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.  


Martins flying to gourd rack.

Photo by Kathy Laine.



Mark your calendars for this fascinating 22nd annual event about amazing Purple Martins:  Saturday, June 25, 2016. Main presentation begins at 11:00 a.m. Please try to arrive before 11:00a.m. Door prize give-away at the beginning includes FREE gourds! You’ll meet expert birders at this event, hear lectures, get free materials, learn what creates a successful colony of Purple Martins and why they need to be cared for and monitored (why we need to use predator guards to protect from snakes and raccoons), and how to get martins to return year after year, bringing us so much joy. We can do so much to help cavity-nesting birds; it involves much more than just putting up housing and letting nature take its course. Good care-taking is required for continued success.  Activities will end by 3:00 p.m.

Come and bring your friends and family to see what Purple Martins are all about! Bring a lunch to eat while you listen to the speakers and watch the martins feeding their babies! Check out this website for more info on this event, directions, and more:

No registration.  Event is FREE, but donations will be appreciated to help cover expenses.  Bring: Lawn chairs, binoculars, notepad, camera. Drinks and snacks provided. The hosts request that guests do not bring pets. Thank you.

For more information, contact Ron at (434) 962-8232 or


Here is a flyer you can open, view, and print.   See below.

2016 Flyer.

Martin activity.

Photo by Kathy Laine.

Participants view Wood supercolony.

Photo by Kathy Laine.


Photo by Kathy Laine.







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.


Male Mountain Bluebird

Bluebird Man, Al Larson

Bluebird Man, Al Larson

It’s easy to forget that not long ago bluebirds were rapidly disappearing from the landscape across North America. Today the Mountain Bluebird – Idaho’s state bird – is actually quite common in many areas. This was not the case when Al Larson – now known as the “Bluebird Man” – first started putting up nest boxes for bluebirds in 1978. Bluebird populations were threatened by decreases in nesting habitat, increases in nest competitors (primarily from the introduced starling and house sparrow), and increased pressure from nest predators such as raccoons (primarily in the Eastern US).

The large-scale citizen science program that was established by the North American Bluebird Society was a truly unique project designed to increase nesting habitat for bluebirds across the continent. Here in Idaho Al Larson got involved with this project right from the start, setting up his first nest boxes in the Owyhee Mountains that same year. Al had been looking for a retirement project and had never forgotten that first Mountain Bluebird that he saw in the Owyhees while working as a ranch hand back in the 1930s. For him, this bluebird trail was more than a fun side project; it was a return to the remote mountain landscape of his childhood.

Al is now 91 years old, but he continues to monitor and maintain his bluebird boxes. He now has over 300 boxes spread out across Southwest Idaho that fledge close to 1,000 bluebird chicks every year. This provides a substantial boost to bluebird populations in this area, a trend that has been universal throughout the bluebird’s range. It is the intensity and devotion of its volunteers that makes this citizen science project so unique. Al has dedicated his life to his bluebird trail, just as many other citizen scientists have all across North America.

Telling Al’s story and the story of the bluebird is hugely important to us. Through this film we aim to inspire the next generation of conservationists and bluebird enthusiasts by highlighting Al’s unique role in this conservation effort. Al, along with many other bluebird enthusiasts all across the continent, has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with this bird. The bluebird now relies on us to provide additional nesting habitat, but we also rely on the bluebird for the happiness and enjoyment that they bring into our lives!

Become a part of Al’s story by backing “Bluebird Man” on Kickstarter. You will be ensuring, not just that our film gets made, but that Al’s legacy continues.

Link to “Bluebird Man” Kickstarter page:

“Bluebird Man” website:
Wild Lens website:
“Bluebird Man” facebook page:
Wild Lens twitter feed:

“THE TRAIL MONITORS” – A Poem by “Bluebird Bob”

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

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



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.




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:

White Bluebird Eggs



My Place!

This Mrs. Bluebird says a big “Hiya! Do you see me?” along the bluebird trail. She’s liking her nesting digs and seems to appreciate getting some attention here. No fear at all, can you tell? This weathered box is about 15, possibly 20 years old. Painted white and looking rather pretty weathered, actually. Fledging young successfully will be priority this season. I will report my findings to the owners–adjustments will be made, if necessary.




First egg laid April 5, 2013. Compared to last year, the first egg laid on the trail was March 8, 2012! The birds waited for the weather to improve–much colder this spring. I can wait–no rushing these pretty blues.


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!

This Stanley-brand bag is perfect for me to carry what I need!   Not expensive!  It's about the size of a ladies handbag.

This Stanley-brand bag is perfect for me to carry what I need! Not expensive! It’s about the size of a ladies handbag.


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

#18 - This box had the most amount of materials of the 4 that had nests started.  This is much later than last year.  I'm sure the colder weather is making a difference when these birds decide to start the raise-the-family thing they do!

#18 – This box had the most amount of materials of the 4 that had nests started. This is much later than last year. I’m sure the colder weather is making a difference when these birds decide to start the raise-the-family thing they do!



This website commenced while I was teleworking to my Northern Virginia position from my relatively new home in Southwest Virginia. My first official post on this website/blog was dated May 25, 2007! That was quite a while ago! The story of that first post consisted of me looking out my office window and seeing bluebirds and what a distraction it was that afternoon from getting any work done!

I thought it was time to change the look of this site. I hope you like it. I spent some hours looking at different designs. I wanted a crisp, clean feel, easy to read and follow, and easy for the readers to maneuver around it. I decided I didn’t want too much fancy and fluff because, really, it’s the birds I want to highlight, not my website design choice. I am particularly fond of being able to customize the backgrounds to the pages as well as the usual changes to the main header photo. It is also now “mobile friendly”. I’m going to have fun with the new feel. Do leave a note here on this post if you have any suggestions. And while you’re at it, let me know if there is something in particular you are thinking about bluebirds you would like to know more about and see discussed here. I’m here to assist the best I can. I love talking about the bluebirds, as you probably already figured out.

Before we know it, those males will be out and about checking out nestboxes!




These Eastern Bluebird youngsters are enjoying Mr. Kinneer’s garden decoration!

