Recently, I have been active on various bluebird Facebook pages on monitoring the cavity nesting birds in the nesting boxes.  Here is a post I did today regarding when to stop opening the boxes when the nestlings inside are at a certain age:

I use Day 13 as my guide as last day. I use an auto-visor mirror always to hold at the top of the box to look down at the nest.  At 12 to 13 days old, I just crack open enough and use that mirror and stay diligently fast and efficient to check on their health, development, do the headcount, and look for a potential nestling death (if that happens, it is still a safe time to remove the dead one if at all possible–by this age, the percentage is low).  After Day 13, I do observations of activity at the boxes by the parent behaviors in surveillance method from afar–a great indicator how the kids are doing!  There is a time when human monitoring at the nests so close up has to cease for the fullest safety for all.  I do not want to open up the box when the nestlings are starting to get active inside as they move around, stretch their wings, exercise their legs…to gain strength for fledging….while getting the confidence that they can fly for the first time into the world they know nothing about!  Some fecal sacs are not picked up yet by the parents so  it’s not good to have any natural bird odors from the boxes get into the air circulations to attract predators (specifically the common black rat snakes here in the South that have keen smelling ability close or from a distance–they feed night or day).  This is another reason why I do not open the boxes every single day, which is a bit excessive as nestbox micro-management by humans, in my personal opinion.  I do not even approach too close to the boxes during fledging process dates between 16 and 19 days.   I use a chair or my car and some binoculars and watch the action of the parents going to the nestbox for feedings.   The anticipation then sets in and I use nature’s way with the awesome parent birds to take over without my interventions, if at all possible.  Average fledging age on my trail is Day 17, but sometimes it can be the 18th day.  Oldest age ever was 22 days due to a nest change for the nestling to recover from blowfly larvae infestations.  That was in 2008.

Bluebird Nesting Guide from Virginia Bluebird Society

With that, I also have cross posted this on those same Facebook pages.  It is not only fitting to share this on the topic, but imperative for educational purposes.  Here is that text:

I am cross posting at a few Facebook pages Cornell’s NestWatch monitoring protocol guidelines and principles of birding ethics, the Code of Conduct, in human monitoring all nests in the wild, including our nesting boxes.  The advice and guidelines are easy to read and is based on the American Birding Association’s birding ethics and protocol (find them at   I participate and am certified in NestWatch.  It’s an excellent source of information!  If you haven’t yet, take some time to look around the NestWatch website.  While you’re there on the Code of Conduct page, look to the left and click on the links on Nest Monitoring Protocol and Nest Monitoring Manual and FAQS, which is great for new bluebirders to learn from.  Enjoy!

I also follow all state and federal laws on my 43-box bluebird trail and all other birding adventures in my locale (such as monitoring a Northern Mockingbird nest at my neighbor’s house), based on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 ( in particular, I am referring how I handle native birds and non-native invasive species).    Here is that website from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

Here is a recent photo of Mom Blue who did not flush off the nest during a box check.  I never force her off.   However, with my quick skill one-handed with my small digital camera with the box panel door cracked open so as not to startle her too much (I never use flash photography on live birds inside the boxes), I was able to capture her on her egg clutch.  The natural lighting also captured the brilliant blue feathers on this incubating female.

Mom blue Incubating 2016 at Nestbox 15

Here is a picture of a lone bluebird baby among 5 other unhatched eggs.  Though I do possess the appropriate state and federal permits to handle young and eggs, it also challenged me to safely handle the situation to remove the unhatched eggs that would and could have been devastating to this nestling for various reasons….the eggs could crack and break and get sticky embryo contents on the nest, thus getting on the nestlings feathers, legs, etc., and attracting predators….OR….possibly causing leg splay issues as the nestling continually gets cramped in growing sizes among the eggs, which could develop into a deformity and fledging problems.  Here is a picture — this bluebird nestling in 2014 was sitting on one of the unhatched eggs — no more room in that cup for the little one.  Age of the nestling is at 5 days old.  We don’t want it to grow any larger.  I have posted this before, in 2014.  Perhaps you recognize it?

"The Lone Child"

I very often go through my yearly photo journals on my computer to review the photos I’ve captured to remind me on what I’ve learned through the years helping the nesting birds while applying the code of ethics associated with human monitoring of nature’s nests.

Here is a recent photo I took of 13-day olds.  No more opening the box after the 13th day!

13 Day Old EABL

Questions and comments welcomed — faster responses if you go to my ABOUT page and fill out the form, which is sent to my Email address, at which point I can respond back to you on your Email.   

The response form information submitted stays private between you and me….always.  The form is designed for faster replies to you personally and privately.  NOTE TO SPAMMERS:  WordPress is so developed, it’s set up to SCREEN YOUR SPAM.   I will not get it to my Email in-box. Thank you, WordPress!

All the best to you as you continue your birding ventures and adventures.  Happy Birding.  Have you joined in on the trail’s Facebook page yet?  C’mon over — lots of posts and action there!

Feel free to share this post away on the public sites.  Education is key in properly appreciating and handling birds in human monitoring and Citizen Science protocol.  Happy and safe birding!

Best regards always,




MID-NESTING SEASON REPORT – Date of Report is July 9, 2016

This is a a mid-season report I posted on the trail’s Facebook page.  I am duplicating it here, including an attached video of removing the unhatched egg from Nestbox #12 on July 9, 2016.  Only 1 of the two eggs hatched.  Unhatched eggs can be removed AFTER 72 hours from hatching of the remaining eggs in the nest.  

Four species using the boxes. Note: Still pending eggs, hatching, and fledging in the numbers indicated below for Bluebirds and House Wrens. This is as of trail check dated July 7 and two boxes were checked today, July 9, 2016. 3rd broods started thus far in 6 nestboxes. I expect a few more. Let’s say I am NOT happy with these results. The challenges have been astounding this year. Last year of 2015 was my best ever year in 10 years of the trail. This year 2016 is my worst ever. All the reason to continue to want to help these birds succeed. This is a shortened report for halfway through the nesting season. Every year, there is something NEW I LEARN. The trail is at 43 nestboxes. 3 boxes went unoccupied.  Last year, all boxes were eventually occupied. It’s not too late for them to be used, however, as I’ve seen late nestings in unoccupied boxes.   You know the 4-letter avian abbreviations?  They are as follows:

EABL:  Eastern bluebird, CACH:  Carolina Chickadee, TRES:  Tree Swallow, HOWR:  House Wren

…..EABL: 63 Nest Attempts / 270 Eggs Laid / 203 Hatched Thus Far and Pending More Hatchings / 155 Fledged Thus Far

…..CACH: 2 Nest Attempts / 9 Eggs Laid / 9 Hatched / 7 Fledged

…..TRES: 6 Nest Attempts / 27 Eggs Laid / 26 Hatched / 26 Fledged

…..HOWR: 1 Nest Attempt / 6 Eggs Laid / Pending Hatching. I should mention this nesting HOWR couple caused no havoc to native bird nestings. In the nestbox before them were bluebirds, which fledged successfully. After fledging, the HOWRs moved in within one week.. This is unusual. Competition is what would be expected. HOWRS’ migration arrival here was later than before.

……..1. RAT SNAKES ARE ON A RAMPAGE! 4 Nestboxes raided. 2 nestboxes armed with 6-inch wide wobbling stovepipe and pronged Noel Guard / 1 Nestbox armed with 7-inch wide wobbly stovepipe and pronged Noel Guard / 1 Nestbox armed with smooth (and waxed?) 4-inch PVC sleeve over wood post. This is the worse ever in 10 years regarding snakes — the very large rat snakes are challenging to hold back even 7-inch wide baffles. So far, no predations on the 8-inch wide wobbling stovepipe baffles. My trail is being updated with the 8-inch on remaining original setups. All new installations are higher at 6 feet high.

