MEALWORM FEEDERS ANY TIME OF YEAR.


I use three different mealworm feeders–not all at the same time and not at the same time of year–it will vary.   The photo below is a metal “jailhouse” style feeder with a glass cup in the center.  This is my favorite feeder because it keeps out larger birds that can dominate getting the goodies (jays, crows, etc.).  It does take some training for the bluebirds to find this, but when live mealworms are in this cup and placed not far from their nestbox (not too close!), they usually find this because they perch in the pine trees above it.   Carolina Wrens consistently feed out of this.  My other feeders are an adjustable Droll Yankees domed feeder that I can move around on a shepherd’s hook, and the other is just an open glass cup on a stake.   I like the domed feeder to train bluebirds to use it and then I can lower the dome to keep larger birds out later.   It is also one I can put out in the open–rain will stay out and keep the mealworms dry.  In the winter, sometimes I mix bluebird suet nuggets with soaked currants and freeze-dried mealworms to create a mixed “banquet”.   Live mealworms work the best if you are willing to pay for them and keep them in your refrigerator (not as complicated or squeamish as some might think it is) or just learn to manage raising your own.  That’s another topic another time.  I have no interest in raising my own at this point.  If you want to learn about growing your own mealworms, do check out the page on the Sialis site about doing so (Class 101–Raising Mealworms!):

http://www.sialis.org/raisingmealworms.htm

My next goal is to set up my camera on my existing tripod (needs some repairs and I need a bigger one to support another heavier camera and lens) and take photos of birds taking some good food at this jailhouse feeder!  I have already staked out where to do that so the birds can’t see me.

Bottom line, to keep bluebirds near you all year, do the following:

1.  Plant NATIVE ornamental (not invasive species) berry-producing trees and shrubs so the bluebirds have winter food sources

2.  Put out a nestbox or two and monitor them so the birds can successfully use them season after season

3.  Display and maintain a clean bird bath (water source) year-round

4.  Offer mealworms to entice them and keep them close (good for taking photos of the adults and fledglings which they feed for another month)

Additional important note about feeding mealworms:  I am a firm believer in letting the birds do most of the work in finding food, particularly for the nesting babies.   It is important that the growing nestlings get a VARIETY of food.  We don’t want the bluebird parents to be spoiled by having mealworms offered 24/7.  I look at mealworms as supplemental feeding.  A few in the morning and a few in the evening is about right in my opinion.   I whistle a tune when I fill up the cup.  That trains them fast you’re bringing them some treats.  I also enjoy watching the Chipping  Sparrows hang loose on the outskirts of the feeder watching for any mealworms that drop on the ground!

Suggestion on this feeder: It is rather lightweight. If you put freeze-dried mealworms in this, take it down in high winds as all the dried mealworms will fly out. This feeder will rock back and forth in winds. You also have the option to pole-mount this feeder which keeps it more stable. Since I have other stake-type feeders, I keep this as a hanging feeder. I like to move it around from tree to tree using a very large decorative S-style hook designed for tree branches. These are easily found at garden centers and hardware stores. If a raccoon knocks this down, more than likely, it cannot drag it off due to the size. Also the metal top keeps the glass cup of food dry and is somewhat difficult for a raccoon to pry it open. I hear crows quite a bit coming and going by our house, so I know they can't get inside this.

DIFFERENT LOOKING BLUEBIRD EGG CLUTCHES – MARCH 2012


It’s fun to see how the egg clutches look on my nestbox visits.  Also, I watch to see how the female turns the eggs with her feet and how they change configuration for even incubation during those 14 days or so.   Some eggs have white marks in them; others with spots of dried blood.   When the eggs pass through the female’s oviduct, that’s when they are colored blue on the outer eggshell, through the pigmentation cells she has to allow this.   Occasionally, white eggs will be laid in bluebird clutches.   This means the pigmentation gene is missing during the egg-laying process.  Here are some recent photos I’ve taken within the past two weeks of the clutches I’ve seen this year.  You’ll see one photo (bottom right) required a mirror so I could see the set of eggs.  This can be challenging to do it quickly and get the picture before the adults get too nervous that I’m at their nest.  I try to make my nest visits as fast as possible and still get some good details!  This nest was built quite high and she placed more grasses inside the pine needle nest.  This is one of the reasons I enjoy other species using the boxes, not just bluebirds.  It’s really entertaining, as well as educational, to see how the species differ in their nesting habits.   I will be seeing the Carolina Chickadee and I’m hoping to see some Tree Swallows on my trail this year.   They are marvelous birds.  I wish I could spy on many different species nesting.  The live cams on eagles, red-tailed hawks, and others are fascinating.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has several cams going presently.  The hummingbird live cams are truly my favorite of all.