At this time of year, adult bluebirds start their annual “molt”, and the fledglings become juveniles and molt their spotted “camouflage” feathers to their adult feathers. This male adult is molting, as you can see — what a great picture! We know how brilliant he will look this winter–even more beautiful in the late winter and early spring as he seeks his lady-love for a new nesting season!

Here is final data, interesting observations, and highlights for 2012 nesting season on the WHBBT.  Only two species nested and laid eggs and fledged young: 

Eastern Bluebirds:  30 nest attempts, 128 eggs laid, 100 eggs hatched, 87 fledged.  13 nestling deaths, 19 unhatched and retrieved eggs, 9 missing/destroyed eggs.

Carolina Chickadees: 3 nest attempts, 15 eggs laid, 15 hatched, 14 fledged.  1 nestling death.

Results of Predation, Deaths of Nestlings, and Missing/Destroyed Eggs:  1 snake, several house wren attacks, chickadee nest takeovers,  a 3-night freeze snap early in season, and 2 predations are “unknown” reasons:  possibly flying squirrel, snake, starvation/abandonment (death of one or both parent bluebirds), or death due to excessive heat, or house wren—I could not determine cause in two cases.  Chickadees also took over 2 bluebird nest attempts in early season—they destroyed bluebird eggs and nested over those bluebird nests (eviction).

Eggs Missing/Disappeared inside nests: 9 eggs unfound or unaccounted

Unusual Observations/Results on the trail for 2012:   What surprises me the most this year is the number of nestling deaths and unhatched eggs!  …. fourteen (14) dead nestlings and nineteen (19) UNHATCHED eggs, all retrieved by me during the nesting cycle or after nesting cycles were completed and soiled nests removed and dissected and nestboxes cleaned out.   The rest of the eggs were missing/unaccounted for. 

The Good News:  I again fledged more bluebirds this year than the year before.  It has been consistent that I fledged on or about 20 more bluebirds per year since my bluebird trail officially commenced in February 2008’s nesting season.  My records show a number fledged for 2008, and then 20 more bluebirds fledged in 2009, and then approximately 20 more in 2010, and again in 2011.  I went from 14 nestboxes in 2008 to 19 presently.  I installed two more nestboxes in early July this year to bring the count to 21 nestboxes on the trail for 2012; however, House Wren dummy nests were built in those boxes, so that data is not included for this year.  For 2012, I fledged 11 more bluebirds than last year.  I strongly believe that the number of nestling deaths (14), the number of unhatched eggs (19),  and the fact that one very successful nestbox in past had to be removed after the first brood fledging because of that location turned into new a construction site made an impact on the fledging totals this year.  I was honestly expecting a larger number of fledgings of bluebirds this year.  Considering it’s still 11 more than last year makes me feel satisfied.

What I have learned, will continue doing, and will do differently:

1.  Blowfly Deterrence–a chronic issue on the trail:  I will continue my careful application of diatomaceous earth to the bases and centers of nest materials in completed nests, BEFORE eggs are laid if possible.  I will continue this successful method along with creating hardware cloth bases for ALL nestboxes for future years.  Note:  The hardware cloth bases will be added after a partial nest is started or after completion of a nest.  I will not leave them inside vacant nestboxes.  The reason behind this is so that the female will not be confused by the bases.  The purpose of adding them is for air circulation on the bottom of the nesting material in nests infested with blowfly larvae.  This will also give me access to brushing out dead larvae that fall through the bases to the wood floors underneath.

2. Monitoring:   I will continue, if possible, twice-a-week monitoring–all will depend on weather and other factors, of course.  This is the ideal schedule for me.  I get accurate records (those dates!) and better chances to troubleshoot issues and problems and possibly be able to save baby bluebirds by doing so instead of ONCE a week.   This is not always possible for every nestbox, and I’m happy with once-a-week checks.   Experience has told me how I lose control of monitoring nesting cycles if I let two weeks pass by without checks.   This will happen “once in a blue moon” due to illness or severe weather.  Another goal for monitoring is to find a back-up person who knows my trail in advance and is willing to step in and help me monitor in the event I cannot (such as hospitalization, as an example).  I plan on contacting the Virginia Master Naturalist program in my area to get a volunteer or two who is looking for building up their own volunteer hours for certification in the program.  See info on the Virginia program here:

3.  Installations of More Nestboxes:   The trail is expanding!  I expect to have 30 nestboxes for 2013, and will expand to 40 nestboxes by 2014–IF THAT IS POSSIBLE (that’s the key!).  I will stop at 40.  I cannot effectively monitor more than 40.  I may find 30 is my limit.  At that time, and I know I have my limit to what I can take care of, I will conduct further outreach to train others to monitor the boxes by themselves on their own premises and to just submit their data to me.   I am realistic about this–as much as I encourage it and I will train, I do not want anyone to feel “obligated” — this is a big commitment.  However, a back yard bluebirder who has one or two nestboxes will find it’s not as complicated as it seems at first–usually they will find they get great joy out of doing it through a little experience, and that it is fun!  If two predator guards are used, there will be less risk to the birds and more success in monitoring the birds, as opposed to finding deaths due to predation (which is not pleasant to deal with, no matter what the predation is).  My point still stands:   Manmade nestboxes is not true nature.  A natural cavity is.   If man puts up a nestbox and invites birds to use it, it is my position to make it as safe for the birds for DETERRING predators and not inviting predators to get the birds.  What is the point of taking effort to put up housing and then setting the birds up to fail at successful breeding?   The purpose in this effort is “bluebird conservation”.   ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:  I assure you if I had too many failures in fledging baby bluebirds, I would not be doing what I am doing today.  That is how I know deterring predators is the right thing to do.  Natural cavities also have predators, but man cannot and is not involved in that true setting of nature.  That I accept when it comes to bird losses.  However, it’s been proven for many years now that the bluebirds have suffered through the years, their numbers declined almost to an extinction, in past.  It hasn’t been until the 1970’s when the nestbox projects took off that bluebirds have proven to come back to healthy numbers.  That math is good enough for me.  It is not just the loss of habitat to building of housing developments and sprawl, removal of snags on farmland, parks, meadows, and even back yards, usage of pesticides and herbicides (RoundUp) killing adult birds and young or causing them to hatch deformed — but it is the introduction of non-native species of birds The English House Sparrow and the European Starling that prey on our native cavity-nesting birds, destroy their eggs and young, and take over the natural cavities that do remain in North America.  The starlings will strip all fruit food sources in minutes from a tree or shrub.   Read on more about this here:

