I am posting this picture (above) to show you what’s inside my bluebird trail tool / tack bag — current from 2013 and for what I’ll use for 2014. You can look at my contents, and I’ll repost in two weeks with the full list and what I use everything for. HINT: This does NOT include what I keep in the back of my car, which is reflected in the picture below. My trail bag is shown in the second picture–it is yellow and black and made by Stanley (top left of second photo). I can tell you I use all items within one nesting season — March through August. It is hard to believe all this can fit in a small bag, but it does. If it helps you understand, it has taken several years to tweak what I need and what I don’t need. This might be more than some would use–perhaps not enough for others. This will vary on your own nesting boxes you monitor and how many and the problems you have to deal with. Best to start small and add on as you get experienced. What might be fun for you experienced monitors: add your thoughts to this blog before I come back in two weeks. What is missing here that you use often on monitoring your bluebird trails and why do you need that item? Have fun with this. I hope I spark some questions on this post! See you in two weeks. I will post the list of items and what I use them for. See you soon! Today is February 25th (2014) and I’ll be back on March 11th!
Have you seen plenty of fluttering of wings on with those brilliant blue males establishing breeding territory and sitting on your existing nestboxes? It’s that time. Is it still just too cold for that and are you laden with snow cover and ice? Are your boxes ready–cleaned, repaired, and ready for those new, fresh nesting materials and for the human monitoring we need to do?
I have been spending time educating others in public talks and in training others on the joys and sometimes challenges in monitoring nestboxes. Now I need to get my own monitoring sheets ready and get my notebook updated. I’m adding more nesting boxes this year–not too many more–I need to maintain weekly monitoring and keep those accurate records.
Thank goodness for the volunteers from the Virginia Master Naturalists, who will be getting some training in my local area to help me on my own bluebird trail and other trails in our area in Southwest VA on public lands! I’m very grateful for such hard-working folks who volunteer their valuable time to help our natural world, whether it is birds, mammals, native plants, water monitoring so much more and whatever is needed. I, too, am close to certification myself as a Virginia Master Naturalist by just a few more volunteer hours. It’s a good feeling to accomplish tasks that is highly worthwhile and to keep learning!
I will do all I can to keep you up to date on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail and also on the Facebook page, which is a very informative page for many who are active on social networking and can get updates to their News Feeds from my trail happenings. As soon as I get my first egg, I’ll report in! Thanks for your continued support. All the best to you and your birds during our upcoming spring. By all mean, let me know if I can help in any way. I’ll do what I can to answer your questions on this site or on the Facebook page. Happy Spring to all–whenever it gets here. We had 21 inches of snow a few weeks ago–unusual for our area–and we were snowed in for 5 days. Then it got up to 65-70 degrees for two days — the Polar Vortex has now returned! The birds will pace themselves when they feel the time is right–the incubating female can hold egg laying until she’s comfortable doing so. I’ve seen her lay a couple, and then delay a few days during very sudden cold snaps, and come back a few days later and lay a couple more to complete the clutch.
The photo is a recent installation I did this month (February).
Birders, bluebirders, backyard bird fans, and those curious and want to learn more about the passion about this beloved bird species and native cavity-nesting birds, monitoring nestboxes for fledging success, etc: the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) has an awesome program lined up at the upcoming State Conference to be held Saturday, November 9, 2013, centrally located in gorgeous Charlottesville! I highly recommend attending if you can, especially if you love bluebirds! Program starts at 9:30 am. $25 registration covers cost for breakfast, lunch, the program and speakers, and an optional birding tour at a lovely location after adjournment at 2:30 pm. Come a little earlier and meet and talk to expert bluebirders.
AGENDA and PROGRAM:
Speakers and program include:
1) Marshall Faintich, PhD, Birding Activity Manager, Rockfish Valley Trail, “The Birds of Wintergreen”,
2) Alycia Crall, PhD, Virginia Master Naturalist Coordinator, “The Virginia Master Naturalist Program: Opportunities for Volunteer Projects with Bluebirds”,
3) Awards Program for 4 outstanding volunteers for bluebirds,
4) Maureen Eiger, Wild Bird Rehabilitator: “Bluebirds in Rehab: When They Should Come In for Care and How They are Returned to the Wild.”, and
5) OPTIONAL event: “Birding at Secluded Farm”, led by Doug Rogers, President, Monticello Bird Club. This conference is held every other year. The VBS website and downloadable program flyer including agenda and driving directions can be found on the VBS website’s main page.
