Sitting quietly and comfortably awaiting me to finish my monitoring task at their nest. I’m sure they are hungry and waiting for Mom and Pop Bluebird to bring them some good things to eat!
First set to hatch for 2013. Three of six NEW bluebirds in my world. Look at that big feather in there.
This native species is very shy and stealth and sensitive to intruders. However, check out how one female CACH laid all her eggs in the cup and left them wide open with no “blanket” over them and the other buries them under the hair and fur blanket to hide them from potential predators. Even this picture I took is a result of my finger very carefully pulling back the hairs so I could count the eggs. I put the hairs back over them the way she left them after I took this photo and quickly secured and left the area of the nestbox.
This gal did not want to budge at TWO VISITS. Finally, I got the egg count yesterday — 5 Eggs.
EGG-CITE FOR WHITE!
WHITE BLUEBIRD EGGS? It happens. Approximately 5% laying female bluebirds are missing the pigment gene to color the eggs blue as they pass through her oviduct. The eggs are just as fertile, generally, as the blue ones. Note the slightly pinkish hue. I’ve seen them before actually pure white. When I first saw those feathers, I thought Tree Swallows. But no, they are bluebirds. There are not enough of the right feathers for TRES and I saw the pair in the tree above me anyway. To read up more about white bluebird eggs, here is a great page for that: http://www.sialis.org/whiteeggs.htm
Grant money helps pay for these live video nestcam boxes to be installed for educational purposes in Virginia schools — thanks to the Virginia Bluebird Society. Here is one I have worked with recently in getting installed at a local school. To be continued…..this is really fun! It will run nonstop for the whole school to enjoy! Is that not the coolest thing to have a live nature cam at school? All native cavity-nesters are welcome! Wish I was a kid there.
Want to learn more about the grant program with VBS? Click here: http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/about-vbs/grant-programs/
The Carolina Chickadee (CACH) loves nestboxes! That is the species of chickadee we have here. They only have one brood per year–many times they win over a nestbox with the bluebirds. But you see, that is A-OK….all native species are welcome. Manmade nestboxes; that is, those that are monitored and cared for, are prime real estate for the cavity-nesting birds! Chickadees seem to struggle to survive. Ornithologist are still studying why their numbers seem to be declining. In some areas, they are thinking West Nile Virus is the culprit. Loss of habitat, predators, and other reasons has been known–just like bluebirds. I’m waiting for the chickadee eggs to be laid. The cup is in the upper right corner of this photo. The chickadee can build a nest quickly but seem to take more time to get to the egg laying cycle. Just look at all those plant and animal fibers! Mosses, grasses, small dried leaves…so many interesting articles in the nest.
This Mrs. Bluebird says a big “Hiya! Do you see me?” along the bluebird trail. She’s liking her nesting digs and seems to appreciate getting some attention here. No fear at all, can you tell? This weathered box is about 15, possibly 20 years old. Painted white and looking rather pretty weathered, actually. Fledging young successfully will be priority this season. I will report my findings to the owners–adjustments will be made, if necessary.
This gal was fertile! 6 eggs are looking mighty fine.
This pretty lady says “No way am I budging!” …. brave one she is. I took the photo and decided to count the eggs in this clutch on another day. I will not force her from her important Mom duties. When I left the box, I thanked her for her patience with me. This was taken on Friday, April 12, 2013, in a top-opening nestbox.
First egg laid April 5, 2013. Compared to last year, the first egg laid on the trail was March 8, 2012! The birds waited for the weather to improve–much colder this spring. I can wait–no rushing these pretty blues.
I’m hearing bluebirds — nest building is in full swing! Happy Spring! Finally it is here.
Coming soon…..”what’s in my bag?” upcoming post….photos and explanations of what I carry with me when I monitor the bluebird trail. A work in progress–there will be three parts to this series on this topic:
~ Part 1 (first post) is the bag I use and what’s in the bag and why I carry the items on every nestbox check.
~ Part 2 (second post a few days later) will be what I keep in the car on most nestbox visits (but not always carried to each box when monitoring them).
~ and Part 3 (third and probably the last post in the series ) will be the extra stuff to keep on hand, if needed — what I found helpful to have around for different circumstances…and why.
Every monitor has tools they like the best–for different reasons. Not everyone will be the same. Some tools might be what every monitor will always have. This will be mine–am happy to share with you what I like to use. I started monitoring nestboxes in 2006 and 2007. The Woolwine House Bluebird Trail started February 2008. As the monitor and caretaker of this trail and after all these years and experiences, I’ve tweaked my bag. Stay tuned! Here is a sneak preview–the bag I’ve used thus far that really works for me! It’s new–just purchased it this winter. Bottom line: use what works for you! The point is: MONITOR your nestboxes. Use the tools to make it work for you. The native cavity-nesting birds need you to do so to help them succeed in case there are problems with the manmade nestbox you put up for them. Do you need more info on monitoring? Here is a great place to start (North American Bluebird Society Fact Sheet on Monitoring) — PDF file is downloadable and printable! http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/PDF/FAQ/NABS%20factsheet%20-%20Monitoring%20-%2024May12%20DRAFT.pdf
That party started on the bluebird trail a week ago with 4 of the 33 nestboxes getting some of those wonderful bluebirds building nests. However, the creation of those nests have stopped (at least in one of the 4 boxes per a check yesterday) due to the spring party being postponed a tad. We’re getting sleet, snow, and ice. Heavy flakes floating here and there and sticking. Indeed, it’s is very pretty. The bluebirds and other nesters are saying, “we need to go back to roosting mode. I’m not raising my kids in this cold weather!”
…. and so we humans will wait until they are ready. What the birds decide is A-OK with me!
It is recommend not to install perches on nestboxes for bluebirds. You’ve seen them–the small cylinder pieces of wood added right underneath a birdhouse’s entry hole. They are not really necessary, and the bad news about them is perches can serve the predators by allowing some extra leverage for them to sit by the entry hole and pull out eggs and baby birds! Even wrens and chickadees and most cavity nesters don’t need perches. Take a look at these two photos I took of this male Eastern Bluebird sitting and investigating this nestbox at — and on – this Noel Guard (made from hardware cloth). Question: is this a perch? The answer is: No….it’s a porch! Do the bluebirds mind these guards? Not only do they like “mind” them — they like them! I’ve had nothing but great results using them. Same answer for the other cavity-nesting birds using bluebird nestboxes. They have no issues with these guards. This “cat and raccoon” guard (originally designed by a gentleman by the name of Jim Noel) are also guards to ward off some avian predators, as well — starlings, hawks, owls, jays, etc. I’ve used the vinyl-coated hardware cloth–like the coated better than the plain galvanized hardware cloth — smoother for the birds’ feet and feathers and easier on human hands during the building process. What you see in this picture is plain galvanized. Once you’ve lost bluebird babies and adults to predators inside your backyard bluebird nestbox or on your bluebird trail, you will realize how this guard adds added safety and success to the occupants raising their young until they fledge from the box and into the world.
