CHECKING NESTS AFTER FLEDGINGS

It is important that we monitors always INSPECT nests when nestboxes are cleaned out between broods and after “alleged” fledgings.   I get questions how I know fledgings actually took place at nestboxes at locations where I cannot watch closely the goings on.   Here are some tips and examples of nests after inspection:

First, I make sure I monitor at least once a week.  I prefer about every 4 days. I can keep a better handle on happenings if I monitor more than once a week.

After I think there has been a successful fledging, I can actually tell by looking at the remaining nest if indeed a fledging took place as opposed to a snake predating the older nestlings.   The parents always “change diapers” or clean up the nests of the fecal sacs.   During the fledging period, usually within a 24 hour period (sometimes a little longer if the parents think it’s not safe or a nestling is weaker than the others), the parents don’t bring food to the nestlings as often or clean up their waste matter to entice them to make the first flight.   The adults will also swoop down to the nestbox and call to them to come out.  It’s fun to watch if you can do so!   Most of the time during fledging, the waste matter (fecal sacs) remains in the nest as the young birds fledge.   If a snake gets them, their usually is no waste matter in the nest.  The parents are diligent the nest stays clean.   When I see a flattened nest with waste matter, that’s a good sign the youngster made it!

Note:  I always look for waste matter left on the front-side of the box under the entry hole.  That’s a good sign they made it out OK, leaving a bit of matter behind as they fly out. This is cleaned off between broods by me so the box is as clean of the birds’ waste matter as much as  possible.

When cleaning out a nestbox, I turn nests over looking for blowfly larvae and other possible parasites in the nest material which are not visible in the box itself (such as the beginnings of ants or mites).   It’s really important to always remove used nests but PARTICULARLY those that shows parasites, such as the example of this first brood nest for this season (first time I ever had blowfly larvae in first nests).   The female likes to build a new nest for the second and possibly third broods.  Clean nesting material is good.  Otherwise, she may bring in new nesting materials and build on top of old nests that could have parasites in them.  This also brings the nest higher to the entry hole, which is not a good idea for the safety of the nestlings.  The youngsters did make it out OK according to what I could determine in the nest you see in Photo 2 below, but there was the beginnings of the hatched blowfly eggs in the first brood.  The larvae in the nest cause harm to the nestlings if they multiply and then the nest is heavily infested with them.  The more larvae present in young nestlings’ nest material, the more chance they become anemic from losing blood to the larvae, which feed on them at night.

In the photos below, you’ll find two photos of nests:

First photo shows a clean pine needle nest.  I inspected it in detail from top to bottom — no evidence of any larvae, no larvae nest “dust” (the blowfly breaks up the nesting material to a fine dust usually found on the bottom of the nest along where the nestbox floor is located where they rest during the day), and as you can see, there is waste matter not picked up by the parents.  When I inspect nests during breeding, I always take a small spatula and lift the nest up a little to look for the dust, a sign of possible blowfly larvae.

The second photo below shows the bottom of a nest (what appeared to be a clean nest on top when I first looked) when I flipped it over, this is what I found…this detail of blowfly larvae in first brood nestings material went into my trail notes.   This is the earliest I’ve ever seen the larvae appear in nesting material along my trail.   I am thinkig the early warmer weather this Spring may be why–only theory on my part–nature’s way.   Blowflies in birds nest has been going on for centuries.  However, by installing manmade nestboxes, my goal is for the bluebirds to fledge, so I make sure as best I can that they make it successfully to bird life outside of the box.   Monitorig is fun but it’s work, too–I don’t want to monitor boxes to find sick or dead birds.  It’s best not to have a nestbox up if you don’t take care of the birds using them.

Bottom line to monitors:  Always inspect nests to know for sure what happens in the nest during breeding season.   What remains of the nest tells a story.   Never drop old nests near the nestbox, as this attracts predators to the area.   Always take it away in a plastic bag and dispose of it later. Any pristine clean nests I have I keep for emergences that could be possible later.

Anyone know what emergencies I would need a clean, used bluebird nest for?  There are two possible reasons.  I will update this post with the answers.  Leave a comment here, if you wish, if you know what the reasons are.