ALL ARE WELCOME TO ATTEND. DEADLINE FOR REGISTRATION: Thursday, October 31. For more detailed info, directions, agenda, and to register: Go to the VBS website (see below), click on the “Registration Form” link under the Upcoming Events box on the main page: http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/
VBS is a fully volunteer, non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable conservation organization. Hope to see you there! Feel free to cross-post and share this with others you think might be interested. Thanks, and Happy Birding!
~ Christine Boran, State Coordinator, Virginia Bluebird Society
This second photo here was taken late summer (August) 2012. That tall weedy growth grew suddenly (fast spreading in the South) in 2012 was a problem being too close to the nestbox that was installed in 2009. This nestbox is usually very successful–consistent 2-3 broods until the weeds grew up around it. The bluebirds did not like it and did NOT nest in it during the 2012 season–AT ALL! It was tough stuff to deal with, let alone getting chiggers and ticks on me. This year, it’s being mowed down in a wider swatch around this nestbox–not all of it but a large circle around it is being cleared, thanks to my neighbor, Carl, using a weedwacker and also me using a hand-grass and weed cutter (I had to cover myself up in long sleeves and pants and camp hat and put some bug deterrent on my face and neck). Getting chigger bites and ticks is not fun. I don’t find this nestbox with two predator guards unsightly at all. The Noel Guard seems to disappear in this photo. What is most beautiful to me, however, is successfully fledging native baby birds–a big YES to bluebirds (as you can see in the first photo! Do you like my spray paint job on the pole and galvanized stovepipe baffle? I used Rust-Oleum Ultra Cover 2X Primer and 2 X Semi-Gloss spray paint: http://www.thepaintstore.com/ULTRA_COVER_2X_s/273.htm
In these photos, one Noel Guard is unpainted galvanized 1/2″ hardware cloth (looks grey) and the other is vinyl-coated green 1/2″ hardware cloth. I like the vinyl-coated best. Please also note I am experimenting with different designs of stovepipe baffles — the Ron Kingston (most effective (!) using hardware cloth inside the stovepipe and an 8″ width), and the less wide 6″ stovepipe baffle with a duct cap at the top. I’m keeping notes as I see effectiveness for both designs. I’m also trying the 7″ width on my trail. Nonetheless, please USE something to deter ground predators. Raccoons and Black Rat Snakes, even mice, can climb smooth conduits and even PVC slipped over conduits. If you grease them, whatever the grease you use, becomes ineffective in time, so you have to keep that up. I cannot keep that up with 34 nesting sites. I do NOT grease any of these stovepipe designs. I will check back at the end of the nesting season to report my findings if any predators got past any of the designs. It can happen, yes…..they are not 100 percent foolproof…….but 99 percent isn’t too shabby of a record!
All bird species using the nesting boxes on my trail do not mind entering the nesting boxes and actually like the Noel Guard–this is what makes me the happiest (and gives me peace of mind using the guards). I know the extra effort is helping them, but I don’t want to take the time to install nesting sites like this and monitor weekly and find failure–that’s wasted effort, in my humble opinion. When I visit the boxes, I want to put in my notebook “FLEDGED” and then send on those records to the Virginia Bluebird Society, the North American Bluebird Society (gets the data from the affiliate bluebird clubs from each state), and Cornell’s NestWatch, which I participate, as well. I’m pretty busy these days. I need to be sure I get my rest.
Happy (and safe) Bluebirding!
