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:
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!
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:
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:
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!: