Here is final data, interesting observations, and highlights for 2012 nesting season on the WHBBT. Only two species nested and laid eggs and fledged young:
Eastern Bluebirds: 30 nest attempts, 128 eggs laid, 100 eggs hatched, 87 fledged. 13 nestling deaths, 19 unhatched and retrieved eggs, 9 missing/destroyed eggs.
Carolina Chickadees: 3 nest attempts, 15 eggs laid, 15 hatched, 14 fledged. 1 nestling death.
Results of Predation, Deaths of Nestlings, and Missing/Destroyed Eggs: 1 snake, several house wren attacks, chickadee nest takeovers, a 3-night freeze snap early in season, and 2 predations are “unknown” reasons (possibly flying squirrel, snake, starvation-abandonment, or house wren—I could not determine cause in two cases). Chickadees also took over 2 bluebird nest attempts in early season—they destroyed bluebird eggs and nested over bluebird nests.
Eggs Missing/Disappeared inside nests: 9 eggs unfound or unaccounted
Unusual Observations/Results on the trail for 2012: What surprises me the most this year is the number of deaths and unhatched eggs! Fourteen (14) dead nestlings. There were nineteen (19) UNHATCHED eggs, all retrieved by me during the nesting cycle or after nesting cycles were completed and soiled nests removed and dissected and nestboxes cleaned out. The rest of the eggs were missing/unaccounted for.
The Good News: I again fledge more bluebirds this year than the year before. It has been consistent that I fledged on or about 20 more bluebirds per year since my bluebird trail officially commenced in February 2008’s nesting season. My records show a number fledged for 2008, and then 20 more bluebirds fledged in 2009, and then approximately 20 more in 2010, and again in 2011. I went from 14 nestboxes in 2008 to 19 presently. I installed two more nestboxes in early July this year to bring the count to 21 nestboxes on the trail; however, House Wren dummy nests were built in those boxes, so that data is not included. For 2012, I fledged 11 more bluebirds than last year. I strongly believe that the number of nestling deaths (14), the number of unhatched eggs (19), and the fact that one very successful nestbox in past had to be removed after the first brood fledging due to a new construction site made an impact on the fledging totals this year. I was honestly expecting a larger number of fledgings of bluebirds this year. Considering it’s still 11 more than last year makes me feel satisfied.
Summary Observations and Tidbits:
This has been the most challenging year yet on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail regarding observing and troubleshooting unusual activities. I dealt with absolutely zero blowfly infestations during the first two broods (usually in my location it’s every brood–no matter what time of year) and then third broods got smacked hard with a super-strong and powerful blowfly population—as if they were on steroids. Other problems were ants attempted to infest one nestbox (and corrected by me), excessive heat caused some weakness and slower development even in well-ventilated nestboxes (but no deaths due to heat), a freeze snap for three nights in a row in early Spring caused starvation due to lack of insects (and thus protein and hydration to one hatchling—that is the only death to the cold snap), one snake managed to get past a stovepipe guard (this happens at least once each year), a few house wren attacks at a location of two nestboxes, chickadees fighting bluebirds over nestboxes at location of two nestboxes—chickadees destroyed bluebird eggs; and last but not least, there has been an unusual number of nestling deaths and unhatched eggs. One nestling death was a chickadee–all chickadees in that brood fledged except one—could not determine cause—no blowfly larvae found—possibly starvation. Out of 19 nestboxes on the trail, three were unoccupied this season. Surprisingly, two of those three unoccupied nestboxes were extremely successful last year and the years before (average 2-3 broods fledging bluebirds). Therefore I will not move this box for 2013. I was able to keep blowfly infestation controlled in all boxes except for two nests. One brood of 4, in spite of my method of control, did not succeed–the infestation was too strong and larvae too large and thus survived deterrence—those 4 nestlings died quickly from weakness due to anemia (low blood cells) thus disabling them(weakness) to take in food from the parent bluebirds before I could save them. Upon dissecting the infested nest, I counted quite a few live, gorged-with-blood larvae. The other nest showed the same symptoms, so I conducted a nest change-out—this is moving the weak nestlings carefully by hand from the infested nest to an unused-unsoiled-abandoned previously built nest by bluebirds made of grasses– those nestlings survived the nest change and fledged at age 18 days old. I dissect all nests, except unused nests which I keep for emergencies. By dissecting used, soiled nests, I find interesting things about them, how many blowfly larvae survived my deterrence method, how many did not survive, how many infested the nest, finding uneaten food given to the fledglings but not consumed at fledging time. This year a dead baby skink or newt and a large dead bumblebee were found on top of the fledged nests. I also had two nests with the same parent bluebirds, one brood after the other, that appeared to be completely unskilled (lazy?) at removing the fecal sacs left by their nestlings and upon cleaning out the nestbox, I found those nests severely crusted with the nestlings waste matter—wet and sticky. I was surprised to find the nestlings fledged, but they did. I look at the sides of the walls and the front of the box for clues of successful fledging.