………2. BLOWFLY LARVAE INFESTATION WORST EVER IN 10 YEARS – 2nd broods were the worst affected. I am *increasing* on the food-grade organic diatomaceous earth application amounts in the nests of any remaining 2nd brood and all 3rd broods started. Some larvae got past the diatomaceous earth application (does that mean I did not add enough or these larvae are tougher than previous years? — a serious and chronic issue on my trail year after year!)

………3. Total number of missing or dead young—for all reasons—is now at 32 as of July 7. That is a very high number for my trail. Note: regarding missing young in a nest of surviving nestlings was not to predators; moreover I believe a hatchling died and the parent birds removed the deceased if they are small enough to pull through the 1.5 inch entry and exit hole from the nestbox.

I removed an unhatched egg today. I created a short video of how easy (and fast) I try to do this (attached). Only 1 of 2 eggs hatched.  See that below.  The nestling is growing slowly and is 72 hours old.   It is VERY hot outside right now.  Mom is holding her own.  I have not seen Pop Bluebird.  


This is the Ron Kingston Stovepipe guard.

This is the Ron Kingston Stovepipe guard.

This nestbox was recently treated for ants!

This nestbox was recently treated for ants!

On the cusp of this Leap Year month, the nesting season is soon among us once again, and we must be sure our nesting boxes are protected so our beautiful native cavity-nesting birds can successfully fledge their young without sabotage and interruption.   It is up to us as humans — when installing manmade bird housing, that is — to add this protection.   We cannot do this in natural habitat in natural cavities much higher into the trees, but as stewards helping the native cavity-nesting birds, we can help by providing safe locations  for them to bring their young into the world when we install and lure the birds to use our manmade bird housing.  Predators from the ground are and can be, depending on your location:  Snakes, Raccoons, Cats, Opossum, Rats, Mice, and Squirrels.  Have I missed any?  (Will not stop ants.)  Mr. Ron Kingston and I keep in contact often.  Mr. Kingston, being the designer of this guard, has created an inexpensive-to-make but highly effective wobbling stovepipe guard to easily install under nesting boxes.  This design has been tested over and over on bluebird trails for many years.  He recently sent me this colorful PDF online document with more info with some awesome photo graphics on making this guard, including some nice info about Ron himself!  Thank you!   I have never seen it before. Here it is and linked from the Purple Martin Field Day (which occurs in June each day in Louisa County, Virginia):    Click here:   From the Purple Martin Field Day website

Yo, mama! She is guarding her egg clutch. The eggs can be counted on another day. If she sits right on the egg clutch when you open the box for monitiring, leave her be and quietly close the box and secure it. The eggs can be counted on another day! She is the boss and must be left to attend to her Mom duties. Please use predator guards so that Mrs. Blue will get attacked by snakes or climbing mammals like raccoons and cats. (Photo is by me in 2013, at a top-opening nestbox).

Let me know if you have questions either by posting here on this blog post or contacting me privately through the CONTACT ME page.  I will be duplicating this document on my “Deterring Predators and Pests” page also.  I am also linking the plan below how to make it in a PDF file, viewable and printable online below.  

Find the plans here (if the links are not live, just cut and paste the URL in your browser separately):  

 1.  From the Nestbox Builder website:  

 2.  From the Virginia Bluebird society website:  

3.  From Cornell’s NestWatch page on predators (includes info on the wonderful Noel guard): 

Photo by Richard Hess. What's not to love? A successful fledging from a nestbox is goal #1. PLEASE USE PREDATOR GUARDS.

Photo by Richard Hess. What’s not to love? A successful fledging from a nestbox is goal #1. PLEASE USE PREDATOR GUARDS.

Suggestion: I install as high off the ground as possible so I can still reach the tops of boxes to monitor fast and efficiently without too much fuss during nestings so the birds can get back to business away from my human presence to tend to their nest and young.  I use an auto visor mirror to look down onto the nests to count eggs and young and to check for any possible problems with the young so I can troubleshoot how to help, just in case.  I install the stovepipe guards under my nestboxes fairly high from the ground–where the tops of my boxes are at about six (6) feet above ground.  Boxes installed too low, such as 4 feet (even 5 feet is low if you are installing a box on an incline terrain or hill), are too easy for snakes, raccoons, and cats, to get past the guard.  Feral cats can jump 6 feet!  (NOTE:  I prefer all my boxes to be off of flat terrain as much as possible.)