4.  Nestboxes in Afternoon Shade!   This is my #1 priority for future installations–if it is possible for the new sites.  After this horridly hot summer in Southwest Virginia, I saw nestlings suffer in the heat, attempting to breathe and keep cool.  Thankfully, I did not have many nestling deaths due to the heat.  Good ventilation in the nestboxes is the reason most survived.   I will also make a few heat shields for 2013 to have ready for emergencies.  I will try to make them inexpensively but easy to install for the few boxes in full sun in the event of excessive heat.  By installing future boxes in afternoon shade, I can eliminate this problem altogether.  This is why I want to get my boxes installed this month–while the leaves are still on the trees and I can see where the shade will fall.   Installing heat shields is only a last resort.  The less boxes in full sun, the better, as far as I’m concerned.  This is not always possible, however.

Summary Observations and Tidbits:

This has been the most challenging year yet on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail regarding observing and troubleshooting unusual activities.  I dealt with absolutely zero blowfly infestations during the first two broods (usually in my location it’s every brood–no matter what time of year) and then third broods got smacked hard with a super-strong and powerful blowfly population—as if they were on steroids.  Other problems were ants attempted to infest one nestbox (and corrected by me), excessive heat caused some weakness and slower development even in well-ventilated nestboxes (but no deaths due to heat), a freeze snap for three nights in a row in early Spring caused starvation due to lack of insects (and thus protein and hydration to one hatchling—that is the only death to the cold snap), one snake managed to get past a stovepipe guard (this happens at least once each year), a couple of House Wren attacks at a location of two nestboxes, chickadees fighting bluebirds over nestboxes at a location of two nestboxes—chickadees destroyed bluebird eggs; and last but not least, there has been an unusual number of nestling deaths and unhatched eggs.  One nestling death was a chickadee–all chickadees in that brood fledged except one—could not determine cause—no blowfly larvae found—possibly starvation.   Out of 19 nestboxes on the trail, three were unoccupied this season.  Surprisingly, two of those three unoccupied nestboxes were very successful last year in fledging birds and the years before (average 2-3 broods fledging bluebirds).  Therefore I will not move these two boxes for 2013.  I was able to keep blowfly infestation controlled in all boxes except for two nests.  One brood of 4, in spite of my method of control, did not succeed–the infestation was too large and larvae too strong and thus survived deterrence—those 4 nestlings died quickly from weakness due to anemia (low blood cells) thus disabling them (weakness) to take in food from the parent bluebirds before I could save them.  Upon dissecting the infested nest, I counted quite a few live, gorged-with-blood larvae.  The other nest showed the same symptoms, so I conducted a nest change-out—this is moving the weak nestlings carefully by hand from the infested nest to an unused-unsoiled-abandoned previously built nest by bluebirds made of grasses– those nestlings survived the nest change and fledged at age 18 days old.  I dissect all nests, except unused nests which I keep for emergencies.  By dissecting used, soiled nests, I find interesting things about them, how many blowfly larvae survived my deterrence method, how many did not survive, how many infested the nest, finding uneaten food given to the fledglings but not consumed at fledging time.  This year a dead baby skink or newt and a large dead bumblebee were found on top of the fledged nests.   I also had two nests with the same parent bluebirds, one brood after the other, that appeared to be completely unskilled (lazy?) at removing the fecal sacs left by their nestlings and upon cleaning out the nestbox, I found those nests severely crusted with the nestlings waste matter—wet and sticky.  I was surprised to find the nestlings fledged, but they did.  I look at the sides of the walls and the front of the box for clues of successful fledging.

The following nestboxes are worth mentioning certain observations:

Interesting Data – Nestbox #1:  The first bluebird brood’s 4 eggs were pushed down inside the nest by something I have not been able to pin down.  It appears to have been another bluebird female that wanted to use that nestbox—evicted the other female or perhaps the first female abandoned the nest or was killed.  The eggs were not destroyed, and I was able to retrieve them upon cleaning the nestbox after the nesting cycle was completed.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #3:  This box has been very successful with 2-3 broods consistently, except this year—it was completely unoccupied.  I have not been able to determine reason.  It will not be moved for 2013.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #7:   One brood of three nestlings died inside the nest—do not know why; possibly the parents were killed and the nestlings died of starvation.  Interestingly, I discovered this data late as I left the nest in the box thinking the female would come back and lay a new clutch.  At first look inside the nest, I thought a snake had taken the nestlings.  It turned out they died inside the nest, and were “covered up” by some nesting material.  Because of the age of the deaths soon after hatchling (1-2 days), they could not be seen when I looked upon the nest with my mirror.   It wasn’t until I removed the unoccupied nest a month later that I found the dead hatchlings while dissecting the nesting material.