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
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
March 19 – 2013: Nestbox checks searching for new nestings has official commenced for 2013 season. I visited all boxes on the trail. Out of the 33 nestboxes I am care-taking, four (4) had new bluebird nests started. I am thinking they are one or two days into building time. You know, when Mr. Blue does good husbandry and helps find nest materials and drops them inside the box, it is faster for her. I am waiting to see tree swallows and chickadees (really hoping for those swallows this year). I am expecting some house wrens in another location. Here are two new photos. The first is the one nestbox that has the most materials–grasses being dropped and arranged by Mrs. Blue in that circular design. The other photo is the latest addition to my trail–the last nestbox (#33). You will note the 8″ width, spray-painted stovepipe wobbling snake/ground critter guard on the conduit and the extra predator guard (original called the Jim Noel Coon Guard) made of hardware cloth over the entry hole. So, here we go, folks! Wishing everyone a blessed bluebird year! “May All Your Blues Be Birds” ! by B. Zimmerman
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:
The newest design plan is on the VBS website. My next batch of guards when I expand my trail will be the recommended “coated” hardware cloth! Also, I’ve seen Tree Swallows use this with ease. Also House Wrens and the Carolina Chickadees don’t mind them I am discovering bluebirds like to leave some of their nesting materials, either soft dried grasses or pine needles, inside this entry-hole hardware cloth guard, also known as the Noel Guard (designed by Jim Noel) just underneath the entry hole. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think this is their way of telling other birds, “AHEM! OCCUPIED” ….. and just so you know, we have this box so you may stay away!” It’s fairly consistent with bluebirds on my own trail. They like the guard to sit on and watch over their nestbox! Here is a picture of one of the boxes along my trail. You can see some of their nest material dropped in it. When I’m checking my boxes for new nests being built, this is a sure sign something good is going on inside the box! Though some people think they are not attractive; however, for me, it’s more important to enjoy the beauty of a successful fledging of baby bluebirds than finding a tragedy instead.
Plan to build this: http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/forms/bb-guards_03-27-2011.pdf
I have long waited doing this post on the Tree Swallow. My first year of my trail (2008) had paired nestboxes because I had seen tree swallows dive-bombing searching for insects over our pond. I did pair the boxes 15 feet apart on 1” conduits with two predator guards on each paired setup. Much to my disappointment, no tree swallows used any of the paired boxes on my property. I still do not know why. The next year, I unpaired the boxes in February and moved them elsewhere in my community as part of the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail. The reason I was a little disappointed is this. For me, the Tree Swallow (TRES) is just as beautiful, just as graceful, and just as much allowable to use nestboxes we made for bluebirds. REASONS: 1. They are a beautiful cavity-nesting native bird that also cannot excavate their own cavities. 2. Unlike our Eastern Bluebird (EABL) here in Virginia that has 2-3 broods per nesting season, the TRES has one brood per nesting season. 3. Tree swallows are aerial foragers for food, namely insects, as their main food source. Bluebirds generally forage for insects perched, obtaining insects—grubs, grasshoppers, spiders, crickets, etc.–from the ground. You’ll see them cocking their heads to the sides, pointing their heads down as they use their good eyes to find that insect and then flying down quickly to retrieve it. I have also watched a bluebird male in a flash fly out of a poplar tree behind our house and catch a large white moth mid-air. That is a sight to see! The tree swallow has to work harder, swooping here and there, dive-bombing using their wings and forked tail for leverage as they catch their food mid-flight-mid-air. They are a delight to watch. You can imagine eating for themselves and feeding their brood how much work that is from dawn to dusk.
I have had people ask about this bird competing for a nestbox–my reaction is always enthusiastic, as it’s been my wish to be able to monitor this gorgeous bird for myself, along with other cavity nesters. I have not had that opportunity yet to monitor a nesting pair of tree swallows. I still wait to see it on my own trail, and I still hope it will happen, as I do see them in our area. I am fascinated with the nest building of the TRES, as it will fly for many miles from its chosen nesting site to obtain large feathers from other birds to place on top of its nest materials of grasses, such as goose feathers or other waterfowl feathers. You will see the TRES near agricultural fields (open habitat just like the bluebird) and many times near water sources, such as ponds if available, probably for the reason of finding waterfowl feathers there and insects being available surrounding the ponds, such as dragonflies that I see by our pond. This bird is marked strikingly, particularly the male, with a bright white neck and belly and a greenish-violet-iridescent blue on its back and wings. It’s a gentle, assertive bird, as I have stood next to a monitor in one of my counties at a newly-installed nestbox just 4 feet away and watched a female enter to build the nest and the male sitting on top guarding the box and looking at me as if to say, “Hey there—hope you don’t mind us using this box you installed. First come-first serve, so thank you for providing us this perfect nesting place!” Of course, I smiled, and the new monitor I was training appeared seemingly a little disappointed, because she also wanted bluebirds. I immediately explained that this bird, the tree swallow, has the same issue as the bluebirds with needing nesting sites which is cavity only and having the same challenge as bluebirds in finding “available” cavities to raise a family, in natural habitat, used woodpecker holes for nests.