One more thought:  we can’t assume once the nestling fledge, they actually survive to adulthood.  Survival rate will vary on the young birds that fledge.   We can’t assume every empty nest means all young birds live a long life.   If possible, if you have a nestbox by your home, you can look for the fledglings in the area in your tree branches, put out a platform feeder with mealworms to entice the adults to feed the mealworms to the fledglings, and you can watch them for another month or so as they learn to find food for themselves.  If the youngsters don’t make it, nature rules.   It’s probably good the bluebirds try more than once per season to breed.   The chickadee generally has only one brood per year–interesting to me why some species breed 2-3 broods and others once.   The House Sparrow breeds average 5 times per season!   The start earlier and breed later each season.   The one sparrow species not native to North America breeds often!

I surmised the young birds fledged successfully in this nest. The waste matter remains behind which is normal during the fledging period. After turning this nest over and inspecting it, there was no evidence of parasites. The nest was clean on the bottom side. With gloves, I pick off the dried matter and keep the nest handy for possible emergencies later. The nest I keep is clean through and through. These are white pine needles.

The young birds made it out with evidence of matter on top side. However, when I turned it over to inspect it, this is what I found on the bottom of the nest. I tossed this out in a tied plastic bag in a waste can away from the nestbox.

BLUEBIRD TRAILS: MAINTENANCE IS KEY!

A monitor’s day out on a bluebird trail is very well reflected in Bluebird Bob’s poem, which I have posted on this site on another page.  It’s worth repeating here, then read on regarding my trail notes from Saturday, June 12:

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.

Between some thundershowers, I was able to carefully and methodically visit all my boxes this weekend.  My findings were two boxes that successfully fledged young bluebirds for first brood, those adult bluebirds have not returned to those boxes.   Part of my theory is a fast growth (since last trail check) of weeds and thatch near and around the pole.  Within one week, morning glory (a fast-growing ivy) grew and attached itself not only to the pole but to the stovepipe guard all the way past the hardware cloth at the top—all in one week’s time!   Other weeds, like milkweed and thorny growth type plants have inundated some of those poles.  This is telling me to visit my trail at least every 3-4 days, not once a week. I like this schedule better also to get a better idea how the birds are doing and what they are doing.  I look to see both male and female, where they are watching me from, if the nestbox is in the sun or shade depending on time I am there, etc.   I look for any possible tree branches that may be reaching too close to a box, if any trees are nearby.  Two boxes had ants move in, which I treated.  A bluebird couple found another nestbox I installed not far that was empty and moved in.   I believe it was the same couple in the box before those ants came around.  I look around the base of the pole to see what’s there, if anything of interest….pests or any claw prints from a feral cat or raccoon or even a possible sign of a snake.  I try to keep the materials around the base of the pole as dirt.  If the pole is in a mowed lawn, that is not possible, obviously.  I have no intentions in ruining a resident’s lawn who allows me to install a box.

The maintenance of a bluebird trail requires commitment and patience.  In my humble opinion, no matter how hard it can be sometimes to see failure and why that failure occurred, by keeping my commitment and monitoring the trail AS NEEDED despite my busy schedule can allow me to do so, the birds are FIRST, not my schedule.  The purpose of the trail is to help the birds succeed.  If I don’t monitor and do the maintenance to keep the boxes safe, clean, and habitable, the birds can fail in reproducing young and having successful “HELLO WORLD!” fledglings to care for as they learn to be adult birds and be on their own.   Keeping detailed trail notes is fun for me.  I enjoy it.  I keep my clipboard on my car seat and write my notes upon returning to the car.  I keep them on file from year to year, and it’s good education for me to go over how the years did prior to this one as comparisons.   Ants and a very heavy thatch/weed growth is a first for me.  Also first for me is blowfly infestations in first-brood nesters.  Thankfully, the larvae showed up late as the babies were about to fledge and not harmed.  Though weeds grow, I think the heavy rains, many of them, has told all those weeds to keep on coming!  Weeds can’t talk, but they sure read water.  Weeds love water and sun, but it seems more water that comes down, the faster they grow, like any plant.   Since I am in a rural community, many of my boxes can only be maintained and ground cover kept to a minimum by me.   We don’t want predators having easier access to a quick lunch to a bluebird nestbox that is built, installed, and monitored for the purpose to fledge native cavity-nesting birds, specifically the Eastern Bluebird.   A clean, slick conduit and predator guard is important.  If I allow unmonitored boxes, my time is wasted, and so are the nesting bluebirds.   It’s like playing a practical joke on the birds.  Thinking of it that way makes me realize my efforts are worth it.