Highlight – Nestbox #8:   This nestbox was unoccupied by any species for two years straight.   Instead of pulling it up, I decided to give it another chance this year; I knew it was in great bluebird habitat.  This year, my hunches were correct–it produced THREE broods this year, though one brood had a clutch of 4 unviable eggs laid on or before July 24th and thus never hatched as of August 31, 2012.  Those four eggs have been included in the unhatched egg count total for this nesting season.  I “candled” the 4 eggs—all were clear showing no development; therefore it appears they were unfertilized.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #9:  This has been a successful box since the day it was installed.  This year, one brood fledged and the box had to be removed due to the location going under construction; therefore, no more data of fledged birds could be included from that nestbox in this year’s eggs and fledgings count.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #10:  Strangely, this box did very well in past two years. This was the nestbox that fledged 2-3 broods of chickadees and bluebirds, including the laying of my first ever clutch of white eggs.  This box was totally unoccupied this year.  The good habitat for bluebirds has not changed.  The box will remain to see how it does next year.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #12:  This nestbox has been consistently my highest yielding of bluebirds in years past.  This year, we had some troubles.  First brood had one unhatched egg; the rest of the nestlings were taken by a snake–first time for this box to have snake predation.  The second brood had one unhatched egg; the rest of the nestlings were attacked by wrens.  One nestling was taken out of the nestbox and dropped, which ended up in the Noel guard and, unfortunately, died there.  The other two nestlings survived the attack inside the nest and fledged.  Both incidents this year is very unusual for this nestbox, which is in open habitat with beautiful white pines trees in front of it–not close to brushy areas, which attracts the wrens.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #13:  This was a good box for bluebird habitat and had successful bluebird fledgings until past two years.  This being a hay field, the growth of vegetation surrounding the field where the box is located has caused too much thickets nearby.  In spite of my two years of efforts keeping this nestbox trimmed of overhanging tree branches and vegetation growth, including fast-growing Morning Glory, I cannot maintain this box any further and keep those thickets trimmed away from the nestbox.  It will be moved to a new location for 2013 to attract bluebirds in better, more open habitat.  It is obvious the bluebirds did not like this nestbox being close to thick vegetation and hay grasses being too tall for long periods of time, which makes it more difficult for parent bluebirds to stay close to the nests to find insects (bluebirds go to ground most of the time to pick up insects off the ground).

Highlight – #15:  The same nestbox had the earliest egg laid on my trail— two years in a row:  March 11 in 2011 … and March 8 in 2012.  This nestbox truly has become the most successful nestbox on the trail today.  It makes me ponder if this is the same bluebird couple this year from last or perhaps bluebirds that fledged from it last year returned this year early to raise families in it.

Highlight — Nestbox #16:  The 3-Year Test-Two Hole “Mansion” (from Linda Violett, Yorba Linda, CA) was a MAJOR winner this season! THIS YEAR, absolutely no House Sparrows (HOSP) attempted to nest in this area where the HOSP built nests and laid eggs (removed by me) in 2010 and 2011 which later bluebirds fledged one brood each year — this without me intervening with gadgets like Sparrow Spookers or HOSP trapping.  A total of 12 bluebird young fledged this box this year, in spite of a blowfly issue in one nest and house wrens entering the nestbox while the bluebirds babies from Brood 3 were attempting to fledge.   My first bluebird nesting material dropped inside was discovered on March 16 with a partial nest built.  The first egg laid was March 27th.  The third brood bluebirds fledged on August 14th!  This is 5 months of bluebird activity!  More information in detail and a summary report will be coming to the website to conclude this 3-year test, written by Linda Violett and me.   I expect to have this online by end of September (or sooner).  I have many thanks to make:  to the homeowner who supported me in this nestbox project and to Linda Violett for mentoring and supporting me during this test.  The nestbox will remain for 2013, with permission by the homeowner.   This nestbox has proven to be the second most successful on the trail, not far behind Box #15 as the top producer of Eastern Bluebirds on my bluebird trail!

See my 3-year test results and Linda’s comments on the Violett’s Bluebirds website here:

Taken today, September 4, 2012…..the Flowering Dogwood berries are a favorite of bluebirds. This is such a good time for the juvenile bluebirds–warm enough for insects to be plentiful but berries appearing in colorful array, easy to find, in August and September.


I successfully removed (v e r y  CAREFULLY, may I add!) one of the two unhatched eggs in week-old bludbird nestlings’ nest on April 3, 2012.   I use a clean plastic spoon to do so.   This photo represents size of egg to the spoon and my hand.  Through the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VA DGIF), I have my name on the Federal Fish and Wildlife Permit for VBS County Coordinators (Wildlife Salvage Permit) to collect eggs and nests for certain protected cavity-nesting birds for displays for educational purposes and presentations.   Permits are required for all possession of migratory bird specimens.  I can’t tell you enough how helpful this is during my talks about bluebirds to be able to display these.  It is fascinating for people to see the eggs close up–their size and color and relation to the nest size.   If you’d like to read more about removing unhatched eggs, may I suggest the Sialis site, an outstanding website loaded with helpful information about cavity-nesting birds (thank you, Bet!):

So delicate. There are various reasons why the eggs don't hatch. It is always best to leave the nest alone if you cannot remove unhatched eggs without disturbing the growing babies. Thanks to the Sialis site, I studied up before attempting this. I will use this egg for educational displays.

Here they are after I removed that egg. There is one more unhatched egg underneath these three. I'm not comfortable attempting to remove the non-visible unhatched egg. They are one week old--we have several days of colder, rainy weather going on; they are getting to an older age now that I might spook them; thus making it unsafe for the three. In other words, the risk is greater for these three at this point to try to remove the other unhatched egg than not removing it!


First egg was laid March 8.  They hatched March 26th.  Here they are — they are 7 days old today.   Three of the five eggs hatched.  We’ve had very windy days, and I’ve been waiting for calmer days to attempt to remove the unhatched eggs.  Sometimes Mama Bluebird will try to remove them or bury them deeper in the nest.  Since the eggs are still on top of the nest, it is better for the chicks to get the eggs out of there.  Now that the chicks are older and not as fragile and have some soft feathers developing, tomorrow I will go back to the box and use a small plastic spoon to remove CAREFULLY (gently!) what unhatched eggs I can reach without disturbing the babies and creating nervousness with Ma and Pa Bluebird.  I saw both of them in  the trees above me today, so I know both parents are caring for these little guys.  I have a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries permit to salvage (collect) nests and eggs.  I will use the unhatched eggs for educational displays.



Winterizing Material 2

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!

Winterizing Material for NestboxesWinterizing Material 1

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! BBIce-AllRightsResered-DaveKinneer-UsedWithPermission-CBoran2009The 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:

Tack Box and Tools for Winterizing:  Foam-tubing weatherstripping, foam air-conditioning strips, old and newly fallen pine needles, gloves, and scissors.

Tack Box and Tools for Winterizing: Foam-tubing weatherstripping, foam air-conditioning strips, old and newly fallen pine needles, gloves, and scissors.

Photo of foam in front-opening box in ventilation.

