The jury is in. I am officially out of the office cave to report final trail stats on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail (45 nestboxes in 2017).  Totals are below for the 2017 season, 3 native species successfully nested. Thanks for your patience–been a tough year for me personally on the homefront. Hope this lines up right. Questions?  The photos included are when I moved nestlings that lost their parents and starving (a couple died on the nest) to a new nestbox with other nestlings about the same age to be fostered by the new parent bluebirds.  All fledged at the same time in a few more days.

-BLUEBIRDS: 68 nests, 313 eggs, 290 hatched, 273 fledged
-TREE SWALLOWS: 9 nests, 36 eggs, 29 hatched, 29 fledged
-CHICKADEES: 4 nests, 20 eggs, 18 hatched, 18 fledged


-Total 20 dead/missing nestlings.
-Total 9 eggs missing or removed unhatched eggs (by parents).
-Total 6 unhatched eggs found on fledged nest (this is low!).
-1 box dead adult female on ground to cat predation!
-2 boxes snake predation–none were at the VBS protocol ones.
-2 boxes bear attacks! Lost 4 bluebird young and swallow eggs.
-1 box parents died-moved babies to be fostered at Nestbox 16.
-1 box all nestlings died-deceased removed by parent birds.
-1 box had chronic carpenter bees-babies fledged OK.
-1 box chronic paper wasps. Eradicated! Late bluebird nesting.
-1 box bluebird young died-starvation-parents went missing.
-1 box bluebirds did takeover over tree swallow nest and eggs.
-1 box fledgling found dead on nest. Other siblings made it!
-1 box chickadees beat bluebirds in nesting. Unusual.
-1 paired boxes did well for bluebirds/swallows to nest nearby.
-2 boxes of 2-Hole Mansions again highly successful!
-1 box had no action with any nests this season.
-1 box had first-time tree swallows nesting and early in season.

NOTE:  I treat all of the inside of nests (except House Wren stick nests) with organic food-grade diatomaceous earth for the purpose of eradicating blowfly larvae.  I counted 25 nests infested with with the larvae, but DEAD, so there was no losses of young.



Greetings bluebird lovers and nature fans. Happy March 2017 – the new nesting season along the trail has commenced!  This winter went by so fast. It was a milder one, but March has roared in like a lion! My first checks for the Season 2017 — March 9 and March 12, 2017.

First…I have nests … 6 to be exact all bluebird except for one. No eggs yet. I think the females know it’s still too cold. This beloved and therapeutic hobby of mine of monitoring nesting Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Carolina Chickadees, House Wrens….and more…commences again as of March 9 (Thursday). The Woolwine House Bluebird Trail now has 44 nestboxes is located in the Blue Ridge Highlands elevations 4 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Currently, the trail has 6 boxes active with bluebird nestings. One nest has the nest cup perfectly and deeply formed ready for the first egg of the 2017 season. If we get any early eggs laid prior to this upcoming winter blast and snows scheduled here starting Monday night, March 13 and continuing for two more days, the good news is that nestbox has the ventilation plugged to deter frigid air dropping down from the top by the roof to the nest cup. One box has another native species building, the House Wren, but it could be a “dummy nest”. I will watch it closely. If it is a dummy, it will be removed very soon so another native bird can use that nestbox. Seems a tad early for the House Wren since it is a migrator, but the males may be arriving now and are stuffing any cavity they find with sticks. For me, this is one of the fun parts of landlording a bluebird trail; that is, the observational troubleshooting variations from year to year. I am hoping to add a few nestboxes soon. My goal is 50 nestboxes max for the trail. Only 6 more to install and I’m there! I am including 4 pictures. One picture is one located along my trail and just up my own road…photo taken last year on March 10, 2016. This nestbox was the first one on my trail to have the FIRST EGG LAID in 2016, Nestbox #27. That Mrs. Blue is resting safely inside the entry hole guard (called the Noel Guard). The next set of pictures shows Mrs. Blue entering a “winterized nestbox” still from the winter. In November I add pine needle bedding for roosting birds during the cold nights and winter weather. I also plug the ventilation holes and slots at the top of the box to keep cold drafts out. I leave the ventilation plugged through mid-April. The photos inside this nestbox show the white pine needles I put there in November and the pine needles she just added to build her early nest. This is one of the 6 boxes that have active nestings going on as of my trail check March 9, 2016 and then again on Sunday, March 12 – THANKFULLY NO EGGS YET. All final nesting records of the trail are shared annually in September with three ornithology organizations…the scientists use them to compare the nesting and population trends. OK, so here we go into the new nesting season. I’m excited, as always.

Such a beautiful setting for a bluebird couple to raise a family.

My added needle bedding in November is shown here under the nest Mrs. Blue built. I winterize my trail boxes, thus I add the natural pine needles to help keep bellies warm when using the boxes for shelter during the winter months.   The boxes are plugged at the top in the ventilation holes and slots and will remain that way until mid-April.

I am glad no eggs are laid yet. A wintry arctic is here and a storm is coming for the next two days!  


It is winter already?  My results for 2016 are below.   Stay warm and happy and see you next Spring!

Copyright - Photo by David Kinneer

Here is my trail summary essay points…..final bluebird stats are 66 nest attempts total (which means at least one egg was laid per nest), 288 eggs laid, 243 eggs hatched, 217 young fledged.  Not my best year for the trail, in spite of the fact that last year I fledged 211 bluebirds.  I had many more challenges and a higher percentage of eggs and nestling losses this year and smaller clutches. The trail fledged less Tree Swallows and Carolina Chickadees compared to last year, as well. One House Wren active nest and fledging ONLY this year. Absolutely NO House Sparrow issues this year. Good!  Every year is different.  Last year — my best ever.  This year, not so great.   Now I look forward to the 2017 nesting season!


