be a host for tent caterpillars (we have never seen this), and it does produce continual suckers that come up from the roots. But for us the plus is over 70 bird species love them, and they are a host plant for many wonderful butterflies.

Now for how this winds back to the bluebirds…every year until this year, our finches would eat all the little tiny green berries as soon as they formed after their beautiful blossoms! Once in a while we would see a mature red berry, but it was rare. Well, this year, maybe the tree is bigger and had a big crop? But for whatever reason, the finches didn’t eat them all, and the tree became full of ripe berries about the time the first batch of bluebirds fledged. We were able to sit on our deck and watch the bluebird family, robins, mockingbirds, and some finches too, feast on the ripe chokecherries. It didn’t take long to totally clean off the tree!!

So we now have a new appreciation for our chokecherry tree, and even bought a weed eater to keep the suckers manageable as we enjoy this food source for our birds! Getting too old to get down on knees every week or so to cut off all the suckers! I don’t know what variety our chokecherry tree is. I looked at pictures on the internet and my best guess is maybe a Canadian Red Chokecherry or Sucker Punch. Ours starts out with beautiful blossoms, then green leaves which turn to a dark red. Nearly all the other trees have mature green leaves.

Perhaps this story has rambled on, but I hope I was able to give you a glimpse of these awesome happenings here in our yard. We set some things up to help, but Mother Nature provided all the rest while we took the time to watch, and watch, and watch. It will give us a positive memory of this difficult year. We are also experiencing a real “empty nest” syndrome as the bluebirds seem to have moved on!

The Red Bluff Garden Club meets the last Tuesday of most months. Our next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 25 at The First United Methodist Church on David Avenue in Red Bluff. However, check us out on Facebook or the daily calendar in the paper for updates due to COVID-19.

  

The Red Bluff Garden Club is affiliated with the Cascade District Garden Club; California Garden Clubs, Inc; Pacific Region Garden Clubs and Natural Garden Clubs Inc. 

 

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