Pine needles, gloves, ventilation plugging materials.

Bucket of local pine needles, gloves, ventilation plugging materials, cordless drill, galvanized wire.

Repair your nesting boxes between September and January!

Repair your nesting boxes between September and January!

About an inch of grasses or pine needles for the floor should be placed.

Photo of foam tubing on narrower ventilation areas (top of box).

Photo of foam tubing on narrower ventilation areas (top of box).

I run across this during winterizing....mud dauber wasp nests.  There are pupae inside these mud tunnels.  Remove with scraper.

I run across this during winterizing….mud dauber wasp nests. There are pupae inside these mud tunnels. Remove with scraper.  The nests are built in the late summer and early fall for larvae to “overwinter” and hatch in spring.   Destroy mud nests and larvae (I just crush in the ground thoroughly with my boots!)


Wendell Long Photo

SPECIAL CREDIT and thanks goes to Dave Kinneer with his permission to use his photos for my page header.



Ahhh, the days of winter are now upon us.  We can only hope they find lots of berries for food this winter.  We are abundant here with berries, in general.  Nonethelesss, this is a good time to put out the mealworms and start making some special recipe bluebird suet before the holidays and freeze in blocks for those terriby frigid days or ice storms.   We don’t have snow often here in Southwest Virginia, but it does happen.  Last winter, we only had one dusting of it, possibly one-half inch, and it melted the nest day.  However, every year, we always have at least one major ice storm!  I always go out and take photos when it happens.  Most of the bluebirds in our area stay as year-round neighbors and residents.  The two Eastern Bluebirds photo in the header was taken by Dave Kinneer.  Photographers Wendell Long, Bill Matthews, and Dave Kinneer have been so gracious to let me post some of their fantastic photos on this site.   With special permission, I feature their photographic art.  Their photography skills and the the joy of photographing these bird wonders is beyond explanation and words.  Just look at the photos on this site, and you see why they make such good subjects!   I hope my own photography skills will continue to improve like these wonderful bird photographers!   I appreciate the beauty they have captured in our wonderful birds and thank them for allowing me to feature their works.   All Rights Reserved-Dave Kinneer.  Used With Permission.  Additionally, my favorite bluebird artists in paint are Susan Bourdet and Jim Hautman.  Some of their artwork is featured here with their permission.  I also send thanks to both for sharing their creativity and beauty of the birds with me on my site.  

SUET RECIPES FOR BLUEBIRDS:    Here is one suet recipe you can make at home for bluebirds.  A bit of table sugar gives the birds extra energy during the cold winter and is safe for them in small amounts:

Source:  Virginia Bluebird Society

1 cup crunchy peanut butter, 1 cup lard, 2 cups quick oats, 2 cups cornmeal, 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, dried berries like currents or cut up dried cranberries or cherries, optional, but suggested.  Mix dry ingredients.  Melt peanut butter & lard together, and mix with dry ingredients.  Press into pan, cool, cut into squares and freeze until needed.  I suggest using a platform feeder or jailhouse style mealworm feeder and cut and crumble the suet for the bluebirds to easily eat it.      More recipes can be found on the website:     

DaveKinneer Photo-UsedWithPermission-AllRightsReserved 2009.

Hey, this fella is holding onto this icy branch quite well. He has a cap of snow on his blue head.

 POEM by “Bluebird Bob” Walshaw (with permission–thanks, Bob!)


I saw a Bluebird in the snow
He seemed to know just where to go
As he flew to eat those sumac berries,
Wishing they were summer cherries.

He did not go south with the others
And will have a head start on his brothers
When once again it is time to sing
To compete and win a mate in spring.

His feathers were fluffed against the cold
And I thought how very bold
For him to stay and not to go
Braving the wind and cold and snow.

Like us he must do his best
To accept life’s weather and the rest
And I am richer as I know
For seeing that Bluebird in the snow.

Of the many wonderful photos by Mr. Kinneer, this is my favorite icy scene. Look how skilled birds are to hanging onto iced branches with confidence! Thank you for sharing your beautiful photography on my site.


The 2009 bluebirding breeding and nesting season is over.  I have suffered again that dreaded “empty nest syndrome”.   It’s all part of being a bluebirder.   It’s autumn already and another bluebird season has come to a close….except for compiling notes, stories, photos, and sharing with everyone the joys of bluebirding on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail!   
My story of photographing Mr. and Mrs. Blue using a Noel Guard is on Page 6 of the Fall 2009 Virginia Bluebird Society issue of The Bird Box.  The full photo series can be found on this website under the Predator Guards gray tab section above.  If you prefer to just read the text instead, it is below the link in italics.  I hope you’ll look at how nice the VBS newsletter is!  There are some other terrific stories in it.    Thank you, Virginia Bluebird Society!  I am honored to be a part of this great organization.
Box4 06-12-09 by Christine
Through the Lens, A Treat! 

Recently, I spent a beautiful morning observing and photographing a pair of bluebirds on my trail.  One of the nests had been infested with blowflies, and I had just conducted a switchout to a clean nest. After making certain that the chicks were safe and comfortable, I ran back behind the pine trees to my stool and camera on the tripod. After a switchout, I like to stay back and observe from a distance, to make sure that my intervention didn’t disturb the parents’ continued care of their chicks. Moreover, it was a perfect day for photography, and I was prepared and hoping for something special. 

I was rewarded within five minutes. The female returned to the box with grub. She perched on the top of the box, hopped over to the top of the Noel guard, then flew into the box to feed her chicks. She exited the box, perched inside the center of Noel guard, and stayed there. As I focused in with the camera and waited another two minutes or so, the male arrived with grub in his beak. The female, however, didn’t move from the guard. It appeared the female and the male may have a tight squeeze as she stayed inside and he was about to land on the end of the guard. I thought to myself, “What will happen next? Will they both fit inside the guard as he enters?” At that moment, the female perched at the end of the guard and opened her mouth to receive food from the male while he was in flight. Then she stayed and watched him enter the box with what remaining grub he had to feed their chicks. The female flew to the top of the box, and the male exited with a fecal sac.  This was a joyful event for me to see and document with photos. These activities happen so fast – in a blink of an eye, when we turn our heads or walk away. It’s as if my nest intervention had never occurred. I received an additional treat since I had modified all my boxes from front openings to side openings to install the Noel guards. Had I not stayed to watch and had I not had my camera, I would not have this event in pictures.     October 2009                                                                 




Bluebird Nestbox Design

I am a County Coordinator for the VBS.  Here are suggestions from the VBS taken from their website.  I use these guards and want to emphasize their importance using on nestboxes for the chicks’ safety.