See how to make them here: http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/BB_Guards_12-11-2012.pdf
The link below will connect you to a video of a nestbox on my bluebird trail that had a “critter” nest in it — turned out not be a mouse nest but a squirrel (could get in by using overhanging branches as a bridge). Once a rodent-type mammal occupies a nestbox, the inside of the box has to be thoroughly scraped and “sanitized” using a bleach-water solution, rinsed again, and allowed to dry. Birds will not use a nestbox that has been soiled by rodents. Additionally, I had to move this once successful box to a new location. Too much brushy plants from scrub trees and morning glory kept growing up near and around the pole and through the stovepipe baffle and into the nestbox! It was too difficult to maintain it–too much energy to keep cutting back the overgrowth. The first three years, this installation would have 2-3 broods of bluebirds. The last three years had none. It was time to make a change–the bluebirds did not like the brushy surroundings in spite of it being near an open field. This is why we trail managers have to make periodic changes to the nestbox locations. One time, a great location was lost due to construction of a parking lot. That was a disappointment for me as that box was highly successful. The good news is in a rural area like where I live, it’s fairly easy to find new places to install moved nestboxes; ther e are many wonderful property owners who support my efforts! I am willing to work with the people and the birds to keep everyone happy — including myself, in there, last but not least, of course!
Video link –click below:
Here is photo of the same nestbox below (moved from that location):
BLUEBIRD – by Naturalist John Burroughs (1827-1921)
A wistful note from out the sky,
‘Pure, pure, pure,’ in plaintive tone,
As if the wand’rer were alone,
And hardly knew to sing or cry.
But now a flash of eager wing,
Flitting, twinkling by the wall,
And pleadings sweet and am’rous call,-
Ah, now I know his heart doth sing!
O bluebird, welcome back again,
Thy azure coat and ruddy vest
Are hues that April loveth best,-
Warm skies above the furrowed plain.
The farm boy hears thy tender voice,
And visions come of crystal days,
With sugar-camps in maple ways,
And scenes that make his heart rejoice.
The lucid smoke drifts on the breeze,
The steaming pans are mantling white,
And thy blue wing’s a joyous sight,
Among the brown and leafless trees.
Now loosened currents glance and run,
And buckets shine on sturdy boles,
The forest folk peep from their holes,
And work is play from sun to sun.
The downy beats his sounding limb,
The nuthatch pipes his nasal call,
And Robin perched on tree-top tall
Heavenward lifts his evening hymn.
Now go and bring thy homesick bride,
Persuade her here is just the place
To build a home and found a race
In Downy’s cell, my lodge beside.
One of the joys of being a County Coordinator for the Virginia Bluebird Society or any bluebird conservation group is getting nestbox monitors in your area to send you photos! Here are two recent photos sent to me after the Christmas 2012 ice storm in Floyd County, Virginia. As I studied the pictures, I could see several bluebirds sitting on and inside the iced branches of the pretty pine tree next to the nestbox. Upon reading her notes, I am thinking several of the bluebirds piled inside that nestbox during the storm for shelter and to use their bodies huddled close together to keep warm. I need to write to her and ask her to look inside this box and tell me what she finds. Since bluebirds eat mostly fruits in the winter (what fruit is still available at this time of year!), what is left behind inside a nestbox they roost in can help a person see what they are eating–generally bluebirds leave small seeds–not a huge mess at all. I think she told me last year that she puts out roasted mealworms. It really helps the birds during very cold and harsh weather like this to feed them. I put out “bluebird nuggets”, a softer, smaller suet mix made in the size of peas, rich in protein, fat, and fruit — made especially for bluebirds, but most birds will enjoy the nuggets. I mix those with the roasted mealworms and soaked cut-up raisins, which softens them up and is easier for them to eat. I will be ordering live mealworms shortly. I am sharing the two photos the monitor, Karen, sent me. I took the photo of the iced nestbox (you see to the right) and cropped it so you can see it closer. Thanks, Karen, for sharing! It’s tough being a bluebird. Thanks to those keeping your nestboxes up during the winter — it provides shelter to roosting birds during bad (and very cold) weather! I also included a photo I took of the mix I put out, specifically made for bluebirds. This photo does not include live mealworms, which I will be ordering shortly. Presently as of today’s date, we are in a major frigid snap. VERY COLD for birds. Really, it’s tough being a bird in the winter. Happy bluebirding!!
ABOUT THOSE LIVE MEALWORMS:
Good places to order live mealworms: …. or raise your own! It’s much cheaper to raise them. There are more good places to order online. These give you a 10% discount if you are a North American Bluebird Society (NABS) member. You might have places in your location that will sell them cheaper (locally grown). Do some research about it. Live Mealworms are the bluebirds favorite of all.
The Nature’s Way: http://www.thenaturesway.com/
I have also ordered from Fluker Farms (without the NABS discount): http://www.flukerfarms.com/
This website commenced while I was teleworking to my Northern Virginia position from my relatively new home in Southwest Virginia. My first official post on this website/blog was dated May 25, 2007! That was quite a while ago! The story of that first post consisted of me looking out my office window and seeing bluebirds and what a distraction it was that afternoon from getting any work done!
I thought it was time to change the look of this site. I hope you like it. I spent some hours looking at different designs. I wanted a crisp, clean feel, easy to read and follow, and easy for the readers to maneuver around it. I decided I didn’t want too much fancy and fluff because, really, it’s the birds I want to highlight, not my website design choice. I am particularly fond of being able to customize the backgrounds to the pages as well as the usual changes to the main header photo. It is also now “mobile friendly”. I’m going to have fun with the new feel. Do leave a note here on this post if you have any suggestions. And while you’re at it, let me know if there is something in particular you are thinking about bluebirds you would like to know more about and see discussed here. I’m here to assist the best I can. I love talking about the bluebirds, as you probably already figured out.
Before we know it, those males will be out and about checking out nestboxes!
Whoa, is it January 10th? This is going to be a bluebird afternoon!
Happy New Bluebird Year! I’m working on my next presentation to be shared with a local Ruritan Club and re-installing a repaired nestbox. My expanded trail–33 nextboxes–must be checked this month to be sure they are ready by February 1. Mixed flocks of bluebirds start to separate and the males establish breeding territory. In February–varies on the date every year–I enjoy anticipating the watching of that first male entering in and out of the manmade cavity and showing his lady love some new, cool digs and watching her accept it–then those first nesting materials to be dropped inside, which I watch for and date in my notebook–mostly the female does but he helps! Will they be grasses, pine needles, or both? That varies on the female and the habitat. Usually it is one or the other — either all grass or all pine needles, but I’ve seen some mixed together. Generally, if the pine needles are available, it appears that is the favorite material to be used.
Last year was the record-breaker for me since I started watching and monitoring my Eastern Bluebirds in 2006. Last year, the first nest-building commenced on (or even before) March 1st; that nest was completed and had its first egg laid by March 8! That was the day I actually started checking all the boxes for activity on the trail for the season. That was a pleasant surprise–I still remember it well. This year,I will start checking them for action much earlier. Since we’ve had a fairly mild winter so far, this “early-bird-catches-the-worm” bluebird attitude and activity could very well repeat itself!