Here is a YouTube Video I made regarding one of my first boxes on my trail and using this guard:  

Ground Climbing Predator Baffle-Kingston with Illustration






MY FAVORITE QUOTES (note I like the early year quotes the best!):

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

And when he sings to you, Though you’re deep in blue, You will see a ray of light creep through,  And so remember this, life is no abyss, Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness. Life is sweet, tender and complete, when you find the bluebird of happiness.” 
~  Bluebird of Happiness, lyrics by Edward Heyman & Harry Parr Davies, 1934

“As the pressure of population increasingly regiments us and crowds us closer together, an association with the wild, winged freedom of the birds will fill an ever growing need in our lives.”  ~ Edwin Way Teale, introduction to Songbirds in Your Garden, 1953

“The birds richly repay you for the trouble you take in attracting them and looking out for their interests.”   ~ Joseph H. Dodson, Your Bird Friends and How to Win Them, 1928

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back.” ~   Henry David Thoreau, Journal, April 3, 1852

This graphic below:  here is a pretty good indication of a bluebird trail success from Year 1 (2008) with the first 14 nestbox installations–though the trail planning and building stage actually started in 2007–to this year, 2015.  The more nesting boxes you put up and monitor, the more native cavity-nesting birds you can fledge!  This gives me great satisfaction for the hard work that has ensued from year to year.   The satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped fledge birds is worth all the effort, for sure.


It’s important to keep accurate records. I can look back on this and feel good about my past 10 years. That is really when I started keeping an eye out and monitoring bluebirds and other cavity-nesting birds….in 2005 and 2006….that’s when it really started for me.



The nesting season is starting to wind down. Of 36 nesting boxes, I still have 9 occupied presently with Eastern Bluebirds finishing 2nd broods. I have not seen 3rd broods started (yet). Since they started a month later last year and again this year (due to the colder weather), I doubt I’ll see 3rds this year. I have two nestboxes finishing up on House Wrens. My nesting boxes have had these species enter and attempt to nest. Only the House Sparrow was not allowed to reproduce in the boxes: House Sparrow, House Wren, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, and Carolina Chickadee. I was hoping to see this year at least once a White-Breasted Nuthatch, Brown-Headed Nuthatch (rare in our location but they are coming closer to our area in search of their specific habitat which is the Southern pine forests), or a Carolina Wren (sometimes will nest in nestboxes). Of all 36 monitored, not one nestbox went unoccupied. I’d say that’s “success” for housing 4 native cavity-nesting species of birds this season. The work to install them for occupancy has been tweaked just right by strategizing and accessing the usages year after year–always a work in progress when you start a bluebird trail. I will report back final nesting data in late August to early September.


In late March of this year, 2011, I was in south-central NC visiting my parents.   A neighbor of theirs has a Homes for Bluebirds (made in Bailey, NC, started by the famous bluebirder, the late Jack Finch) box in their back yard and has had wonderful success with bluebirds using the box with careful monitoring and photographing the bluebirds using it year after year.  I asked if they wanted me to stop by and take a look at the box.  It was discovered an unusual bird not seen before had been making visits to the nestbox in competition with bluebirds in nest building, dropping their pieces of pine bark and other items over the bluebird’s pine needles.  While we were standing next to this box, this bird showed up as if we were not even there.  At the time, I had not been able to ID this bird and I needed to find out!  It turned out to be the Brown-head Nuthatch.  This cavity-nesting species is presently on the Audubon Watch List.   This bird nests in the pine forests of the Southeastern states, particularly pines of the
loblolly, shortleaf, and longleaf varieties of pines.  Continued destruction of these pine forests is taking habitat away from this cavity-nester; therefore, their numbers are declining. 