    

HERE THEY COME! FIRST HATCHING 2012 on the WHBBT.


Photos below represents the first clutch–first egg laid March 8-EARLY LAYING–possibly first egg and first hatching for all of Virgina reported in to the Virginia Bluebird Society on monitored nestboxes during 2012; and also the hatching photohatched, Monday, March 26.   The photos are true color (no flash).   I do not use flash photography after the chicks are 6-7 days old.  They open their eyes in full on the 8th day–I would not want someone photographing me closeup in my nest when my eyes just opened!

Hope you’re having an exciting spring so far — enjoy the photos!

If you can take photos of eggs and nesting material in bright light and not use flash, you can get true colors on the eggs! Sure looks like an Easter basket to me! I visit my boxes twice a week. Mother Bluebird turns the eggs with her feet, so each time I visit, the eggs are situated inside the nest differently each time I look at the nest. If eggs are missing, it's time to troubleshoot what happened.

Here they come! 3 out of 5 eggs hatched so far. Hatching date is March 26, 2012 in Patrick County, Virginia.

WOW! EARLY BLUEBIRD EGG on MARCH 8, 2012!


How do I say with jubilation:  WELCOME BACK, SPRING? How about a very early egg laid by a bluebird?

What a way to start the season for the WHBBT! The nestbox that had the earliest laid egg last year on my own bluebird trail has again been the first nestbox for this nesting season–EARLY EGG LAID–On March 8, 2012, I found my first laid bluebird egg! THIS IS VERY EARLY, even for Southwest Virginia and North Carolina. Could this be the earliest in the state since VBS has kept records? We are presently finding out. The Virginia Bluebird Society is canvassing the County Coordinators for ALL cavity-nesting species earliest egg laid for this year. T he warmer weather tells the birds to get movin’ and groovin’, and this couple sure did. I expect hatching on or around March 26th. My first bluebird egg laid last year was March 27th. What a difference. Are we on a global warming trend, or is it the same couple just likes to get a jump start on claiming this box at this particular location? This is all part of why we keep records. More to come soon on those findings! So, with Spring now here (officially it’s March 21st), we can welcome everyone back to this site for updates. I have some changes to make on my nestboxes section—a couple of moves and additions. More boxes have been built in the local workshop (many thanks, Carl)—the complete nestbox setups include the boxes, the hardware, the conduit, and two predator guards. I have a new program on all this–all funds and costs for these goes back to the needy in our community. More to come on what that program is about. Also, many thanks to Wills Ridge Supply, Inc., in Floyd, VA, for helping me with the wood and supplies for the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail! The staff there is fantastic! It makes shopping for everything I need pleasant!

I am still hoping to get some nesting Tree Swallows. If so, it will be the first on the WHBBT. The Tree Swallow is a lovely native cavity-nesting bird. Did you know they catch all their insects ON THE FLY (in the air)? Bluebirds will perch and watch for ground insects most of the time, and then forage to the ground for them, which is why they are part of the THRUSH family of birds. More interesting information on Tree Swallows here: http://www.treeswallowprojects.com/basics.html

I should mention I have two new photos of the first clutch 2012 nesting season. See them below–I took one with flash and one without flash. Note the differences in egg colors. The photo with flash makes the eggs have more of a turquoise color. The photo without flash makes the eggs look bluer. You’ll also notice a difference in the grass color. The photo without the flash has the proper color of the grasses, dried ones, picked up by the female during the nest building.

Thanks for visiting again. I’m still in disbelief this passion for bluebirding (for me) started March 2006. Here I am still loving it–even more than ever! All the best to you this year — happy nestbox monitoring and happy bluebirding! Feel free to share your nestbox stories with me. Just write to me here on this blog and request to have your story posted here. I’m happy to share it.

Stay tuned for more updates and stories along the trail. See you soon!

Christine

Here is the picture of the nest–first clutch for 2012–WITHOUT FLASH:

Same clutch of eggs. Note the bluer color in the eggs and less tan in the grass color. This is the true color of nest and eggs to the naked eye.

Here is the picture of the same nest–same first clutch for 2012– WITH FLASH:

Look how the flash in the camera makes these eggs look lighter in a turquoise-type color and the grasses tannish-brown.