I’m excited about my expanded bluebird trail. Yes, more work; yes!, more records to keep. It’s still a joy to do it and even cooler for me personally to have more records to compare notes. Here is a photo (below) I took September 2012 of some new installations ready to be loaded in the car–I like September to do this as shade is still coming forth from those trees — I install all (or most) new nestbox setups in afternoon shade as much as possible in the habitat that I think will work the best.
Have any questions? Join us on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail on Facebook! …. it is a great place to have a discussion with others or ask your questions for quicker responses. Happy bluebirding!
The summer is over and the autumn prep continues on the bluebird trail. I don’t just soap the ceilings in early spring to deter wasps; I also soap any new nestboxes fresh out of the workshop and installed in late summer through autumn before winter sets in. Here is why. In my location, we can still have warm days in late October into November. One autumn day few years ago, I found this mud dauber wasp species(see photo below) and some spiders building nests in corners of the nestboxes by the ceiling. This happened after the nesting season was completed and no more birds were using the nestboxes. Unoccupied nestboxes can get re-occupied fast by other species. After all, it’s a “house”. It has a roof. Fresh wood is attractive to insects to overwinter (like the mud dauber wasp does) and for spiders’ cottony webs, an easy stick to untreated wood. My method of soaping comes from my days as a kid remembering how goopy soap bars can get in soap dishes, even with just a little water that collects in the bottom of the dish. So I create a soap (think paste) mixture using gentle Ivory soap. I put two small bars of the Ivory brand bars in a plastic Ziploc container (not a Ziploc bag) that has a screw-top which is leakproof and add a little water. I use a pastry brush to create the perfect thin soap paste to then “paint” on the inside walls and ceilings of nestboxes (I do this in spring for all nestboxes and fall for new nestboxes). This deters insects from adhering their nests to the wood. When I soap, I also soap the outside sections underneath the nestbox floors. This is particularly helpful in the summer. I’ve had carpenter bees try to bore holes on the undersides of the nestboxes. The photos below show my method. I find this way so much easier and less hassle than taking bar of Ivory soap and attempting to rub it on the ceiling with my hand–it’s awkward. It does not cover well and it’s difficult to get in those corners by the ceiling. By the way, I should mention if boxes are soaped in the spring, I need not add another thin soap layer UNLESS it’s problematic and has recurring wasp problems. I’ve found I can paint a thin layer on or around March 1 (maybe earlier in warmer weather), and most nextboxes are good to go through the full nesting season. I don’t have to reapply any soap again (such as between each nesting). The goal is to have as many nestings in a nestbox in a season. Once wasps, hornets, and bees use a nestbox, the birds will not. Some incubating females have been known to abandon a nest with a clutch of eggs. My philosophy is DETER the problems; thus I soap all my nestboxes in the spring–hopefully just one application is needed.
Other for preparing the nestboxes for roosting birds for those cold winter nights, my tasks for the nestboxes will be completed until next February, anticipating yet another nesting season in Southwest Virginia on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail — now at 30 monitored and maintained nestboxes with the trail expansion recently completed. I might increase it to 33!
WHAT A SEASON! – WOOLWINE HOUSE BLUEBIRD TRAIL — WOO-HOO FOR BLUE!
The TRAIL FINAL RESULTS FOR 2012 – SEPTEMBER 4, 2012
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 (death of one or both parent bluebirds), or death due to excessive heat, 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 those bluebird nests (eviction).
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 nestling deaths and unhatched eggs! …. fourteen (14) dead nestlings and 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 fledged 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 for 2012; however, House Wren dummy nests were built in those boxes, so that data is not included for this year. 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 because of that location turned into new a 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.
What I have learned, will continue doing, and will do differently:
1. Blowfly Deterrence–a chronic issue on the trail: I will continue my careful application of diatomaceous earth to the bases and centers of nest materials in completed nests, BEFORE eggs are laid if possible. I will continue this successful method along with creating hardware cloth bases for ALL nestboxes for future years. Note: The hardware cloth bases will be added after a partial nest is started or after completion of a nest. I will not leave them inside vacant nestboxes. The reason behind this is so that the female will not be confused by the bases. The purpose of adding them is for air circulation on the bottom of the nesting material in nests infested with blowfly larvae. This will also give me access to brushing out dead larvae that fall through the bases to the wood floors underneath.
2. Monitoring: I will continue, if possible, twice-a-week monitoring–all will depend on weather and other factors, of course. This is the ideal schedule for me. I get accurate records (those dates!) and better chances to troubleshoot issues and problems and possibly be able to save baby bluebirds by doing so instead of ONCE a week. This is not always possible for every nestbox, and I’m happy with once-a-week checks. Experience has told me how I lose control of monitoring nesting cycles if I let two weeks pass by without checks. This will happen “once in a blue moon” due to illness or severe weather. Another goal for monitoring is to find a back-up person who knows my trail in advance and is willing to step in and help me monitor in the event I cannot (such as hospitalization, as an example). I plan on contacting the Virginia Master Naturalist program in my area to get a volunteer or two who is looking for building up their own volunteer hours for certification in the program. See info on the Virginia program here: http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org/
3. Installations of More Nestboxes: The trail is expanding! I expect to have 30 nestboxes for 2013, and will expand to 40 nestboxes by 2014–IF THAT IS POSSIBLE (that’s the key!). I will stop at 40. I cannot effectively monitor more than 40. I may find 30 is my limit. At that time, and I know I have my limit to what I can take care of, I will conduct further outreach to train others to monitor the boxes by themselves on their own premises and to just submit their data to me. I am realistic about this–as much as I encourage it and I will train, I do not want anyone to feel “obligated” — this is a big commitment. However, a back yard bluebirder who has one or two nestboxes will find it’s not as complicated as it seems at first–usually they will find they get great joy out of doing it through a little experience, and that it is fun! If two predator guards are used, there will be less risk to the birds and more success in monitoring the birds, as opposed to finding deaths due to predation (which is not pleasant to deal with, no matter what the predation is). My point still stands: Manmade nestboxes is not true nature. A natural cavity is. If man puts up a nestbox and invites birds to use it, it is my position to make it as safe for the birds for DETERRING predators and not inviting predators to get the birds. What is the point of taking effort to put up housing and then setting the birds up to fail at successful breeding? The purpose in this effort is “bluebird conservation”. ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: I assure you if I had too many failures in fledging baby bluebirds, I would not be doing what I am doing today. That is how I know deterring predators is the right thing to do. Natural cavities also have predators, but man cannot and is not involved in that true setting of nature. That I accept when it comes to bird losses. However, it’s been proven for many years now that the bluebirds have suffered through the years, their numbers declined almost to an extinction, in past. It hasn’t been until the 1970′s when the nestbox projects took off that bluebirds have proven to come back to healthy numbers. That math is good enough for me. It is not just the loss of habitat to building of housing developments and sprawl, removal of snags on farmland, parks, meadows, and even back yards, usage of pesticides and herbicides (RoundUp) killing adult birds and young or causing them to hatch deformed — but it is the introduction of non-native species of birds – The English House Sparrow and the European Starling that prey on our native cavity-nesting birds, destroy their eggs and young, and take over the natural cavities that do remain in North America. The starlings will strip all fruit food sources in minutes from a tree or shrub. Read on more about this here: http://www.nps.gov/miss/naturescience/bluebird2.htm
4. Nestboxes in Afternoon Shade! This is my #1 priority for future installations–if it is possible for the new sites. After this horridly hot summer in Southwest Virginia, I saw nestlings suffer in the heat, attempting to breathe and keep cool. Thankfully, I did not have many nestling deaths due to the heat. Good ventilation in the nestboxes is the reason most survived. I will also make a few heat shields for 2013 to have ready for emergencies. I will try to make them inexpensively but easy to install for the few boxes in full sun in the event of excessive heat. By installing future boxes in afternoon shade, I can eliminate this problem altogether. This is why I want to get my boxes installed this month–while the leaves are still on the trees and I can see where the shade will fall. Installing heat shields is only a last resort. The less boxes in full sun, the better, as far as I’m concerned. This is not always possible, however.