The following nestboxes are worth mentioning certain observations for 2012:
Interesting Data – Nestbox #1: The first bluebird brood’s 4 eggs were pushed down inside the nest by something I have not been able to pin down. It appears to have been another bluebird female that wanted to use that box—evicted the other female or perhaps the first female abandoned the nest or was killed.
Interesting Data – Nestbox #3: This box has been very successful with 2-3 broods consistently, except this year—it was completely unoccupied. I have not been able to determine reason. It will not be moved for 2013.
Interesting Data – Nestbox #7: One brood of three nestlings died inside the nest—do not know why; possibly the parents were killed and the nestlings died of starvation.
Highlight – Nestbox #8: This nestbox was unoccupied by any species for two years straight. Instead of pulling it up, I decided to give it another chance this year; I knew it was in great bluebird habitat. This year, my hunches were correct–it produced THREE broods this year, though one brood had a clutch of 4 unviable eggs laid July 24th and thus never hatched as of August 31, 2012. Those four eggs have been included in the unhatched egg count total for this nesting season. I “candled” the 4 eggs—all were clear showing no development; therefore it appears they were unfertilized.
Interesting Data – Nestbox #9: This has been a successful box since the day it was installed. This year, one brood fledged and the box had to be removed due to the location going under construction from a field to a parking lot; therefore, no more data of fledged birds could be included in this year’s count.
Interesting Data – Nestbox #10: Strangely, this box did very well in past two years. This was the nestbox that fledged 2-3 broods of chickadees and bluebirds, including the laying of my first ever clutch of white eggs. This box was totally unoccupied this year. The good habitat for bluebirds has not changed. The box will remain to see how it does next year.
Interesting Data – Nestbox #12: This nestbox has been consistently my highest yielding of bluebirds in years past. This year, we had some troubles. First brood had one unhatched egg; the rest of the nestlings were taken by a snake. First time for this box. The second brood had one unhatched egg; the rest of the nestlings were attacked by wrens. One nestling was taken out of the nestbox and dropped, which ended up in the Noel guard and died there. The other two nestlings survived the attack and fledged. Both incidents this year is very unusual for this nestbox, which is in open habitat and not close to brushy areas.
Interesting Data – Nestbox #13: This was a good box for habitat and fledgings until past two years. This being a field, the growth of vegetation surrounding the field where the box is located has caused too much thickets nearby. In spite of my two years of efforts keeping this nestbox trimmed, I cannot maintain this box any further and keep those thickets trimmed away from the nestbox. It will be moved to a new location for 2013 to attract bluebirds in better, more open habitat. It is obvious the bluebirds did not like this nestbox being close to thick vegetation and hay grasses being too tall for long periods of time.
Highlight – #15: The same nestbox had the earliest egg laid on my trail– two years in a row: March 11 in 2011 … and March 8 in 2012. This nestbox truly has become the most successful nestbox on the trail.
Highlight — Nestbox #16: The 3-Year Test-Two Hole “Mansion” (from Linda Violett, Yorba Linda, CA) was a MAJOR winner this season! – THIS YEAR, absolutely no House Sparrows attempted to nest this year and bluebirds fledged three broods this year— bluebirds were able to successfully fledge 3 broods without me intervening with gadgets or HOSP trapping. A total of 12 bluebirds young fledged this box this year, in spite of a blowfly issue and house wrens entering the nestbox while the bluebirds were attempting to fledge. More information in detail will be coming to the website to conclude this 3-year test. I expect to have this online by end of September (or sooner). This nestbox has proven to be the second most successful on the trail, not far behind Box #15 as the top producer.
No summary trail results for 2011.
TRAIL SUMMARY RESULTS FOR 2010
THE TRAIL MONITORS
A Poem by “Bluebird Bob” Walshaw
Out they go, rain or shine,
Checking on their Bluebird line.
Helping out those birds of blue,
Walking in the grassy dew.
Opening nestboxes one by one,
Reveling in the morning sun.
Finding nests and eggs so blue,
Spring’s promise coming true.
Another nest with little ones,
Waiting for the parents to come
From east, west, north or south,
With insects for each open mouth.
One more nest -oh so sad!
A roving Black Snake has been bad.
Predator guards work in many ways
But nature can have a different say.
Another nest with babies strong,
Showing that it won’t be long
Before their growing wings they’ll try
And out into the world they’ll fly.
They continue to check nest after nest,
Enjoying successes and fighting pests.
Enemies with beak and claw,
Sharing the Bluebird’s luck of the draw.
But they know from day to day
That all their efforts lead the way
To bringing the Bluebirds safe and strong
Back where all can hear their songs.