VBS:  “We have evolved a bluebird nestbox over the past few years which is working well on our trails.  The bluebirds seem to like the design, and it is easy to monitor and clean out.”


Download nest box design

Download a diagram showing the recommended box mounting method

Predator Guard Designs:

VBS:  “We utilize two types of predator guards to help limit predation of our bluebird nestboxes. One we call the Cat/Raccoon Guard is made of a heavy wire mesh (hardware cloth) and goes on the front of the nest box to help fend off raccoons, cats, opossums, large birds, etc.  This works by backing the critters off so it is too far of a reach into the box to get the eggs or babies. The pattern for the Raccoon Guard now posted on this site is slightly different from our original version. We have changed it to make it easier to cut out and lace together. The other guard, Snake Guard, is made of round metal ducting material and is installed on the mounting pole for the nest box. This guard is primarily to inhibit access by snakes which just love to dine on little birds and eggs. This guard can also fend off climbing cats, squirrels, raccoons, etc.  (It also provides a bit of a challenge for squirrels when used on pole-mounted bird feeders.)”

Download diagram showing correct predator guard mounting

Photo below from the VBS:   “Don’t let this happen to your bluebird nestbox!  Mount your nestbox on a metal pole, use a Snake Guard, and position your nest box away from nearby and overhanging branches.”

I saw this on my first year of seeing bluebirds at Woolwine House.  The box was on a 4x4 wood post--any snake or other ground predator (including raccoons, mice, feral cats, and ants) can get to the bluebird chicks.

I saw this on my first year of seeing bluebirds at Woolwine House. The box was on a 4x4 wood post--any snake or other ground predator (including raccoons, mice, feral cats, and ants) can get to the bluebird chicks. This rat snake is more than likely leaving the box after his rest from his meal of some young cavity nesting chicks, possibly bluebirds or another cavity nesting brood. Please note that the hardware cloth Noel Guard is not installed on this box. Christine on 09-20-09.

 The Black Rat Snake you see here is a “good” snake.  We need snakes and they need to survive, too.   They have unbelievable climbing ability using their scales and are fascinating in nature.  They have plenty of food sources on the ground and otherwise.  We bluebird monitors prefer they NOT eat from our installed cavity nestboxes, understandably.  Our goal is to have successful bluebird fledgings and to help the bluebirds continue to thrive and increase their survival rate in the past decade from the use of man-made installed nestboxes.   Once chicks fledge, they still may not survive due to predators.   More on that topic of the survival of fledgings  in an upcoming post!  


Notes by Christine (09-20-09):  Please feel free to contact me if you have questions on these nestbox designs and the use of predator guards.   I would like to help.  Do you want to install a box or a trail in Patrick County, VA?  Let me know!  Just leave a voice message at 703-919-4302 with your name and contact phone number and a convenient time to call.  I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.   I would be happy to speak to you and to help you install a box or nestbox trail in Patrick County, VA.  If you live elsewhere and need some guidance where to start, let me know that, too.  I can guide you in the right direction. Thank you for your interest and support in helping our beautiful Eastern Bluebird.  See the Virginia Bluebird Society’s website for more information on optaining a grant for your organizationfor new and refurbished bluebird trails and for youth and scout organizations (see this link to the VBS page):

I am attending the November 7th, 2009, VBS State Conference in Bedford, VA.   I look forward to meeting my fellow Virginia bluebirding colleagues at the conference and learning more how I can better serve our native birds.  


I am back from a great time at the North American Bluebird Society’s annual conference in Grantville, PA — hosted by the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania — my first attendance to this conference.  I have learned from other expert bluebirders how to improve the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail for the 2010 season.

NABS 2009 Banner

Here is a group of us (including me in the green coat on left) looking a displays at the Nature Center at the Middlecreek Wildlife Management Area in PA.
Here is a group of us (including me in the green coat on left) looking a displays at the Nature Center at the Middlecreek Wildlife Management Area in PA.
The Vendors Tables.   That's me beyond in the photo in the pink denim skirt.
The Vendors Tables. That’s me beyond in the photo in the white blouse and pink denim skirt.  I believe I’m at the Virginia Bluebird Society’s table.
Found this at one of the vendor's tables at the NABS conference.   It's a good conversation starter!
I found this cute button at the vendors tables. It’s a perfect conversation starter!

Presentations and events attended:    Susan Renkel, “Joy-In-A-Box”; Chocolate and Butterflies Tour, Hershey Gardens; PA Wildlife & Bluebird Trail Tour, Middlecreek Wildlife Management Area; Ambassador for Bluebirds, Harry Schmeider presented “The Fledging Experience”; Dick Tuttle presents “The Beaver Hypothesis:  Bluebirding Before the 17th Century”; Jane Kirkland presents, “I Saw a Bald Eagle Soaring Over My Grocery Store”.     Pin for registered attendees at NABS 2009



Here is a photo of Mr. Blue with some good grub.  When the photo as taken, it was one week after I did a nest switchout from an infested nest with blowflies to a clean replacement nest I kept from a previous bluebird fledging–around Day 14 in age.   Look into the entry hole closely.  You’ll see a bright white dot.  That’s a chick inside–the reflection off one of his eyes!   I would like to note that there are only TWO boxes on my whole trail that do not have the Noel wire predator guard in front of the entry hole.  This is an experiment to see how these two boxes do without them.   I like the design better with the box opening in front…you’ll see the amount of ventilation these boxes have at the top of the box by the roof.   This is my favorite box design…larger roof and roof overhang, good ventilation, and they stay dry inside during torrential rains.  The other boxes are side opening boxes because of the Noel guards are installed over the entry holes.  The birds don’t seem to mind the guards, but these boxes seem to be better for photography.    All of this effort is worth it.  