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 couple of House Wren attacks at a location of two nestboxes, chickadees fighting bluebirds over nestboxes at a 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 very successful last year in fledging birds and the years before (average 2-3 broods fledging bluebirds). Therefore I will not move these two boxes 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 large and larvae too strong 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:
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 nestbox—evicted the other female or perhaps the first female abandoned the nest or was killed. The eggs were not destroyed, and I was able to retrieve them upon cleaning the nestbox after the nesting cycle was completed.
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. Interestingly, I discovered this data late as I left the nest in the box thinking the female would come back and lay a new clutch. At first look inside the nest, I thought a snake had taken the nestlings. It turned out they died inside the nest, and were “covered up” by some nesting material. Because of the age of the deaths soon after hatchling (1-2 days), they could not be seen when I looked upon the nest with my mirror. It wasn’t until I removed the unoccupied nest a month later that I found the dead hatchlings while dissecting the nesting material.
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 on or before 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; therefore, no more data of fledged birds could be included from that nestbox in this year’s eggs and fledgings 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 to have snake predation. 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, unfortunately, died there. The other two nestlings survived the attack inside the nest and fledged. Both incidents this year is very unusual for this nestbox, which is in open habitat with beautiful white pines trees in front of it–not close to brushy areas, which attracts the wrens.
Interesting Data – Nestbox #13: This was a good box for bluebird habitat and had successful bluebird fledgings until past two years. This being a hay 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 of overhanging tree branches and vegetation growth, including fast-growing Morning Glory, 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, which makes it more difficult for parent bluebirds to stay close to the nests to find insects (bluebirds go to ground most of the time to pick up insects off the ground).
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 today. It makes me ponder if this is the same bluebird couple this year from last or perhaps bluebirds that fledged from it last year returned this year early to raise families in it.
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 (HOSP) attempted to nest in this area where the HOSP built nests and laid eggs (removed by me) in 2010 and 2011 which later bluebirds fledged one brood each year — this without me intervening with gadgets like Sparrow Spookers or HOSP trapping. A total of 12 bluebird young fledged this box this year, in spite of a blowfly issue in one nest and house wrens entering the nestbox while the bluebirds babies from Brood 3 were attempting to fledge. My first bluebird nesting material dropped inside was discovered on March 16 with a partial nest built. The first egg laid was March 27th. The third brood bluebirds fledged on August 14th! This is 5 months of bluebird activity! More information in detail and a summary report will be coming to the website to conclude this 3-year test, written by Linda Violett and me. I expect to have this online by end of September (or sooner). I have many thanks to make: to the homeowner who supported me in this nestbox project and to Linda Violett for mentoring and supporting me during this test. The nestbox will remain for 2013, with permission by the homeowner. This nestbox has proven to be the second most successful on the trail, not far behind Box #15 as the top producer of Eastern Bluebirds on my bluebird trail!
See my 3-year test results and Linda’s comments on the Violett’s Bluebirds website here: http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett/testwoolwine.html
Month of September 2012: Floyd and Patrick-VA
Hello Monitors! I am shouting out to all the wonderful people I work with in monitoring the birds that it is time to send in your nestbox data to me, please; while the information is still fresh and your trail data is close by on your desk and in your trail notebooks. As you know, as County Coordinator, I collect all data for compilation for the various organizations, specifically for the Virginia Bluebird Society, that keep the records permanently by County on Eastern Bluebirds and the other cavity-nesting birds using our manmade nestboxes. Thank you for all you do to help our local bluebirds! I’m very proud of all of you. Email me directly if you need my snail-mail address to send your two summary pages.
This is the time I’m really amazed at our birds and how they fight for survival and keep their fledglings fed and safe until they are on their own. It certainly shows how our accurate records help us, as caretakers, and the ornithologists in Virginia and beyond, gather and summarize trends on the health and status of our breeding birds.
(Due to technical errors in the WordPress original post today, I am reposting.)
Not only am I experiencing the emotional empty-nest syndrome but truly my last nestbox became empty, not to bluebirds fledging, but to a clutch of 4 unhatched eggs. I watched this female stay true on these eggs from July 24th through August 3oth. The female Eastern Bluebird laid and stayed on these eggs, turning them daily, with no hatching action. It was a strange experience for me, wondering why. I checked this nest almost every day, taking photos as the eggs were turned. It has become apparent she finally gave up and abandoned the nest. I removed the nest. NOTE in the photo below all the very large seeds from the late-summer berries she consumed that have been deposited inside the pine needle nest by this incubating female (see right side and underneath eggs). OK, so, I have plans for the eggs — nothing goes to waste! — they will go in the gorgeous cedar and Plexiglas “display nestbox” handmade for me by a very talented woodworker using the Virginia Bluebird Society’s suggested nestbox design. Once I place the eggs in the display, I will dissect this nest and count the number of seeds deposited by this female. I enjoy learning what does a late-in-the-season incubating Eastern Bluebird eat other than the overabundance of grasshoppers, katydids, beetles, spiders, moths, grubs, butterflies, and slowly-floating bumble and carpenter bees? Bluebirds eat mostly insects during the spring and continue throughout summer. As summer ends, more berries become available. Dogwood berries are red now and pokeweed berries have been available for several weeks. In winter months, depending on the locale, berries are the main diet since insects become less available in the colder weather. Bluebirds in the northern parts migrate south to have access to the berries available in the warmer winter climates. Most bluebirds in Virginia do not migrate and are year-round residents.
Empty-nest syndrome, for me, also includes the migration watch in spring and also in the late summer for our ruby-throated hummingbirds. I consistently make a gallon of sugar-water per day to accommodate the hundreds we have here at our house. Most have left and the migrators from the north are showing up, some singly, and some in numbers during stops. The overnight rests allow me additional joys as I watch the tiny, hovering, mystical fairies. Once they are gone, there is a somewhat bittersweet feeling of knowing nature is working and now I must wait to see them again. The miracles of nature will always comfort me as I continue the glorious days of living in the mountains of the Blue Ridge. House Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, and Eastern Bluebirds were the species in my nestboxes this year. Thankfully, the House Wrens caused minimal damage to bluebirds eggs laid this year. As always, the chickadees struggle to fledge successfully one brood per year. The past two years showed me how the chickadees seem to become more aggressive for nestbox usage with other species. This must be the survival instinct to procreate their species.
