BLUEBIRD TRAILS: MAINTENANCE IS KEY!


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

THE TRAIL MONITORS

A Poem by “Bluebird Bob” Walshaw

Out they go, rain or shine,
Checking on their Bluebird line.
Helping out those birds of blue,
Walking in the grassy dew.

Opening nestboxes one by one,
Reveling in the morning sun.
Finding nests and eggs so blue,
Spring’s promise coming true.

Another nest with little ones,
Waiting for the parents to come
From east, west, north or south,
With insects for each open mouth.

One more nest -oh so sad!
A roving Black Snake has been bad.
Predator guards work in many ways
But nature can have a different say.

Another nest with babies strong,
Showing that it won’t be long
Before their growing wings they’ll try
And out into the world they’ll fly.

They continue to check nest after nest,
Enjoying successes and fighting pests.
Enemies with beak and claw,
Sharing the Bluebird’s luck of the draw.

But they know from day to day
That all their efforts lead the way
To bringing the Bluebirds safe and strong
Back where all can hear their songs.

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

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

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

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

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