EABL – Eastern Bluebird

TRES – Tree Swallow

CACH – Carolina Chickadee

HOWR – House Wren

HOSP – House Sparrow


1. One box had a sudden roof fail and I moved the nest and nestlings to a newly installed box nearby. Parents accepted and fledged young.

2.  Two broods died on nest and I could NOT determine why.  NOT BLOWFLIES, NOT STARVATION.

3. I had two boxes that I had to eradicate hornets’ nests. One was built over TRES eggs during incubation it appears, but I got that nest and eggs moved to a new box nearby. The TRES incubating female accepted and hatched them a couple of days later.

4. Snakes got past several remaining 6-inch wide stovepipes and one 7-inch wide stovepipe. I am replacing those with 8-inch wides for 2017.  NO PREDATIONS at any of my 8-inch widths.

5. I had one box that had a late season nesting, only one brood, and they fledged.

6. I had some dead hatchlings removed by parent birds. I find this marvelous! This is possible if they are small enough to get out the 1.5″ entry holes. To remove the dead is progressive and good action by parent birds. This is not possible when the young grow larger, unfortunately.

7. Carpenter bees occupied two boxes during nestings, but no problems for the eggs or young, amazingly. I did try to eradicate nonetheless.

8. TRES attempt but evicted by bluebirds. TRES left area, too late to add another box in a paired setup.

9. I witnessed a premature fledging take place at one box due to human workers in vicinity of the nestbox. Age was 14 days old when fledging. Most made it barely up to a tree. Two went to ground and I flushed them up to tree when I did not see parents fly down to them within a reasonable amount of time.

10. I still had one box on a fence at one private owner’s location with no predator guard …. EXCEPT a pronged out Noel Guard. SUCCESS in fledging! I still do not recommend NOT using a wobbling stovepipe baffles, which increases success rate of fledging because it deters climbing predators.

11. Using heat shields on a few boxes with nestlings seemed to really help this year when the temps were above 90 degrees. I only needed those on my original 10 year old boxes, that had a bit less ventilation at the top. The newer boxes are Carl Little designs which have adequate ventilation at the top — I’ve not ever had nestling losses due to heat in those designs, nor in the 2-Hole Mansion, either.

12. Diatomaceous Earth applications worked on all nests but one — the hardy larvae got past the DE on the side of one nest and the whole brood died. Other nests, the larvae did not have enough strength to get past the DE and the bluebirds broods survived a lightweight amount of the blowfly larvae. I know this from the dissected fledged nests in the bucket by how many larvae are still alive and how many are dead inside the nest.


A few photos from 2016 follow below.  I did not caption them this time.  If you have questions, leave a blog note here and I’ll respond.  I hope you have enjoyed the end-of-year update of the results for the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail.  I hope you have safe holidays and a wonderful winter.  See you next Spring!

How I remove unhatched eggs. I use a plastic spoon. I only do this if it does not disturb the hatchlings; otherwise, I leave them. If they can be removed, I will then do it -- simply and quickly.

ABOVE:  How I remove unhatched eggs. I use a plastic spoon. I only do this if it does not disturb the hatchlings; otherwise, I leave them. If they can be removed, I will then do it — simply and quickly.

One of several styles of mealworm feeders I use. I feed live mealworms during the nesting season and dried ones mixed with suet nuggets and soaked cut-up raisins in the winter.

ABOVE:  One of several styles of mealworm feeders I use. I feed live mealworms during the nesting season and dried ones mixed with suet nuggets and soaked cut-up raisins in the winter.

Look how beautiful this Tree Swallow is coming out of this nest box! Even its bill is iridescent!

ABOVE:  Look how beautiful this Tree Swallow is coming out of this nest box! Even its bill is iridescent!

Hello Mrs. Chickadee. I hope I'm not disturbing you too much.

ABOVE:  Hello Mrs. Chickadee. I hope I’m not disturbing you too much.  (When this happens, I quietly and quickly close and secure the box and walk away to leave her in peace and not stress her too much.)

ABOVE:  One Tree Swallow to its mate: “May the Winged Force Be With You.”

ABOVE:  This native paper wasp is not aggressive. I chased them out of the box without incident and made sure they didn’t want to return.

AVOVE:  Here’s Pop with some yummy grub! See how they like the Noel Guards? It’s like a front porch!

ABOVE:  AHEM….yep, carpenter bees. Sigh.

ABOVE:  Oh my goodness, this is a beautiful brooding, incubating Tree Swallow. They are brave when we check on their nest. I love this bird!

ABOVE:  OOOPSY….removing a small hornets nest over this Tree Swallow nest of eggs. This is not a usual thing on the trail, but this year, I had to get rid of TWO hornets nests.

A Tree Swallow guarding its nest on the “front porch”, which is the entry hole guard called the Noel Guard.

ABOVE:  I am installing a new Two-Hole Mansion (designed by Linda Violett — to spec!). So easy peasy…I can do this myself.

ABOVE:  Pretty blue egg. Just one is a sight to behold.

Looking down on the Ron Kingston stovepipe baffle. Simply the best.

ABOVE:  Looking down on the Ron Kingston stovepipe baffle. Simply the best.


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 www.aba.org).   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: https://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-and-regulations/laws-legislations/migratory-bird-treaty-act.php

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!  https://www.facebook.com/WoolwineHouseBluebirdTrail

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.