Two weeks ago we posted about a pair of Pacific-slope Flycatchers (Empidonax difficilis) that had chosen to make a nest on our front porch light.
Tuesday morning, while drinking coffee and looking out the front windows, it was obvious that the Flycatcher air-traffic around the porch had increased significantly. We observed the male flycatcher flying back and forth repeatedly over the course of just a few minutes, and that was our first clue that the nest status had likely changed.
Isn’t he handsome? You have to love that hair-do! He really is a very dapper chappy.
On Sunday, the nest still looked like this…
Then yesterday morning, with the male on guard perched in a nearby tree…
…while the female took a quick nest break, I seized the opportunity for a brief peek…
As you can see, the eggs have hatched! You’ll have to take it on faith that there are four nestlings in the nest, I did count them…it’s just a bit tricky to tell when they’re this tiny…each one is smaller than my thumb nail! However, in this photo, you can (almost) count skulls.
After the fog burned off, and the weather warmed up later in the day, the female took a few more breaks from the youngsters, and I tried for a little video. As the video starts, listen for the sharp ‘peewhitt!’ sound of the male (known as the male’s position note…trust me, he still had his eye on me).
I apologize for the slightly fuzzy video, it’s not the easiest area to reach, and opportunities to catch images with very vigilant parents around, are infrequent at best.
Did you see the little one to the left of the nest? Doesn’t it look like that one is dreaming about flying already? Maybe he/she will be the first to fledge…
The female flycatchers are primarily responsible for the nest building, although we did note the male gathering spider-webs during nest construction, so the males at least seem involved in the gathering of materials. The females alone incubate the eggs though, and this female has been glued to the nest for the past two weeks, with the exception of very very brief breaks. We’ve never observed the male on the nest. This doesn’t mean the male is a slouch though. During the last two weeks we’ve seen the male keeping vigilant watch close by, and audibly communicating with the female throughout the day, using the ‘position note’ call you can hear in the video above. If you missed it, this audio file will give you an idea what to listen for in the video:
The male is almost always seen standing guard, close by, when the female takes a break from incubation/brooding duty.
Over the next few weeks the parents will be very busy keeping these young ones fed, and safe.
It’s not yet clear if both the female and the male feed the offspring, or if this duty also falls to the female alone. Regardless, we’re very happy to welcome any new Flycatchers to Curbstone Valley, as hopefully they’ll be able to help keep our Pear sawfly populations in check in the orchard.
Although Flycatcher young are altricial, they will transform from their currently helpless state, to young capable fledglings within about two weeks, so their development will change significantly from day to day. With four hatchlings, it’s going to get a little crowded in this tiny nest before fledging!
Over the next two weeks, to avoid inadvertently flushing anyone from the nest prematurely, the front porch will remain off limits. I’ll try to catch a few photos in the next few days to document their rate of development, but after that, we’ll give them a wide berth, as we want to do our part to help ensure that every one of these little ones makes it to fledging, primarily to help bolster our bug-catching reserves here on the farm! That said, we do have predators here…let’s hope our resident Steller’s Jays, who are notorious nest-raiders, don’t find this nest!