My website/blog here is under new material and layout of information. Since I’m expanding my trail to a goal of 30 nestboxes by February 2013, I am holding off posting photos of the nestboxes. More good news comes with the successful deterrence of House Sparrows using the Two-Holer Test Mansion, which fledged THREE BROODS OF EASTERN BLUEBIRDS! No House Sparrows attempted to nest this year, and the bluebirds won the territory of that nestbox! That is truly GOOD NEWS. That page on my site is currently being worked on for a summary of this 3-year test. I plan on revamping the TEST RESULTS page, and more. The Facebook page has become a great success—I’m finding it easier to post photos there as well as update followers. It allows others to ask questions and have me answer in an easier-to-use format.
As September is now upon us, I am collecting my own data, monitors in my two counties, and will be submitting these details soon to the Virginia Bluebird Society and others, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology. As I remember all the interesting details from this year from my trail and others, I will be sending through another post here to explain all the new interesting happenings. Year after year, there is always something new!
This has been the longest bluebird nesting season yet for the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail. The earliest egg laid was March 8, 2012. That means earlier nest building–probably that box claimed in February this year by the male and shown to his mate and gladly accepted–nest-building in late February-early March. I have several third broods going on presently. One female is still incubating a clutch of 4 eggs in Box #8. I expect hatching any day now—as a matter of fact, I will be checking that box today!
So I have more news and tidbits ….
The trail is expanding. I hope to have 30 nestboxes by spring 2013 installed within my community in perfect bluebird habitat. Perhaps the year after…or by mid-season 2013…even earlier I can have more than 30 nestboxes on my trail…..it could be more than 30. Can I monitor more than 30? That remains to be seen as I have driving to do here and there in my mountain community to monitor all the boxes properly. I also like to spend extra time watching the birds from my car to see interesting behaviors. I find monitoring about every 4-5 days creates a much better success rate in fledging baby bluebirds and for excellent care for the boxes, as I get more opportunities to “nip in the bud” those problems that arise. A question I keep asking myself: Can I monitor 40 boxes twice a week? I know many monitors monitor 50, 75, even 100 nestboxes. Are those boxes on a prescribed “route”, down a road that is easy to access from a vehicle? Do they have assistance from someone? Do they monitor once a week or more often? Maybe I can train others to do this in my locale on a volunteer basis. I need to call my local Chapter for the Virginia Master Naturalists and see if anyone is looking to fulfill volunteer hours for their certification. I hope to find someone to help me with this project I love so much. It is always good to have a backup in case I can’t monitor the trail for a few weeks. One never really knows if there will be an interruption for one reason or another. So! This is a new goal of mine for 2013. Note: I will never install more nestboxes than can be monitored at least once a week.
I have so many people to thank for making my bluebird trail possible. Many thanks are consistent going to Carl, my local neighbor who builds the nestboxes, helps me with moving boxes to new locations when needed, repairs to existing nestboxes and stovepipe baffles, and installations (pounding the conduit into the ground!), and general advice on just about anything. I also have the residents and businesses to thank for letting me install the nestboxes on their grounds and giving me access to the nestboxes for monitoring the birds and getting the records on paper in my notebook, maintenance and care of the nestboxes, and in late fall to prepare the nestboxes for roosting during cold winter nights and in early spring to prepare for the new nesting seasons, including soaping the ceilings to deter the paper wasps from building nests inside the nestboxes. I start this in mid-February and have them ready by March 1-15. These are people who support me and my bluebird endeavors! You ALL are appreciated—SO THANK YOU year after year! The bluebirds also are doing well because you give them a place to find that make it possible for them to raise families.
By monitoring twice a week—depending on weather, I also get much improved ACCURATE data, such as time between a completed nest cup to the time it takes for the female to lay the first and last egg in a single clutch. This will vary depending on weather and when she wants to lay. If I can get approximate hatching dates, this helps me know how the nestlings are developing. This in turn helps me get an accurate date of fledging dates. Did you know: a female bluebird can store sperm for about a month? …. as I learned recently while attending the North Carolina Bluebird Society’s annual conference May 2012. This was the most surprising fact I learned all-around in past years about bluebirds’ reproduction cycles and behaviors. I learned that from a fascinating lecture by Dr. Lynn Siefferman, Associate Professor at Appalachian State University. To read more about the past conference, see the NCBS’s newsletter online, dated Spring (May) 2012: http://www.ncbluebird.org/pdf/NCBS-BluebirdNotes-Spring2012.pdf
My next post in future will be about my experience attending the conference and questions I was asked at the table I had on behalf of the Virginia Bluebird Society at that conference. Joining these state bluebird societies are worth every penny–the memberships are inexpensive and it’s great to see how other bluebirders do what they do to assist successful nestings by these beautiful cavity-nesting birds.
My TEST Two-Holer Mansion project—a three-year test I’ve been conducting on bluebirds successfully holding territory in a House Sparrow location (competition) without trapping or gadgets is coming to full fruition of data showing this has worked. This has been such an interesting experiment. Many thanks to Linda Violett for her guidance on conducting this test these past 3 years. I like experimenting! It has been a pleasure for me to conduct this test. It has been quite a learning experience watching this actually work. Year three is about completed as I watch a third brood of bluebirds fledge babies. Presently, 7-day old baby bluebirds are developing in that test box. See Linda’s website on my test here: http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett/testwoolwine.html
Never a dull moment on this bluebird trail! Thanks for following the WHBBT! I can only hope you find this website interesting AND inspiring!
A man’s interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town.
- Letter, November 22, 1858, from Henry D. Thoreau to Daniel Ricketson, in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, 1906
Here is another 3rd brood–3 days old. Presently on the trail, I have four nestings on third broods! This bunch appeared a tad weak and hot yesterday. Growth size observed the same for all three nestlings. Both parent birds are very active in feedings. Good! Since only three here, there is more food for all. Will watch them closely–about every 2-3 days of “looking in” on them. Worried about another ” macho” bunch of blowfly larvae–have treated the nest for deterrence of larvae surviving while hidden inside the nest during the day. I have two clean unused grass nests saved similar to this one. I will use one for a possible emergency nest switch-out on next visit tomorrow. I ONLY micro-manage nestboxes where problems may be evident and only then. I let nature provide as much as I think will provide for the birds and intervene only when necessary. Sometimes it’s a tough call because time is of the essence in some circumstances. Photo taken July 27, 2012.
