Smokey Mountain Getaway

A three-day girls’ weekend in Tennessee was full of lots of laughs and some new bird sightings. We took a scenic drive in the Smokies around an eleven-mile loop called Cades Cove; a 2500 acre sheltered valley with a mixture of forests and meadows, and an outdoor museum of pioneer life in the 1800’s. We toured a corn mill and checked out a pioneer cabin. The cabin had two inhabitants. Not characters in dress, but two barn swallows!

barn swallow looking at his mate
barn swallow looking at her mate

At first, I thought they were trapped in the house (especially after our recent trapped titmouse experience.) We soon saw that they were building a mud-based nest and protecting their territory. Here they are sitting on top of a door, and the nest is on the wall behind them. I was able to get within two feet of them before they would leave their claimed site.

barn swallow
barn swallow

What a treat to be able to get so close to these beautiful, colorful birds. A close inspection will reveal which is the male and which is the female. The breast color of the bird on the right is ever-so-slightly darker than the female’s on the left. Notice also how proudly the male stands in each photo showing his color and dominance. Their flight pattern, similar to the tree swallow, is fast with a quick dipping motion about every five feet.

The next room revealed a small nest in a corner nook of a low ceiling. Mama bird flew away when we entered, and hung out on a nearby branch.

eastern wood peewee female
eastern phoebe female

Several times, she and her mate tried to re-enter, but rounded back to a nearby branch when they saw us in the room. I snapped a picture of both mama and papa. If you compare pictures, you’ll see they both perched on the same branch, he landing just a bit lower than she. After a half-hour consult with my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, I determined that they were Eastern wood pewees. The female, plain grey. They male, more brown on the wings with a wash of pale yellow on his lower belly. However; a new birding friend told me that they are in fact Eastern phoebes, not pewees. So glad to know. Thank you Georgann! Isn’t he beautiful?

eastern wood peewee male
eastern phoebe male

Trapped Titmouse

The titmouse is one of the cutest and quickest birds of the air, but not the brightest as you will see. They are constantly at my window feeder, but one somehow ended up in my garage one day last week.

My 10-year-old Mark son caught him on video, but not before making a couple of traps to catch and rescue the bird. Too cute for words, and quite the little videographer, Mark’s little movie clip speaks for itself.


Unfortunately, he didn’t catch the titmouse. He was just doing what comes naturally – flying up. Even though the doors were open (later), his instincts prohibited him from flying down just a foot or so, and then flying out. Here’s what we did.

With the garaged doors closed, I opened a garage window, removed the screen and pulled the blind all the way up. He quickly flew to the window. However; his instincts took him ‘up’ again, and he hit the window full force. Fortunately, he didn’t knock himself unconscious (although I guess that would have been OK too, as we could have scooped him up and set him free.)

I decided to play to another instinct, and placed my window feeder on the upper part of the garage window. It took about 30 seconds for him to find it, and he cautiously flew down to the door opener rail, then the workbench, and finally to the feeder. He stayed for about 15 seconds to eat, and promptly flew away. He came back several times, and even landed on the weed wacker right next to the open window, but didn’t fly out!

I then removed the feeding trays from the feeder and placed one directly on the window sill. When he flew back to the feeder once again, and was confused for a moment to see the food gone. Then he spotted the tray on the sill. He flew down to the sill and sat there eating out of the tray for about a minute until he realized he could fly out the window. When he flew out, he turned around, came back and landed on the sill. He looked in cocking his head a few times as he looked at me and my husband. I so wish I had had my camera. It was almost like he was saying, “thanks for helping me.” Then he flew off.

More Eggs!

A few days after discovering our second box had a small nest with one egg, another picture to document construction was in order. I expected some decent progress, perhaps close to the size of the nest in the first box. The nest was at its original height (only about one-third the size of the original nest,) but with the crowning ring of feathers. The nest was complete!

The other surprise was the addition of two more eggs. Conclusion: a first-time mom/dad in the first box who built their nest to the nines for their one little egg. (Young sparrows are known for 1 – 2 eggs in their first clutch). Second nest – a mom/dad that’s “been there, done that,” and didn’t have the energy or see the need to build a big nest.

Nest box with three house sparrow eggs
Nest box with three house sparrow eggs

Status of the first nest was unchanged with the possible exception of some additional feathers. Compare this picture of nest #1, with the one from the previous April 21 post and see what you think.

Nest box with house sparrow nest
Nest box with house sparrow nest

I also discovered an unpleasant addition – ants! There was a little colony of them under the nest where the screen holds up the nest for drainage purposes. I brushed many of them away, but need to do a little research and figure out how to get rid of them without hurting the nest.