Look inside....there's a chick's eye reflection.

Look inside....there's a chick's eye reflection! The 4 chicks actually fledged completely on the 18th day, which is about right for chicks that are underdeveloped in feathers and weak from anemia. Once the chicks have a chance to develop normally with good nutrition from Mom and Dad, they're ready to see the world!



Please visit the site in this link to read the history of the bluebirds in North America.  It is truly fascinating!   After you read this, you’ll understand why bluebirders are so passionate to conserve and help these wonderful songbirds!  The website is the best bluebird information site.   We thank Bet Z. (the webmaster and bluebird expert) for her effort to keep this site ongoing and informational for both veteran and new bluebirders.   We thank you and salute you!

This cute couple loves my mealworm feeder.  This was placed not far from the pond on our property.  I think Mr. Blue is so cute as he watches his mate enjoy.

This cute couple loves my mealworm feeder. This was placed not far from the pond on our property. I think Mr. Blue is so cute as he watches his mate enjoy.



 “Be like the bluebird who never is blue,
For he knows from his upbringing what singing can do.”  

~  Cole Porter, Be Like the Bluebird, 1934  ~

Sweet Dreams, Much Grub, and Safe Landings on First Flight, dear baby Blues!
Sweet Dreams, Much Grub, and Safe Landings on First Flight, Dearest Baby Blues!
This bluebird is on a mission!  What a beautiful photo taken by Bill in NC of this bluebird exiting the nestbox.  This is one of the Home for Bluebirds, made in Bailey, NC.

This bluebird is on a mission! What a beautiful photo taken by Bill in NC of this bluebird exiting the nestbox. This is one of the Homes for Bluebirds, made in Bailey, NC. This is a wonderfully crafted box that is more narrow and taller to accommodate an artificial nestcup, making monitoring and cleaning the box easier. The metal plate over the entry hole is a reinforcement to keep any other possible predator, such as another bird or squirrel, from enlarging this 1.5 inch hole size and thus harming the eggs or chicks inside.


I did a switchout of nests due to blowfly larvae in this nest.  The Female returned in 5 minutes!  Truly amaizing!

I did a switchout of nests due to blowfly larvae in this nest of 9-day old chicks. The female here returned in 5 minutes! Truly amazing.

Selectively, these Blues are using a Roanoke Times box.
Selectively, these Blues are using a Roanoke Times box.  The Bluebirds here used pine needles.

Bluebirds are picky on location, but if a cavity looks good, they’ll take it! The only problem with newspaper boxes is the birds are targets for predation — humans, ground, and avian.   Being along a road is dangerous, but hopefully no cars will hit the birds as they fly out of the box.  We can hope the chicks will fledge happily!

NOTES ON GRASS NOTES (see photos below):   Here are two samples of different grasses used by bluebirds.  They find what’s available in local habitat.  Usually, in my area, I’ve seen pine needes, mostly white pine.  Farther out in rural areas, I see more field grasses.   The first photo below are smaller grasses used by the bluebirds.   There are 5 eggs inside!   Photo was taken on May 9, 2009.  The second photo below was taken in 2008, a different box location on the trail.  Field grasses were used.  They are longer and they built the nest higher.

Eastern Bluebird Grass Nest - 5 Eggs - 05-09-09

This grass nest was built for a third brood in this box in 2008!   These grasses are longer and thicker, obtained from a local hay field.  These bluebirds built this nest much higher than usual.   Photo taken July 1, 2008.

This grass nest was built for a third brood in this box in 2008! These grasses are longer and thicker, obtained from a local hay field. These bluebirds built this nest much higher than usual. Photo taken July 1, 2008.


The first predator I need to worry about is the English (or) otherwise known as the House Sparrow (HOSP).   Here is a drawing of the male and female HOSP.  They may look “cute”, but they are destructive and nasty birds.  They take away cavities from our protected native birds.    Source:  www.    Thanks to Bet for a terrific site for our bluebirds!

These need to passively or aggressively deterred from killing our bluebirds!

These non-native invaders need to passively or aggressively be deterred from killing our native bluebirds and other native cavity nesters! As much as I love all birds, this particular species bird is overpopulated and out of experiment gone terribly wrong. It's indeed unfortunate we bird lovers have to deal with this pest.

Here is a HOSP nest found in one of my boxes on March 9, 2009.  This is the first nest in all my boxes for the season.  Note the pieces of cloth used in this nest, picked off from a grave nearby in the cemetary where a craft decoration was placed.    Many times, HOSP use paper trash…really anything they can find to incorporate “stuff” into their nests.    They are aggressive killer birds that need to be controlled for the conservation of our native bluebirds and other cavity nesters.
This is a 5-day old HOSP nest.   Part of being a monitor is learning to know what kind of bird is occupying the bluebird boxes.  If it's a HOSP, this nest should be removed.

This is a 5-day old HOSP nest. Part of being a monitor is learning what kind of bird is occupying bluebird boxes. If it's a HOSP, this nest should be removed. It is not a protected bird since it isn't a native bird in the USA, so it is legal as a bluebird conservation monitor for me to do this. Then I need to do whatever I can to keep this happening again. It's a challenge to all bluebirders dealing with the House Sparrow. All other sparrow species in the USA are decent, gentle birds, such as the Chipping Sparrow, for example.

History of the House Sparrow can be found here on the Sialis bluebird site.  This is very educational reading!


Click below to see the succession of a bluebird baby on!

Also, click below for a video of bluebird action male feeding female from

Below:  Bluebird Nestcam from Greenville, TX, hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website:


He waits to be given a chance in the world...hungry and waiting for his feedings.

He waits to be given a chance in the world...hungry and waiting for his feedings.


  • His soft warble, beautiful blue coat, warm waistcoat, and gentle manners make him the most welcome herald of spring.
    – Birds of America, 1917
  • His soft warble melts the ear, as the snow is melting in the valleys around. The bluebird comes and with his warbles drills the ice and sets from the rivers and ponds and frozen ground.
    – Henry D. Thoreau,
    March 2, 1859

The Eastern Bluebird’s Warble:  Click Here and turn the volume up:


4 males and 2 females were courting each fighting surprisingly among the males.