BELOW: TRAIL SUMMARY REPORT IS COMPLETED for 2009!
DATE OF FIRST EGG: 4/8/09 (Last year was 3/28/08)
DATE OF FIRST HATCH: 4/24/09 (Last year was 4/17/09)
DATE OF LAST FLEDGING: 7/13/09
BOX TYPES: 14 Rectangular Boxes, 1 Hanging Chalet Box, 1 Newspaper Box
PREDATOR GUARDS: 12 Noel, 14 Stovepipe
ENTRY HOLE SHAPE: 15 1-1/2 “, one open (newspaper box)
ROADSIDE RURAL: 2
EGGS LAID AND SUCCESSFUL FLEDGED CAVITY NESTERS:
BLUEBIRDS: 22 Nest Attempts: 38 Eggs, 37 Hatched and 32 Fledged
CHICKADEES: 2 Nest Attempts: 6 Eggs, 6 hatched and 3 Fledged
HOUSE WRENS: 2 Nest Attempts: 6 Eggs and 6 Hatched and 6 Fledged
HOUSE SPARROWS: 4 Nest Attempts: 5 Eggs–Nest and eggs removed and deterrence was applied to avoid any more nest attempts.
LOSSES TOTAL: 8 chicks: 5 bluebirds to a snake and 3 chickadees to unknown reason.
SOME PROBLEMS ON THE TRAIL THIS YEAR:
Fought House Sparrows at one box in town location. I successfully kept them from breeding in my nestboxes. Bluebirds finally were able to occupy that nestbox and bred successfully with a final fledging on July 5. House Wrens built dummy nests in another box several times in town location. One House Wren breeding took place and those birds fledged. Blowfly infestation was bad this year–worse than 2008. I did not lose one set of chicks due to nest switchouts. I have noticed the rains bring on parasite and insect problems. During drought, such as during 2006 and 2007, I did not have any blowflies. I lost one set of bluebird chicks (6 days old) to a snake, even with the stovepipe guard. A very large Black Rat Snake can climb past some guards–these guards are 95% effective most times on my trail. The chickadees strangely only had 3 chicks fledge–the other 3 chicks died in the box, and I was unable to distinguish reason for those deaths. It could have possibly been poisoning from insecticides or some other kind of illness. They did not appear to have been attacked. One box that fledged Bluebirds for first brood was not able to come back and use the box due to Buffalo Gnat infestation. This happened during a long hard rainy section of days that I could not monitor my trail. This is why monitoring AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK is preferable, if possible, during the nesting season. Early in the season and throughout first brood nesting timeframe, I combated Paper Wasps in some of my nestboxes. I consistently soaped the boxes and removed the nests. Because of the wasp issues, some nestboxes were not occupied by cavity nesting birds this season. No wasps were able to nest in any of my trail nestboxes.
JOYS and SUCCESSES!
Any bluebirds that fledge are a joy. I was happy that my nest switchouts helped the anemic chicks get strength, bone development, and feather growth to fledge–most fledged on 18-20 days. I was able to get lots of good photographs of the birds this year with my new camera. By attending the North American Bluebird Society’s annual conference this year in Grantville, PA, in September, I learned of another option to dealing with the blowfly problem. I met many wonderful bluebird folks at the conference, further solidifying my passion for bluebirding. I am additionally mentoring a friend in Henry County who wants to start bluebirding. I am planning to offer free bluebird presentations to groups.
PLANS FOR NEXT SEASON!
At the NABS conference, I discovered a new natural substance in a powder form safe for the nestlings that can be added to the bottom of the nesting material in very small amounts to combat blowfly larvae. I also will be constructing a hardware cloth base to be inserted at the bottom of each box to allow a small space about 1/2″ so that if blowflies get to a nest, the larvae will fall through the base and not be able to crawl back up and get onto the nestlings at night. Harry Schmeider (Harry’s website: http://livingroomtunes.com/newambassador/) gave a presentation at this year’s North American Bluebird Society’s Conference, which I attended in Grantville, PA, in September. He discussed the careful use of a natural substance called diatomaceous earth (a light powder) which works for him to safely combat blowflies before the larvae develop large enough to cause harm to the nestlings. I am presently getting more details from him via Email for next year’s trail. I will be moving some of my boxes prior to February 1, 2010. Additionally, I will be sharing with other bluebirders my “soap paste” mixture I make with Ivory soap and water to combat Paper Wasps and my method using a pastry brush to easily “paint” this mixture inside the boxes. I also would like to give local presentations about the joys of bluebirding to groups. I want to enthusiastically continue to educate the local people who are kind enough to allow me to put my boxes on their property. I am also hoping to increase my trail to 20 boxes for 2010. Anyone living in Patrick County who would like a VBS box installed, let me know so I can include your nestbox in my County Coordinator statistics for VBS.