I am pleased to report I do have repeat nesters in some of the same boxes, treated for future blowfly larvae in advance of hatchings; therefore, I am looking forward to hatchings for second brooders.   Females are incubating those eggs now.   The females are so sweet.   When I know I have incubating females, my trail visits are in the mid-afternoons when she is more likely to leave the nest to get a break from the box and find some food and fresh air.  One female looked at me, and I gently said hello and she flew off the nest.  I could take my mirror and do my egg count.  It gives me such pleasure to also inspect a pine needle nest or a grass nest occupied by an incubating female who seems happy with her box and confirm that the nest is clean and clear of parasites and is dry, too.  If a nest stays dry after rains, that is a good sign my nestbox is constructed properly!   Every year I monitor (and I still consider myself a NEW bluebirder!), I learn something new.  I hope this page helps share with others the importance of keeping an eye out on our bluebird boxes (to put it mildly) helps them succeed, and the rewards we monitors get back are great.  Though my trail is not a big one, it’s what I can consistently monitor.  I do not want to put more boxes up with a commitment to monitor them and keep statistics for the VBS and then fail doing so because it’s too much to do.

A quick note regarding my “two-hole mansion” test page and findings.   It was determined within the last two weeks that bluebirds and house sparrows are battling somewhat to nest in that box.  So far, the house sparrow is winning attempts to build there (and I continue to remove those materials).  The good news is the bluebird male is still attempting to get that box—and that’s what the test is about!   I will continue to remove the house sparrow nest materials to see if the male bluebird can win over that box.

Comments here always welcomed.   Please do so–I encourage you to do so.  (Spam never makes it to my site, thanks to WordPress which hosts my site.  Good job, WordPress!)  All comments come to me privately first and not posted without my review.  Your Email address remains private to me only and will never be displayed publicly on this site.  You can write to me through the comments section.  If you prefer NOT to have your question, inquiry, or comment posted on this site, just indicate so, and I will not post it.  However, by leaving your name and Email address, I can write back to you privately.  It also deters spammers!   Thank you for your time to read my website.  I appreciate the support.

TRAIL RESPONSIBILITIES: RESOLVING PROBLEMS

FLOYD AND PATRICK COUNTIES:  LEARN TO MONITOR AND MANAGE A NESTBOX!  I am available to train you….call me and leave message at (703) 919-4302 if interested.   I specifically cover Patrick and Floyd Counties, VA, for the Virginia Bluebird Society as County Coordinator.

I am seeking monitored boxes for stats to include to the VBS.   These stats go to the North American Bluebird Society, as well.  Please let me include your nestboxes.  Learn how rewarding bluebirding can be, even ONE nestbox.   Include your box (or sponsor one through the VBS!) in my trail stats for Virginia!  It’s fun and very rewarding.  I love to train!

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This is an important post at this stage of my trail.  The latest as of June 3, 2010:

During first broods this nesting season, I had THREE  FIRSTS on my trail.

1.  Ants. First time on my trail.  I will use vaseline at the base of the pole and underneath the stovepipe guard for those locations I’ve found these little black ants (not fire ants).

2.  Blowfly larvae on FIRST broods–first ever on my trail–usually it’s on the second broods.   All bluebird babies fledged OK for first broods since the nestlings were older when the larvae first appeared.   I am using the organic Diatomaceous Earth (very fine powder) to puff inside the nesting material and underneath the nests to keep the larvae from climbing onto the nestlings at night.   I have my goggles, mask, and pest pistol to administer this powder.  See a previous post below on DE.   Someone asked me one time why the bluebirds don’t eat the larvae–it’s because they hide at the bottom and inside the nesting material by day while the parents feed the nestlings.  At night, when the parents aren’t entering the nestboxes to feed their nestlings (from dawn to dusk about 5 times per hour!) is when the larvae crawl up and latch onto them to feed on the nestlings’ blood (like mosquitoes).  If these larvae aren’t removed or killed off, the nestlings will get anemic and cannot develop properly to fledge–most nestlings will die in the nest for lack of nutrition and muscle strength.  We monitors must keep this from happening in our nestboxes. We cannot control this in natural cavities for obvious reasons, but we CAN in our nestboxes, which is why a NESTBOX MUST NEVER BE INSTALLED AND THEN NOT MONITOR THOSE BOXES.   It is part of the responsibility of installing even one nestbox in our back yard.  Monitoring is not difficult but it does take training.  Monitoring has its huge rewards when we help the birds succeed.  Why do we want to set them up to fail?  (I certainly do not.)

