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Birding/Why are the baby birds missing from the nest?

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QUESTION: I have a hanging fern on my back patio that had 2 baby house sparrows and 3 eggs in it yesterday morning. Last night I went to check on them and the 2 babies AND the eggs were gone! My cat was inside all day and no other cats live on my street. There isn't really anyplace for them to hide if they fledged. Could the momma have moved them? They did have little mites on them and the fern. When I touched the fern they covered my hand instantly. Would she have moved them because of the mites? I didn't know how to treat the fern and babies for mites without causing them harm. They had feathers and some "hair" still. They were big enough to be fledglings, but momma is still chirping at us sitting on the patio like her babies are still in the nest. I do not see her going down to feed them anywhere. Could another bird have stolen the babies and eggs from the nest and eaten them? I do have pics that I took of the babies yesterday morning. They were getting pretty big. I really hope they just flew off, but I am worried because I know that they usually stay on the ground for a few days, but they were not on the ground anywhere and momma is still here chirping for them. Thanks for your help!

ANSWER: Well, I don't know the answer but I can speculate. If the babies were still young and had few downy feathers (birds don't have hair)and there was an egg still in the nest, they were probably too young to fledge. The parents are not able to move the young or egg, so they can't do that. No other bird moved them, either. It seems that a predator got to them - a jay, a cat, a rat, a mouse, possum, raccoon, or some other critter.Unfortunate, but it happens all the time. Cats kill 4 billion birds a year in the U.S. and although it was not your cat, it could have been someone else's.

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QUESTION: But they did have some pretty big feathers on their wings along with just a little bit of downy feathers still on their body. And they would look at me when I looked at them. The 2 baby house sparrows took up the entire nest and were almost as big as the dad. No other cats are around here and my cat was locked up all day. The eggs that didn't hatch have been in there since the 2 eggs that did hatch into babies. They just didn't hatch. The babies hatched about 2 wks ago. And they disappeared during the day between 12-6. So it wouldn't have been a possum, rat, mouse or raccoon since I live in the suburbs. I haven't seen any blue jays, and I doubt a hawk would fly down to my patio with all the surrounding houses and dogs. I am baffled. I want to believe they didn't get eaten and they flew away, but I just don't know. Thanks for your help.

Answer
OK, then the other explanation is that they were big enough to fledge and left the nest. They didn't fly away but jumped to the ground where the parents will take care up them until they can fly. The other eggs were just bad. But if the eggs were also gone, then some predator definitely got them; that's the only explanation that makes sense. The parents can't remove the eggs, so something else did. A hawk won't take eggs but jays or rats certainly would. I live in the suburbs too but if I get up at 4am (rarely), I find raccoons and skunks patrolling the neighborhood. And rats are everywhere.

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Roger Lederer

Expertise

Any and all about WILD birds - the science of ornithology. Information about birdwatching, ecology, conservation, migration, behavior, banding, rehabilitation, feeding, songs, binoculars, identification, and careers in ornithology. No questions about pet or caged birds, please.

Experience

Have a PhD and over forty years as a professional ornithologist - research, teaching, author, speaker, webmaster of Ornithology.com . Have written thirty scientific papers, three bird field guides, a textbook in ecology four other bird books, the latest being "Beaks, Bones, and Bird Songs". Have traveled to 100 countries watching birds and have spoken to hundreds of groups about birds.

Education/Credentials
PhD in Zoology/Ornithology; Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences; former Dean of the College of Natural Sciences at California State University, Chico

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