The Virginia Bluebird Society posts every year’s state trail summaries. 2009 should be posted soon. You can find them here, including 2008 final trail statistics: http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/trailstatistics.html
WOO-HOO! THANKS are DUE!
I want to take this opportunity to thank Barbara Chambers, the VBS State Coordinator, who has helped me as a new County Coordinator these past two years; and to Charlie Chambers, who compiles all the stats from all the County Coordinators forVBS. We salute you and appreciate you for your dedication.
VARIOUS DETAILED TRAIL NOTES FOR 2009 IS BELOW. THIS IS TYPICAL OF MY OWN CLIPBOARD NOTES FOR ALL BOX CHECKS. I KEEP DETAILED HAND-WRITTEN NOTES ONVBS FORMS. MOST OF THE TIME, I DO MY BOX CHECK MID-AFTERNOONS ON GOOD-WEATHER DAYS FOR THE BIRD’S SAFETY. SOMETIMES I CHECK THE TRAIL AT DIFFERENT TIMES OF THE DAY FOR NEWLY-MOVED OR INSTALLED BOXES SO THAT I CAN SEE IF THE BOXES GET TOO HOT IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT AND TO CHECK FOR SHADE ON THOSE BOXES. I WRITE THIS INFO IN MY NOTES, INCLUDING TIME OF DAY AND TEMPERATURES. #1 PRIORITY IS THE BIRDS’ COMFORT AND SUCCESS RATE! My #2 PRIORITY IS ENJOYING THEM!
April 27: Box 13 has 5 hatched bluebirds, about 2-3 days old. Approximate date of this hatching is Friday, April 24. Box 5 has 6 Carolina Chickadee eggs.
April 28: Box 12 has 4 newly hatched bluebirds and one egg still to hatch.
May 7: Box 12: Healthy 10-day old chicks. Box 13 chicks are 13-days old and healthy.
May 15: Box 12 chicks still there and ready to fledge. Box 5 Carolina Chickadees are well. Not able to distinguish date of hatching.
May 19: Box 12 and 13: Chicks fledged Box 13 approximately May 10. Chicks fledged Box 12 between May 15 and May 19. Box 4 has a completed bluebird pine needle nest and 3 laid eggs.
June 2: Box 12: New bluebird pine needle nest built–no eggs yet. Box 10: Passive deterrence of House Sparrows worked. Bluebirds have moved in, built a nest, and 4 eggs laid. Yay! Box 7: Wrens stuffed a dummy nest to the ceiling and out the entry hole with sticks. Sticks removed. Box 5: 3 of the 6 Carolina Chickadees fledged; three died. It appears they were attacked by either a House Wren or House Sparrow. Sad day at this box. Box 8: Bluebird eggs, 3 of 5, have hatched! Will check in a few days again.
June 17: My weekly check on the trail, due yesterday, has been delayed due to storms. The chicks with the nest switchout (blowfly larvae infestation), unfortunately, were taken by a snake the next day, in spite of the stovepipe baffle. It had to have been a very large snake to get by the baffle (they can stand on their ends!). They were 10-days old and had a chance as the parents were back in 5 minutes after the switchout to feed them. It was a sad day for me regarding failure for these chicks’ survival. I hope to check the boxes again by end of this week!
June 24: Box 12 has new bluebird hatchings! They appear to be one day old. Box 10 has one week old chicks…the grass nest is infested with blowfly larvae. The chicks are underdeveloped and weak. I did a grass nest switchout.
June 29: Box 10 chicks, which had a nest switched out from under them by me on June 25, have grown and are looking healthy! I am seeing beautiful blue feathers growing in. That is cause for a celebration! Box 12, has three chicks and one unhatched egg. The chicks are very anemic and not doing well….the heat is causing some issues, but both parents are caretaking them. I did a pine needle nest switchout upon find blowfly larvae dust on the bottom of the nest (the replacement needle nest was from the first brood in this same box…clean and free of parasites, which is why I keep good used nests made by bluebirds and not human-made, which I have done without a bird-made nest !). The one unhatched egg appears to not be fertile. The chicks were sitting on the egg which was nestled at the bottom of the nest. I will check this box tomorrow afternoon again and then again in two days to see if they are getting well. Additionally, the bluebirds have returned to the same newspaper box, and have not only rebuilt a second brood nest there, but there are four eggs laid, which means the female may have started incubating. One more egg could show up tomorrow. Box 7 has a territorial wars going on between House Sparrows, House Wrens, and allegedly a House Finch, as I saw a pair hanging around the box and a male fly out of it at last trail check. It appears the House Wren has won. When I opened the box, I noted some movement inside the nest. The sticks are so tightly made, I cannot see down inside the nest to positively ID which bird is nesting in there, even with my telescoping mechanics mirror. I will need to sit for a while with my binocs at that box within a day or two to see what birds are going inside.
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