4 males and 2 females were courting each fighting surprisingly among the males.

My registered trail consists of 14 handmade nestboxes on one-inch conduit 5.5 feet off the ground fully set up with predator guards.  The boxes re 5×5 inches with good ventilation and a long overhang angled roof.  This is a modified NABS style box.  All boxes except the 5 on my property are marked Protected By Federal Law-Do Not Disturb, sponsored by the Virginia Bluebird Society and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries — it is against the law to disturb these boxes.  Each box has the protection signs with my name, phone number, and the box number listed.

5 boxes are on my own property.

2 boxes are on my road adjacent to rolling pastures.  They are NOT too close to the feed barns where there could be the non-protected killer House Sparrows residing.   The boxes are outside where cattle roam so as to not knock down the boxes.  They are located to easy access for me to monitor the boxes, usually about twice a week during nesting season.  I have received permission for placement of all boxes off of my property.

All local in Woolwine:

1 box is at a local country inn’s field.

1 box is at another bed and breakfast in the back on lawn.

1 box is at a private residence.  

1 box is across the street at another private residence near a cemetary.


Bluebirds, by the way, really love cemetaries.  They can use the tombstones to perch to look for insects on the ground.

2 boxes are in a protected box turtle bog locations at a public  park.

1 box is near the cemetary in the same public park.


Guarding his goodies!

Guarding his goodies!


Trail 2008 Report:

I had Eastern Bluebird families and Carolina Chickadee families in my nestboxes.   One box was raided either by an avian predator or a Black Rat Snake that was large enough to get over my stovepipe baffle.  Two boxes were infested with blowflies.  One brood died but the other brood were saved by me by having a man-made switched out nest and the chicks got well and fledged at 18 days.   All of my boxes were paired on my property for Tree Swallows to nest as neighbors with the Eastern Bluebirds so as to warrant off unwanted territorial fighting.  No Tree Swallows nested, so I moved many of my boxes into other areas in Woolwine and left 5 on my acreage.  I am featured on the Fall 2008 Virginia Bluebird Society’s newsletter on Page 6, “Lessons from a New Bluebirder”.   Here is a cut and paste from the article from that newsletter below.  You can also go to the Virginia Bluebird Society’s website/Newsletters:

Fall 2008 VBS article:

“Lessons of a New Bluebirder”, by Christine

This is my third year of bluebirding. In my first year, 2006, my husband andI moved to our new home in Woolwine, Virginia, and found an old bluebirdnestbox in the back yard. To our surprise, there were bluebirds nestingthere upon our arrival that first week of March. But a week after we moved in, Ifound a big black rat snake hanging out of the box’s entry hole. I was horrified!

 We cleaned out the box, built a hardware cloth baffle, and placed it underneath the box. The same pair apparently came back and tried again, but the second brood died the first day after hatching, from the 100-degree heat. After that, wetook the box down, and I started my studies about bluebirds.

My second year, 2007, our new neighbors dropped off a nestbox as a gift. Carl Rupprecht, who made the box in his woodworking shop, helped me install it behind our house on a pole with a predator baffle. We were able to joyfully watch two broods make it into the world that season.

This year, my neighbor helped me build my first bluebird trail of 14 boxes.  I experimented by doubling up the boxes 15 feet apart, because we had seen Tree Swallows diving out of the trees and into our pond the year before. Some of theboxes on the trail were not occupied, but the ones that attracted Carolina Chickadees and Eastern Bluebirds. The first broods did well and fledged. I had no snake predation and no House Sparrows. The second nesting proved problematic. I noticed that one of my boxes seemed to be in trouble. I photographed the parents from afar in the field one morning and was wondering why the male came with food only four times within two hours. When I checked the box the next day, I found the chicks had died, all four of them. I immediately removed them and the nest and took them back home to investigate what happened.   Blowflies! I was stunned. As I thought about it, we had three days of over 90-degree heat the week before. There was a lot of dust at the bottom of the box underneath the pine needle nest, and I saw the larvae in it as well. I found one live and one dead adult blowfly in the center of the nest buried in there, and more larvae. When I looked at the dead chicks on the underside, I didn’t see larvae attached to them. I then realized that I was not checking closely enough for any indication blowflies even existed – my first experience with this problem.  I did look for insects and didn’t see any. The nest appeared clean, and I watched the parents bring food. Now I realize the blowfly larvae were hidden inside the nest underneath the babies, and I had missed them completely. I felt sad that the second brood died, but I also was on alert for blowflies on the trail. Sure enough, I found another nestbox with blowflies. The chicks looked anemic and weak at five days, and they had feathers only in stripes on their backs. This time I had to intervene! I quickly switched the contaminated pine needle nest with a homemade pine needle nest.  I put the needles in, tamped it down with my fist, and added some grasses for softness. I carefully picked up the sick five-day-old chicks and placed them in the new nest while my husband stood by with an umbrella to shade us from the sun. Both parents were watching me in the trees and came back to the box a few minutes later. I left the nest alone for a few days. When I checked on Day 8, I was truly amazed!  The chicks were larger, growing feathers again, and looking bluer and healthier. They fledged at exactly 18 days.


I’ve learned as a new monitor that there will be losses. However, with love and devotion and learning about these marvelous birds each year, the celebrations outweigh the losses, and monitoring is worth every minute of my time. I have a feeling of accomplishment helping the beloved bluebirds!

– Christine Boran, Blue Ridge Highlands, Woolwine, Patrick County Coordinator, Virginia Bluebird Society

BELOW:  12-Day Old Healthy Chicks photo below….they should fledge between 15-18 days.  These were in the Mountain Rose Inn’s nestbox in 2008.  Many thanks to Mike and Dora Jane for their continued support!

They should fledge between 15 and 18 days.

They should fledge between 15 and 18 days.

Blue Ridge Highlands, Woolwine, Patrick County Coordinator, Virginia Bluebird Society

Here is the Mountain Rose Inn’s website and their birding page where my photos are posted.