My efforts for blowfly larvae control in nests have been successful, until quite recently. This set of larvae were so strong and in large numbers, the nestlings became too anemic and weak to survive the amount of feedings they were ingesting from Mom and Pop Blue. They were 9 days old when death came knocking at their nestbox door. The last time I lost a whole brood to blowflies was Spring 2008. Not all happenings on the bluebird trail are happy ones. I will continue my two methods of control: (1) hardware cloth bases below nesting material (helpful but not as effective as the only method of control) and (2) the use of puffing some organic food-grade Diatomaceous Earth inside the center of the nesting material and underneath the nest on the wood floor of the nestbox before bluebird eggs hatch. The key is to eradicate the larvae while very young, right after they hatch, which nature usually times around the same time the birds’ eggs hatch. I had treated this nestbox with the DE, like I have all others. This year and at this nestbox, I must not have applied the right amount of the DE to take care of the number of hatched larvae to cause the damage they did. Below are a set of photos of different methods I’ve used in past and presently (applying DE) and another method of using leftover hardware cloth from making the Noel Guards for my boxes for the bases to slide underneath completed nests. Captions will explain the pictures. Warning: The last photo in this series is not a pleasant one. I cropped out the dead bluebirds, but I wanted you to see the larvae that killed this brood. You will note how large the larvae got, some gorged with blood, and a dead bumblebee–which obviously was the last-ditch effort of feeding the parent birds attempted to make for their 8-day old kids, too weak to eat. This is a good representation photo of what the larvae looks like when healthy and successful feeding on the nestlings at night. I had to dissect the pine needle nest to find this big patch of them.
Greetings from the trail. This has been a significant year for interesting data!
For a few examples, observations include how the nestlings survived in a three-day freeze snap after a warmer winter and earlier than usual egg laying, the number of unhatched eggs on my trail as well as other bluebirders around my locale, a loss of a nest site mid-season due to construction, no blowfly larvae infestations first two broods, the terrible heat the nestlings seems to be struggling with this summer, new nestboxes getting installed to expand the trail, and much more. I will be updating here, both on this main page as a new blog post as well as on the Two-Hole Mansion Test page, a results summary of the three year test as a success! … and WHY it succeeded. This will be formatted as an easy read of the explanation of why this test took place. Thanks goes to Linda Violett in California for her support these past three years on the Two-Hole Mansion Test in Southwest Virginia. She has been instrumental in mentoring and guiding me along the way through this test. She will be assisting me the summary report of the Virginia test at the close of this nesting season. If you haven’t seen Linda’s page for this test, please take a look and see this effort of how the bluebird is able to establish territory on his own in House Sparrow locations without the use of trapping or gadgets. It is a fascinating test. I’ve worked with Linda on this and I know it works. It is important to read about the Keys to Success that is necessary for this test to be conducted properly and to have the success we were looking for and attained. In my case, the test HAS been shown a success—truly I’m amazed. See link of the test page on Linda’s website below. MANY thanks to the homeowner who has been so cordial to have allowed me to continue this test at her property. There will be more information coming about this on the Facebook page for the trail, as well.
Linda’s Page on the test Mansion Two-Hole Nestbox on my trail: http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett/testwoolwine.html
There have been many questions and discussions I’ve received through my new Facebook page for the trail. Thank you for your participation. It’s a good place to ask questions and has made it quite easier for me to address the questions and issues much faster and easier for me and the followers. I’ve received 69 LIKES so far there. I appreciate the support. This website is under revamping and organization. I appreciate your patience as time permits me to update it. As things start to wind down now in July, I’ll be actively supplying more information here and reports. WordPress is a great program; I do need to delete some graphics and reorganize some so that the program continues to run smoothly.
I’m happy to also report I’ve spent some time in studies this past June and July to attain certification with Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources under the guidance of the Conservation Management Institute’s Ecologists as a new naturalist. I’ve completed the requirements of hours, both in classroom and field work and written and field exams, to attain the points necessary as a Certified Naturalist. Many thanks to those who supported me in this effort. It took me away from many things–worth every moment of my time, of course. I’m quite grateful I had this opportunity to be better educated about our natural environment and natural history including geology, culture, music, plant and tree species, how to use dichotomous keys for ID-ing species, learning about birds, bats, insects, herps, mammals, and so much more—specializing the focus on the Southern Appalachians. Many thanks to the Virginia Tech/CMI instructors and fellow students for leadership, support, and laughs through the learning process, some of it quite grueling. I told myself I could do this, and I did. I have been quite proud to be a part of this adventure—thanks to Primland in Meadows of Dan, VA, for hosting this course on the lovely Appalachian mountain acreage and natural surroundings. Please see this Virginia Tech news release, dated June 4, 2012. I highly recommend this to anyone in my area. It was worth it. See some photos below–the catch and study of the Cedar Waxwing in a mist net, Primland’s own Field Guide, and a photo I took at the overlook where I was staying during studies.
Here is a great photo of a black rat snake in action. Photo posted on the Roanoke Valley Bird Club’s (RVBC) website under their Bluebird Trail page: Source: http://www.roanokevalleybirdclub.com/Bluebird%20Trail.html
I talked with the person who took this picture (Mr. Earl Morris, RVBC active member and County Coordinator, Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS). It was witnessed this snake made three attempts to get past this stovepipe guard, unsuccessfully, and finally gave up. There were active bluebirds nesting inside this nestbox. This is a good example of how effective this design guard is to deter *most* ground-roaming critters. It is a wobbling stovepip (duct) guard, and it deters more than just snakes! It keeps other ground critters from getting up to the nestbox, too; not just the crafty black rat snake: raccoons, squirrels, mice, cats….to name a few. There are several places to get the design to build your own — inespensive to make:
Ron Kingston’s Famous and Effective Design online pages below:
March through end of May — this has been the busiest spring I’ve experienced in many years! While I’m updating several pages on my site with new material (Trail Nesboxes, 2-Hole Mansion Test, and Trail Results) and more, please be sure to check into my public page for the trail on Facebook. I’ve had great successes and a few failures already this season. The Facebook page is very easy to update and maintain–be sure to check in (joining Facebook is not a requirement–lurk all you want there, if you desire, to see the happenings). I like having it as a sidekick page to this main site for the purpose of quick updates and easy uploads of photos and posts when I cannot keep my main site updated as quickly. Facebook users have an easier place to ask questions and get answers faster. http://www.facebook.com/WoolwineHouseBluebirdTrail I will post another note here (copy of post sent to subscribers via Email) once this site has been completed with the updates. Thanks for your patience and understanding.
Hope you are having a wonderful early summer. Here is a picture I took on my trail on May 12………a very close look ….. “DOWN THE HATCH, PLEASE!” ….. some very hungry chickadee hatchlings.