Text below per Audubon Source Online:

 “The bird requires snags (standing dead trees) for nesting and roosting; but forages on live pines. It is more abundant in older pine stands compared with younger stands as well as burned stands. Nesting includes excavating cavities in trees, most commonly between February and April. Incubation lasts two weeks. Young fledge 18 to 19 days. The bird subsists on bark-dwelling cockroaches, beetles, and spiders in the warmer
months and various arthropods and pine seeds when it’s colder.  This non-migratory species generally does not
disperse far from its breeding range; although widespread decline in pine seed crops one season may force birds to extend their range. One of few species of passerines known to use tools; the nuthatch finds loose bark flakes to pry attached flakes where insects are hiding.  The biggest problem this pine-forest specialist encounters today is the destruction of southeastern pine forests.  Commercial logging as well as private and public land management practices has reduced its breeding and foraging habitat. After clear-cutting, a forest needs at least 12 to 25 years of regeneration before it can become suitable for Brown-headed Nuthatches to nest. Clear-cutting as well as fire suppression reduces the number of snags available as nesting sites. Since this bird makes limited movements away from its breeding grounds, forest fragmentation is also harmful. Birds aren’t re-colonizing where suitable habitat has once again become available.”

As a bluebirder monitor and manager of my own trail as well as a mentor to others in monitoring nestboxes and having a love for all our native birds, I find it appropriate to welcome and allow this wonderful little bird to have its one brood in our bluebirds’ boxes and let the bluebirds move in, too, to raise families, as I’ve seen on my own trail with the Carolina Chickadee (CACH).  It is illegal to evict native birds from our nestboxes, per federal law (Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918).  We can try to deter other birds to use our boxes other than our beloved Eastern Bluebird, but why?   Though we help the bluebirds find a place to nest and raise a family, the bluebird numbers have increased in the past decade, thanks to us for installing nestboxes and monitoring them for best success.  However, it is prudent as a birder to help other native birds raise families, as well, particularly those
species also losing habitat.   The recent Summer 2011 issue of the Virginia Bluebird Society’s newsletter, The Bird Box, has an article written by one of our County Coordinators about how she helped the Brown-headed Nuthatch (BHNU) raise her one brood in her backyard box and watched their 7 babies fledge, and then bluebirds moved in after.   It’s very interesting her efforts to help
both species succeed.  One has to admit it’s fascinating to see different native birds use our boxes!   I know I enjoy other species using my boxes on my own trail.  It adds to the learning experience about all of our nesting species, many raised so close to home where we live.

The following series of photos below are by Bill Matthews taken at his backyard Homes for Bluebirds nestbox of both the bluebird couple and the female nuthatch during the competition to use the box.  I think you’ll really enjoy these outstanding photos!  Many thanks to Bill for sharing these with me.  After some back and forth of both species attempting to nest in this box for first brood, the bluebirds won over the nestbox.  It is assumed this nuthatch couple moved elsewhere.  I can only hope this female found another suitable place to nest—perhaps another nestbox in the neighborhood or in an old woodpecker hole in the pine woods nearby the property.   As we continue to prosper, if that’s the right word, and create new homes for ourselves, the human, our
beautiful pine forests in the Southeastern United States are being destroyed.

In addition, I would like to share the following links in an easy pop-out for interesting reading online about this nuthatch and also about the late Jack Finch (1917-2006), who designed the Homes for Bluebirds in North Carolina.

Homes for Bluebirds:

Tribute to Jack Finch, Homes
for Bluebirds, on (A MUST READ!)

Virginia Bluebird Society
Summer 2011 Issue, See Page 4:

This is the story of how one of the VBS’ County
Coordinators assisted the Brown-headed Nuthatch (BHNU) raise her one brood in
her own backyard nestbox by creating a temporary “retrofit” to the box so that
the nuthatch could nest first and then changed it for the bluebirds for their
broods after the nuthatch fledged babies (Adobe Acrobat Reader needed).  You really should read the whole newsletter
and see what VBS is up to!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds– Brown-headed Nuthatch:

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved. (What a beautiful little bird!)

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved. (Ma and Pa Bluebird saying, "Hey, we were here last year!"

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.