ON THE WHBBT TRAIL! RECENT HATCHLINGS – PHOTOS TAKEN AUGUST 8, 2011


I am pleased to be able to take some decent photos of recent hatchlings as of my trail check on Monday, August 8, 2011….two photos below represent the clutch of unusual white eggs–those babies are 4 days old.   The other photo below those is of 2-day old babies.   It never ceases to be a joyful experience to monitor nestboxes and find new life.   The anticipation of the eggs to finding a hatching has taken place is the best feeling!  Enjoy!

The trail is winding down for the season.  I don’t expect any more nestings to take place.  Soon the fun really begins–collecting and analyzing my trail notes for the nesting season, summarizing them and writing notes of those summary findings, and then submitting those summary notes to the Virginia Bluebird Society.  Those state records will go to the North American Bluebird Society, along with the rest of the state records around the country from the other bluebird societies.  This includes the records of other species of birds occupying the nestboxes.  This is how we know how the birds are doing, year after year.  If House Sparrows tried to nest in these boxes, the records of the nest attempts and evictions of that non-native bird is included in those notes.  Any predation, unhatched eggs, number of eggs, problems during the nestings and how treated, and the number of successful fledged birds is included.  Some trails have more than one style of bluebird boxes–those notes are also sent to VBS.

I just recently read an article on the Texas Bluebird Society’s website that Audubon’s unpublished data showed a decrease of 19% of Eastern Bluebirds in Texas during the period between 1966 and 2005.  Read on here:   http://www2.texasbluebirdsociety.org/

If you are enjoying this site, and you haven’t already, you may want to support your local bluebird society of your own state or the North American Bluebird Society.   Your support is always needed.   Here is the NABS site:   http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/

These guys are growing! One thing I look for at this stage, as a monitor, are any welts on their tender skins for any blowfly larvae which latch onto baby birds at night. Since I treat ALL my nests for blowfly infestation (I have this problem in every box and in every nest!), I can see how the treatment (very carefully administered!) is working to help these little guys grow naturally, safely, and survive to fledging day. These little ones look great! I am very pleased! This is my first ever WHITE eggs and hatching from white eggs that I have experienced since bluebirding started for me Spring 2006.

Fa-La-La-Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! These-4-day olds are ready for WHOLE grasshoppers now!

"Hi, there. Now that you've seen us, can you please leave now so Mama and Papa can bring us some yummy food?" Look closely....you'll count 4!

CLUTCH OF 3 WHITE EGGS HATCHED AUGUST 4, 2011 – 5 DAYS LATER THAN EXPECTED.


Here are two pictures of the two hatchlings on August 4, 2011–the DAY of hatching.  These were due to hatch on July 31st.   Perhaps the female delayed incubation a few days during our high heat here.  Who wants to sit on eggs in a hot nestbox?   It may have taken longer and she indubated in early mornings and cooler evenings and stayed off the eggs during the afternoons.  Theory on my part.  I will be getting some styrofoam for next year to put on roofs of nestboxes in direct sun during our high-heat periods to help the birds stay cooler–a quick fix many bluebirders do.  I have to do some reasearch on how this is done.  I will be back on my trail in a day or two to check on these little tykes again.  This is my first ever clutch of white eggs…an event that happens to about 4-5 percent of laying females.   There is a pigment in the oviduct of the females that colors the eggs blue as they pass through.  Perhaps this pigment is missing in this female.  The eggs are just as fertile.   That means the bluebirds that did a brood in this box prior to this one was a DIFFERENT female, as her eggs were blue.  All birds in the thrush family generally lay blue eggs.  A photo of the eggs are further down this website.  Just cursor down to find it.   Info on white eggs are on the Sialis site in an easy-to-read pop-out:  http://www.sialis.org/whiteeggs.htm

"Hey, bro, while we wait for our other sibling to get outta this shell, let's do the Wiggle-Wiggle dance!"

I quickly took these pictures and left them alone. I know the female was close by watching. Already these guys, fresh out of their shells, weak....are HUNGRY. They started to gape while I was there. I am hoping egg #3 hatched OK.

CUTE PHOTOS OF A BLUEBIRD FAMILY EATING TOGETHER….SHARED BY A SUBSCRIBER.


I send thanks to Mr. Briggs, who is a subscriber to this site, for sharing these two wonderful photos with me of a bluebird family at a feeding station containing mealworms and……..what looks like……..a special suet mix just for bluebirds.   These are good closeups of the those adorable, spotted bluebird kids and their parents, named Baxter and Bella.  Enjoy!