I successfully removed (v e r y CAREFULLY, may I add!) one of the two unhatched eggs in week-old bludbird nestlings’ nest on April 3, 2012. I use a clean plastic spoon to do so. This photo represents size of egg to the spoon and my hand. Through the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VA DGIF), I have my name on the Federal Fish and Wildlife Permit for VBS County Coordinators (Wildlife Salvage Permit) to collect eggs and nests for certain protected cavity-nesting birds for displays for educational purposes and presentations. Permits are required for all possession of migratory bird specimens. I can’t tell you enough how helpful this is during my talks about bluebirds to be able to display these. It is fascinating for people to see the eggs close up–their size and color and relation to the nest size. If you’d like to read more about removing unhatched eggs, may I suggest the Sialis site, an outstanding website loaded with helpful information about cavity-nesting birds (thank you, Bet!): http://www.sialis.org/eggsunhatched.htm
First egg was laid March 8. They hatched March 26th. Here they are — they are 7 days old today. Three of the five eggs hatched. We’ve had very windy days, and I’ve been waiting for calmer days to attempt to remove the unhatched eggs. Sometimes Mama Bluebird will try to remove them or bury them deeper in the nest. Since the eggs are still on top of the nest, it is better for the chicks to get the eggs out of there. Now that the chicks are older and not as fragile and have some soft feathers developing, tomorrow I will go back to the box and use a small plastic spoon to remove CAREFULLY (gently!) what unhatched eggs I can reach without disturbing the babies and creating nervousness with Ma and Pa Bluebird. I saw both of them in the trees above me today, so I know both parents are caring for these little guys. I have a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries permit to salvage (collect) nests and eggs. I will use the unhatched eggs for educational displays.
I use three different mealworm feeders–not all at the same time and not at the same time of year–it will vary. The photo below is a metal “jailhouse” style feeder with a glass cup in the center. This is my favorite feeder because it keeps out larger birds that can dominate getting the goodies (jays, crows, etc.). It does take some training for the bluebirds to find this, but when live mealworms are in this cup and placed not far from their nestbox (not too close!), they usually find this because they perch in the pine trees above it. Carolina Wrens consistently feed out of this. My other feeders are an adjustable Droll Yankees domed feeder that I can move around on a shepherd’s hook, and the other is just an open glass cup on a stake. I like the domed feeder to train bluebirds to use it and then I can lower the dome to keep larger birds out later. It is also one I can put out in the open–rain will stay out and keep the mealworms dry. In the winter, sometimes I mix bluebird suet nuggets with soaked currants and freeze-dried mealworms to create a mixed “banquet”. Live mealworms work the best if you are willing to pay for them and keep them in your refrigerator (not as complicated or squeamish as some might think it is) or just learn to manage raising your own. That’s another topic another time. I have no interest in raising my own at this point. If you want to learn about growing your own mealworms, do check out the page on the Sialis site about doing so (Class 101–Raising Mealworms!):
My next goal is to set up my camera on my existing tripod (needs some repairs and I need a bigger one to support another heavier camera and lens) and take photos of birds taking some good food at this jailhouse feeder! I have already staked out where to do that so the birds can’t see me.
Bottom line, to keep bluebirds near you all year, do the following:
1. Plant NATIVE ornamental (not invasive species) berry-producing trees and shrubs so the bluebirds have winter food sources
2. Put out a nestbox or two and monitor them so the birds can successfully use them season after season
3. Display and maintain a clean bird bath (water source) year-round
4. Offer mealworms to entice them and keep them close (good for taking photos of the adults and fledglings which they feed for another month)
Additional important note about feeding mealworms: I am a firm believer in letting the birds do most of the work in finding food, particularly for the nesting babies. It is important that the growing nestlings get a VARIETY of food. We don’t want the bluebird parents to be spoiled by having mealworms offered 24/7. I look at mealworms as supplemental feeding. A few in the morning and a few in the evening is about right in my opinion. I whistle a tune when I fill up the cup. That trains them fast you’re bringing them some treats. I also enjoy watching the Chipping Sparrows hang loose on the outskirts of the feeder watching for any mealworms that drop on the ground!
It’s fun to see how the egg clutches look on my nestbox visits. Also, I watch to see how the female turns the eggs with her feet and how they change configuration for even incubation during those 14 days or so. Some eggs have white marks in them; others with spots of dried blood. When the eggs pass through the female’s oviduct, that’s when they are colored blue on the outer eggshell, through the pigmentation cells she has to allow this. Occasionally, white eggs will be laid in bluebird clutches. This means the pigmentation gene is missing during the egg-laying process. Here are some recent photos I’ve taken within the past two weeks of the clutches I’ve seen this year. You’ll see one photo (bottom right) required a mirror so I could see the set of eggs. This can be challenging to do it quickly and get the picture before the adults get too nervous that I’m at their nest. I try to make my nest visits as fast as possible and still get some good details! This nest was built quite high and she placed more grasses inside the pine needle nest. This is one of the reasons I enjoy other species using the boxes, not just bluebirds. It’s really entertaining, as well as educational, to see how the species differ in their nesting habits. I will be seeing the Carolina Chickadee and I’m hoping to see some Tree Swallows on my trail this year. They are marvelous birds. I wish I could spy on many different species nesting. The live cams on eagles, red-tailed hawks, and others are fascinating. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has several cams going presently. The hummingbird live cams are truly my favorite of all.
Photos below represents the first clutch–first egg laid March 8-EARLY LAYING–possibly first egg and first hatching for all of Virgina reported in to the Virginia Bluebird Society on monitored nestboxes during 2012; and also the hatching photo–hatched, Monday, March 26. The photos are true color (no flash). I do not use flash photography after the chicks are 6-7 days old. They open their eyes in full on the 8th day–I would not want someone photographing me closeup in my nest when my eyes just opened!
Hope you’re having an exciting spring so far — enjoy the photos!
I’m in the process of completing twenty more nestbox setups just like this. Ten have been completed so far–ten more coming for this season. Three I have sold back to a local monitor with all costs for the complete nestbox setups given to an excellent local charity to help our less fortunate who live in our county. One has been installed just last week at a private residence along my trail–monies to the same charity. Woo-hoo!
This is what is in the setup:
- Side-swing-down door on this observation nestbox for easy monitoring using the Virginia Bluebird Society nestbox plan made from western red cedar. This wood will weather year after year beautifully. No painting needed!
- One-inch metal galvanized conduit (you can also just call it hollow metal pole) cut to 7.5 feet, 6-inch wide x 24-inch long galvanized “stovepipe” round duct with duct cap ground predator guard (to deter snakes, raccoons, mice, opossums, squirrels, feral and roaming housecats and more) designed to W-O-B-B-L-E while hanging on the conduit below the box. A wobbling stovepipe is harder to get by.
- Vinyl-coated hardware cloth entry-hole predator guard (highly effective to protect nestlings and eggs!)
- All hardware to install all of the above.
- My own small black lightweight canvas “tack” supply bag I use on the trail with essential tools I need beyond my car and at each nestbox visit, which I do about twice a week.
- Post driver to pound the conduit about 1.5 feet into the ground so that the top of the nextbox roof is at about 5.5 feet. (By the way, the one-inch conduit is about the right sturdiness to secure this nestbox, particularly if one of our local black bears bumps into one!)