With many thanks to a new monitor in Floyd County who has been taking excellent photographs of bluebirds and tree swallows nesting in some of her nestboxes, I can now share this wonderful bird with you here on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail’s website. Many thanks, Karen, for sharing these lovely pictures of this bird which you are lucky to be able to see a nesting cycle. Many of our cavity nesters have one brood per season, so after the TRES are completed, you may get a second or third brood
nesting cycle from our beloved bluebirds after…perhaps another native species. It’s all part of the fun of monitoring, isn’t it?
I will be highlighting other cavity-nesting birds that use nestboxes shortly. In my opinion as a trail monitor, trail manager, and trainer to new bluebirders, I find monitoring other bird species helps us learn more about our native birds and the joys of monitoring brings variety of experiences and joys to being a good landlord of our nestboxes. If you find you have both bluebirds and tree swallows where you have one or more nestboxes, they will nest peacefully side by side with each other if you pair your boxes 5-20 feet apart. Some have actually put two nestboxes on one pole. I have included a video of that below the photo set, which you may find interesting. This box was installed on PVC, looks like about 4” wide, with a cap on
the PVC. I’ve seen other setups with one pole and the boxes installed with opposite directions for the entry hole. I have heard stories from others who have successful nesting of tree swallows and bluebirds of a bluebird parent feeding a tree swallow set of nestlings when one of the tree swallow parents disappeared (probably killed). They WILL nest next to each other if they don’t feel threatened by the other. However, if you have one box, there COULD be the usual territorial war over the nestbox, understandably so, since both birds need an available cavity to bring up a family. I’ve seen this with chickadees and bluebirds on my trail this year. If this happens, you could quickly install another box right away near the other one where the competition is taking place. You then could have both birds nesting as friendly neighbors–all the while monitoring, enjoying them, keeping notes, and seeing behaviorial antics, some similar and some different. I still recommend the two predator guards on a pole because of the amount of predation we get here in Virginia, both ground and avian predators. As a monitor, I want success, so I go all out to be sure the birds can be protected. If I put up a nestbox for the birds, the least I can do is help them succeed. Otherwise, the time and expense of installing a nestbox seems fruitless–as I say, it’s like luring them to use your setup and then playing a practical joke on them because we make it easy for those predators to get to them. It’s not my style of managing nestboxes.
I hope you enjoy the 5 pictures posted below—photos by Karen Hale in Floyd County, VA. I adore the Tree Swallow—I want to have some nest in my boxes SOON. Thanks, Karen! I support all native birds. Lucky we humans it’s not always bluebirds we are helping. My next post will be about the fascinating Brown-headed Nuthatch…a bird found in the South near pine forests. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, underneath these photos I have linked direct viewing to a YouTube video of bluebirds and tree swallows nesting side-by-side and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s info page on the Tree Swallow. There you can also hear what the TRES song sounds like–a chittering sound that requires good listening ears to ID. I hope you enjoy. Questions and comments welcomed and encouraged on this post!
FIND THE FOLLOWING LINKS TO CORNELL’S PAGE ABOUT THE TREE SWALLOW AND A VIDEO ON YOUTUBE OF PAIRED BOXES FOR SUCCESSFUL NESTING OF THE BLUEBIRD AND THE TREE SWALLOW AS NEIGHBORS– ENJOY!:
PAIRING NESTBOXES FOR EABL AND TRES: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bkir2NkdQ-I
I will be out on my trail next week to winterize all the boxes so that the bluebirds and other cavity nesters can roost in the boxes.
What is winterizing?
The ventilation areas of each box will be plugged to keep cold drafts and rain and snow out of the boxes while the birds keep warm in them. The only sections NOT plugged will be the drainage holes in the box floors and the entry holes, of course!
See a series of pictures below of winterized boxes on my trail. You’ll see how the materials help keep the boxes warm!
Also next week, two of my boxes will be moved to new locations. My criteria for changing is the current box locations were not used by cavity nesters this past season. It’s good to tweak the trail each year for best use of all nestboxes available for the birds! The Virginia Bluebird Society’s website helped me when I went to Lowe’s Home Improvement to get the supplies… cost was $14 for everything and all the materials can be recycled again for the next winter season! CLICK ON LINK below: