Warning: although I find the material in this post quite interesting and I am pleased with the observations made and detective work accomplished, there is not, unfortunately, a happy ending.
Having the fortune of living within minutes of a few Ste. Genevieve County gems, this summer Steve was fortunate to find something we had been on the lookout for while on a stroll at Hawn S.P. He sent word that he had found an active nest of a pair of Acadian Flycatchers. Not only that, but it was in a fairly nice position for photography and the pair did not seem too concerned if the viewer stayed low and silent. Needless to say, I was excited. We visited days later to find mom on the eggs – yet to hatch.
The female would leave the nest for less than three to four minutes at a time to feed herself. The male was primarily concerned with scouting and announcing his territory, vocalizing continuously as he traveled its circumference.
Once in a while both parents would be at the nest at the same time. Gee, I wonder why dad doesn’t come around more often… 😉 We were surprised by the relatively large size of the bird’s beaks and the small size of the nest!
To give some idea of the habitat these guys were using… These are definitely forest dwelling birds. This section of Hawn was close to a 50:50 mix of Short-leaf Pine and deciduous trees. The nest itself was located in a Black Gum that was approximately 30-40′ tall.
A follow up visit a week later found that two visible chicks were in that tiny nest! In the photo below, one of the parents had just brought a spider back to feed to one of the altricial young.
The next photo documents the large, developing eyes of these sightless young. Also take note of the characteristic nests of these birds. The tendrils on these nests are strung up with spider webs and can be up to a meter long. According to the literature, this nest is near the maximum height range from the ground (~25′) that this species will build. As great as this was, I would love to find a nest built lower.
The following Saturday we visited during prime lighting hours for where the nest was located. With the relatively quick fledging time of these songbirds, we gave it about a 50% chance that the chicks would still be in the nest. We got to our viewing spot – a dry creek bed that gave us partial cover, and waited. Other than an occasional song from dad at a distance, we had no sign whatsoever of anything going on at the nest. After sitting silent and ready for about 40 minutes, we had concluded that the nest was no longer in use. The chicks might have fledged?
We decided we could safely walk directly under the nest without interfering with anything. When we arrived we were disappointed to find that both chicks were lying directly underneath the nest, dead. For a while we contemplated what could have happened. Could a storm or wind gust have knocked them from the perch? As we lamented the demise of these fresh beings, Steve saw something near the crotch where the nest branch met the trunk. Here is what we observed and answered our questions.
See that bulge in this young Rat Snake? We hypothesized that this was a third chick that this guy had preyed upon. We suppose that during the process of ingesting this chick, the other two were either pushed or decided they were better off jumping from the nest, then wait for the fate of the unfortunate sibling. We were fortunate to arrive at the nest in time to spot this snake before it had moved on. We bothered it long enough to take some images, then let him hide in peace to digest his meal.