3.  Ticks (on me!): I am prepared on next trail check with my camp hat, two tick sprays (one on skin and one for clothing (a non-deet spray made by Coleman), and will have to wear a light windbreaker, even on hot days,  in some areas of my trail to keep ticks off my arms and neck.  My last two trail visits, I found ticks on me….thankfully early before they latched into my skin.   We must be careful out there.

Good sites on ticks ( click to enter or cut and paste in browser):

http://www.canlyme.com/ticks.html

http://webpages.charter.net/balplanman/_MicPix/Ticks/Ticks.html

Above:  Photo of American Dog Tick--this is what I found on me, not the Deer Tick that carries the dreaded Lyme Disease.  I am now better prepared to ward off these pests during trail checks!
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Some interesting additional trail notes as of June 3, 2010:

I have one box so far as of trail check on June 3 with a completed pine-needle nest and two laid eggs.  This weekend is my goal to administer the powder before the female is incubating the completed clutch of eggs.   By puffing or “poofing” small amounts of the DE inside the nesting material and at the bottom, it should not risk the female or nestlings any harm by the powder getting on them directly.

I believe the other nesters after first fledgings delayed building nests for second broods due to the large number of thunderstorms (only my theory from experience) in our area.  I think they are starting their second nests now, and I’ll be checking my trail more than once a week (about every 4 days if I can, weather permitting).

I do have my two-hole test site in past weeks with House Sparrows; however, I’m seeing some changes with a territorial battle between an unidentified brown bird (House Sparrow or House Wren) with a bluebird.   See my test site page for updates on that.

Only one other box has nesting House Wrens. I positively ID’s successfully 6 laid HOWR eggs in that box.  These birds, when nesting, are protected and therefore the nest must be left alone.  I doubt these birds will bother another box with bluebirds.

I do need to cut back some weedy growth on some of my poles in rural locations.

I have found more insect issues this year–I am attributing it to the amount of rains we’ve had.  Perhaps I am incorrect on that.   The only pest problem that is not as bad this year are paper wasps and mud dauber wasps–though they are here, they aren’t bothering my boxes as much this year.

BLUEBIRD PRESENTATION, MAY 27, 2010, Reynolds Homestead

UPDATE:   There is a possibility of a REPEAT of this presention in Fall 2010.  Will keep you posted.

INVITATION!   JOIN ME…PRESENTATION/WORKSHOP ON BLUEBIRDS!

Designed for beginners in bluebirding and how to use properly use nestboxes and monitor those nestboxes for success.

by Christine Boran

Thursday, May 27, 2010 – 7 PM

Location:  The Reynolds Homestead, Critz, VA

See May 2010 Newsletter, Page 2, below for information: http://www.reynoldshomestead.vt.edu/Newsletter.html

Directions/Map to the Reynolds Homestead: http://www.reynoldshomestead.vt.edu/map.html

SOME TRAIL NOTES

NOTABLE WEEKLY WHBBT UPDATES:

May 29 — I was disappointed not to find second-brood nesters just yet.  We have had some strange weather lately–hard rains, thunderstorms, and flash flooding warnings.  Today was a break with some sun for my trail checks.  There ARE still two boxes I need to check but I ran out of time.  I’ll go back tomorrow to check those.  Some of the empty boxes from the first broods had the beginnings of small tiny black ants!  This is a “first” for me on my trail.  I treated the boxes, will return again sometime this Holiday weekend to make sure they are clean and dry and will apply vaseline at the bottom of the poles to deter the ants to crawl back up.

So far no more paper wasp or mud dauber wasp problems in my boxes this season.   It’s not as bad this season as last season for some reason.  I also found out recently the Cornell’s hosted Bluebird-L bluebird list has ended, and the group has moved over to Yahoo Groups.  I’ll be getting on that today–been delayed in getting things done.   Now that my presentation/workshop at the Reynold’s Homestead is behind me, I can catch up a little.   I am very happy with my PowerPoint presentation, displays, and handouts.   It was hard work to get it all together, but it’s worth it when I know it helps others understand more the content of proper bluebirding.  I am prepared with my DE applications for the second nests to keep blowfly larvae from bothering baby birds!  So….see you next update, in about a week.