Now that I look at it, it doesn’t look like too much at all. Also included in this picture is what to use if one chooses to spray paint the galvanized conduit and stovepipe a color conducive to disappear into nature (I suggest a dark brown). You will see white vinegar, a spray bottle for the vinegar, an old pillow case, and a good quality dark brown oil-based spray paint. What is not in the picture is a large twist tie or string to secure the pillow case over the nestbox during the spray painting. Pick a nice day to do this. Make sure NO BIRDS are nesting in a box! Put an old pillow case over the nestbox and tie the bottom. This keeps the nestbox separate from the vinegar spray and painting. (DO NOT spray the nestbox with any paint inside or out. If you use a good wood that weathers well, you need not paint the box.) First, spray the galvanized pole and stovepipe and cap with the vinegar and let thoroughly dry. Then (important) check for any winds! If you have some, you best wait on the painting. If after “pickling” the galvanized metal with the vinegar and you have determined it is dry, you can then spray paint the rest. I recommend the brand Rustoleum UltraCover 2x Matte color (only one application needed) in color Expresso. Make sure the paint is dried completely and then remove the pillow case. By pickling the galvanized metal first, the oil-based spary paint won’t peel off. By the way, do not spray paint anything if birds are using the boxes! That’s a good warning to share with you. If they are using the box, don’t do it–just wait until later in the year after the nesting season is over, such as in September. I have to be honest with you….I think the pickling and spray painting of the stovepipes are not necessary; but if you prefer it, this is how to do it. Most of mine are kept as they came from the store, including the price stickers. The priority here is to keep that stovepipe as smooth as possible. I have found greasing them won’t be necessary is MOST circumstances. If you want to purchase pre-painted stovepipe round duct, some retail outlets will sell them in black. They are a bit more expensive, however. Also, DO NOT spray paint the hardware cloth entry-hole guards.
Installation How To: Having 2 people helps! One person holding the conduit straight (use a level if you have one), use a post driver to pound the 7.5 length conduit into the ground (search for sturdy, flat ground with not too much rocks). Next, insert carriage bolt into pre-drilled hole where the ground stovepipe guard will hang. Add the two nuts and tighten with a hand-wrench. Install ground stovepipe with duct cap screwed on both sides to round duct onto the conduit so it will hang and wobble on the carriage bolt. Next, take a ready-to-install nestbox with a drilled hole in the back and open the side door. Add another carriage or machine bolt with a half-inch size washer and insert that through the pre-dilled hole on the inside and backside of the box. Then insert the box with bolt through pre-drilled hole in the conduit and add nut on other side of conduit and tighten well. At bottom of box for added support to conduit, add U-clamp over the conduit and use electric drill to install two wood screws (about 1.5″ size) through the U-clamp on each side and into box. Be sure those screws are not too long or they’ll stick through the nestbox on the inside (dangerous to birds). You should not see any screws points inside the box. The hardward cloth entry hole guard can be made and installed on box prior to setup installation. Through another follow-up post forthcoming, I will detail more tips on the installation method. Where to find these plans? Of course, you can find them on the Virginia Bluebird Society’s website: http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/nestboxguards.html You can find all kinds of helpful information there, free of charge! Do visit if you haven’t been there yet. Happy Bluebirding. Comments and questions encouraged! Leave them here!
How do I say with jubilation: WELCOME BACK, SPRING? How about a very early egg laid by a bluebird?
What a way to start the season for the WHBBT! The nestbox that had the earliest laid egg last year on my own bluebird trail has again been the first nestbox for this nesting season–EARLY EGG LAID–On March 8, 2012, I found my first laid bluebird egg! THIS IS VERY EARLY, even for Southwest Virginia and North Carolina. Could this be the earliest in the state since VBS has kept records? We are presently finding out. The Virginia Bluebird Society is canvassing the County Coordinators for ALL cavity-nesting species earliest egg laid for this year. T he warmer weather tells the birds to get movin’ and groovin’, and this couple sure did. I expect hatching on or around March 26th. My first bluebird egg laid last year was March 27th. What a difference. Are we on a global warming trend, or is it the same couple just likes to get a jump start on claiming this box at this particular location? This is all part of why we keep records. More to come soon on those findings! So, with Spring now here (officially it’s March 21st), we can welcome everyone back to this site for updates. I have some changes to make on my nestboxes section—a couple of moves and additions. More boxes have been built in the local workshop (many thanks, Carl)—the complete nestbox setups include the boxes, the hardware, the conduit, and two predator guards. I have a new program on all this–all funds and costs for these goes back to the needy in our community. More to come on what that program is about. Also, many thanks to Wills Ridge Supply, Inc., in Floyd, VA, for helping me with the wood and supplies for the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail! The staff there is fantastic! It makes shopping for everything I need pleasant!
I am still hoping to get some nesting Tree Swallows. If so, it will be the first on the WHBBT. The Tree Swallow is a lovely native cavity-nesting bird. Did you know they catch all their insects ON THE FLY (in the air)? Bluebirds will perch and watch for ground insects most of the time, and then forage to the ground for them, which is why they are part of the THRUSH family of birds. More interesting information on Tree Swallows here: http://www.treeswallowprojects.com/basics.html
I should mention I have two new photos of the first clutch 2012 nesting season. See them below–I took one with flash and one without flash. Note the differences in egg colors. The photo with flash makes the eggs have more of a turquoise color. The photo without flash makes the eggs look bluer. You’ll also notice a difference in the grass color. The photo without the flash has the proper color of the grasses, dried ones, picked up by the female during the nest building.
Thanks for visiting again. I’m still in disbelief this passion for bluebirding (for me) started March 2006. Here I am still loving it–even more than ever! All the best to you this year — happy nestbox monitoring and happy bluebirding! Feel free to share your nestbox stories with me. Just write to me here on this blog and request to have your story posted here. I’m happy to share it.
Stay tuned for more updates and stories along the trail. See you soon!
Here is the picture of the nest–first clutch for 2012–WITHOUT FLASH:
Here is the picture of the same nest–same first clutch for 2012– WITH FLASH:
Depending on your location, bluebirds are flying in mixed flocks and roosting together in existing nestboxes or natural cavities to stay warm. In Virginia, bluebirds stay as residents. The last of our dogwood berries were blown off the tips of the branches about a week ago. This is the time to start making suet in your own kitchen just for bluebirds; it’s good to put out dried and live mealworms, too. Here is a good recipe for bluebird suet, which I extracted from the Virginia Bluebird Society’s website. Also check out recipes at the following page: http://www.sialis.org/suet.htm
Suet For Bluebirds – 1 cup crunchy peanut butter, 1 cup lard, 2 cups quick oats, 2 cups cornmeal, 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, berries like currants optional. Mix dry ingredients. Melt peanut butter & lard together and mix with dry ingredients. Press into pan, cool, cut into squares and freeze until needed.
My notes: I think adding soaked currants or cut up soaked raisins or other dried cut up fruit is helpful. I prefer to crumble up the suet and put it out for the bluebirds and other birds, too, along with live and dried mealworms in an open platform-type feeder or jailhouse mealworm feeder. A crumbly mixture is easier for the bluebirds to eat.
If you can, keep water available using a birdbath or large dish with a deicing device to keep the water from freezing. Birds need water year round!
Photo is by Dave Kinneer — used with permission. Thanks, Dave!