Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | July 10, 2014

Bluebird Parents Adopt 5 Babies

Imagine having an only child and then suddenly having sextuplets! This is what happened to bluebird parents at Burke Rehab Hospital in White Plains.

Only one egg hatched of their clutch of 5 eggs. The other 4 eggs had disappeared.

Over at Scarsdale Golf Club, a clutch of 5 eggs hatched about the same time. The Dad was nowhere in sight, and Mom was feeding alone for a few days. But on day 5 she also disappeared and the babies were starving.

Past experience told us that the babies would die if they didn’t get adopted by other bluebird parents, and successful adoptions in the past gave us hope this was possible.

However, we were in the middle of the nesting season. Most first broods were older babies or had fledged. Second broods were in the egg stage. Only one nest of bluebirds was eligible. It was the nest with the single nestling.

I first went to Burke and observed that both Mom and Dad were feeding their lone chick. Then went to my golf club and confirmed that now the Mom was missing and babies were starving.

5 starving nestlings needed adopted.

5 starving nestlings needed adopted.

I placed the 5 begging babies in a travel cup and took them on their first road trip – to Burke.

I removed the “biological” baby and placed the 5 adoptees in their new home. I went to my car with their chick and observed the reaction of the adoptive parents with my binoculars. I wanted to be sure they weren’t removing the new arrivals.

To my relief, Mom and Dad didn’t skip a beat. They just stepped up their level of bug retrieval.

I wanted to help, and also give the starving adoptees first dibs on the incoming food. I took their own baby with me to a pet store and bought mealy-worms. I returned and tacked the plastic cup of worms on the nestbox. I then put their own baby in the nestbox to meet its new siblings.

Adults found the mealy-worms right away. They accepted their new large brood immediately!

Adults found the mealy-worms right away. They accepted their new large brood immediately!


From the car I observed that all seemed well, and Mom and Dad were acting as if it was all in a day’s work.

I banded the biological chick on the right leg, as normal, on the day I did the adoption. The adoptees were too agitated, stressed and underweight for this yet.

Bonnie Gould, fellow club member and also nestbox monitor, helped me with all of this. As she is the nestbox monitor at Burke, she took over the mealy-worm delivery. She return several days with a fresh supply of worms and a report on how all were faring. By the second day of the adoption, the babies had calmed down and did very little begging. By the third day, they were “playing dead” just as all well-fed nestlings do when we open the box.

6 well-fed nestling

6 nestlings “playing dead” as well-fed babied do


But the drama was not over.

We banded the adoptees on the left leg so we could distinguish them when they were 8 days old.

The sextuplets! Five adoptees before banding with their new sibling, already banded.

The sextuplets! Five adoptees before banding with their new sibling, already banded.


At that time, we recapped the Mom. Interestingly, she had been banded this same year in a  nestbox at Old Oaks Country Club. Her eggs had gone missing, and she had found her way to Burke.

The Mom who accepted the 5 adoptees.

The Mom who accepted the 5 adoptees.

The Dad, who had been banded by us in the past, eluded all attempts to recapture him. It is most frustrating, because he proved to be the biggest hero in this drama. We will never know his true identity, which his band could reveal.

Super Dad of the Year!

Super Dad of the Year!

Bonnie and I continued to visit Burke. A new development occurred when babies were about 12 days old. Mom seemed to be missing and only Dad was observed.

On day 14, I stopped with my grandchildren to check on the Burke babies. Sadly, we smelled death when we peeked in the box. I carefully removed one dead chick, but the other 5 seemed fine. The dead chick’s band revealed it had been the runt of the adoptees. It weighed 13 grams, while the average of the others when banded was 18. So nature was taking its course.

Daily Bonnie or I visited, observing the Dad making non-stop food delivery to the box. Sometimes he went in to retrieve a fecal sac. We didn’t open the box from day 14 for fear of premature fledging.

Finally on day 19 the babies fledged. Opening the box and seeing the empty nest proved that all the birds made it. But Dad was still on the job. He dive-bombed me near the nest. I realized the fledglings were in the nearest tree. I took a couple pictures and then left him to continue his job of feeding and looking after his brood for the next several weeks until they are totally independent.

Burke fledgling. Note band on left leg means it was one of the adoptees.

Burke fledgling. Note band on left leg means it was one of the adoptees.

What a thrill it will be to ever recapture any of these “rescue” nestlings!



  1. Great story! Thanks for sharing.



  2. Wow! Sandy-you have been busy! -JT

    Sent from my iPad

  3. I currently have five babies and never see the mom. Dad is doing all the work. Just provided mealworms and he is happy to have them. This is my first time for all five to hatch and wouldn’t you know it, no mom. Never saw her sitting. Very warm here so she may have been gone a long time.
    Is it possible for me to band them? I just think it would be fun. How do you recap them?
    I live near Pittsburgh.
    Thank you.

    • You need a license from both the federal and your state government to band any bird. It requires training, plus you must have a research project to get a license. You can’t do it for the fun of it. My research is to test the long-term survival rate of bluebirds that nest on golf courses vs bluebirds that nest in non-golf course locations. I recapture them by setting a trap in the nestbox which, when the adult goes in to feed, blocks the hole. Glad your Dad is doing such a good job tending to his offspring. You are so lucky to have bluebirds nesting in your yard. Enjoy!

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