Good eats!

BLUEBIRDS FLEDGED FROM TEST TWO-HOLE MANSION-JULY 2011!


My two-hole test box in House Sparrow territory in Woolwine has somewhat of a repeat performance from last year. House parrows had numerous attempts to build a nest and lay eggs–ALL NESTS AND EGGS REMOVED so they could not reproduce in this box! I keep the nests and eggs for educational purposes (displays). After the HOSPs gave up FINALLY (from February through June 2011), bluebirds moved in and were raised successfully. I found partial-HOSP nest materials on June 13. By June 27, bluebirds moved in and finished the nest with their own nesting materials and one egg was laid that morning, the 27th! On July 29th, all bluebirds were fledged. I took a photo of two of the three babies at the age between 13-15 days old–QUICK SNAP and count from 3 babies to 2 babies between July 18 and July 26th. I do NOT know if one died and the parent removed the body (which I doubt because the baby would have been too large by then) or that one baby fledged prematurely. That does not seem
far-fetched considering the number of bird species wanting to use that box and perhaps causing some stress on the parents and the bluebird youngsters in the nestbox…..THEORY on my part as this box is not easy for me to watch on a daily basis. On July 26, here were the babies (photo below). When I returned to the box on July 29, the other two had fledged. HOWEVER, interestingly enough, the female was swooping and “clicking” at me, even when the nest was empty. I saw a couple of sticks on top of the nest, which tells me House Wrens are entering the box.  Perhaps this female wants another brood here and she’s fighting for the box
back, including from me. Wow! Here are the babies on July 26th, 2011. This photo has also been added to my gray tabbed page titled “2-Hole Test Mansion Results” page. Yay for the blues! They are doing all they can to keep territorial rights on this box! This is Year 2 of the test. 1 more year to go and I believe this box will either be sent elsewhere in the U.S. to be tested somewhere else……..OR…….I may continue the test or move it elsewhere in my locale for more testing. Please see the website link of the creator’s page of this test box for more info on this test below:

http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett/testwoolwine.html

About 13-15 Days Old....Almost ready to fledge! Photo taken July 26, 2011. CAREFUL and fast photography at this age is a must so as not to spook these little guys!

 

AUDUBON WATCH LIST: BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH


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

Text below per Audubon Source Online:  http://audubon2.org/watchlist/viewSpecies.jsp?id=41

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

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

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

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

Homes for Bluebirds:  http://www.danfinch.com/birds.htm

Tribute to Jack Finch, Homes
for Bluebirds, on Sialis.org (A MUST READ!)
http://www.sialis.org/jack_finch.htm

Virginia Bluebird Society
Summer 2011 Issue, See Page 4:

This is the story of how one of the VBS’ County
Coordinators assisted the Brown-headed Nuthatch (BHNU) raise her one brood in
her own backyard nestbox by creating a temporary “retrofit” to the box so that
the nuthatch could nest first and then changed it for the bluebirds for their
broods after the nuthatch fledged babies (Adobe Acrobat Reader needed).  You really should read the whole newsletter
and see what VBS is up to!  http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/newsletters/birdboxsummer2011.pdf

Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds– Brown-headed Nuthatch: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown-headed_Nuthatch/id

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

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

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

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

INTERESTING NESTBOX: FIRST EVER WHITE BLUEBIRD EGG! “EGG-CITE FOR WHITE”


This box was moved to a new location on private property before the nesting season 2011. This is  the box in a recent post below featuring the nesting material made of grasses  left in the Noel hardware cloth entry-hole guard on this site.

FIRST BROOD FOR SEASON BY CACH: To summarize happenings at this box, the first brood using this box was the  Carolina Chickadee (CACH). This chickadee female (at least I think it’s the same female) made two nest cups in the box and laid 2 eggs in each cup. There was ONE hatchling from the 4 eggs. On box checks the sole hatchling appeared to be struggling to survive. I wonder now were there two CACH females fighting to lay eggs in the box and one female was finally chased off by the other and she only incubated her own eggs? I followed the sole hatching grow but with very slow development. It appeared to me the one nestling fledged but all other eggs had disappeared. I cleaned out the box.

SECOND BROOD BY FIRST EABL COUPLE: Within two weeks, a new nest was completed by an EABL–this nest had been built out of grasses. 5 blue eggs were laid within one week after that. All nestlings did well and fledged. My observations of the parents were both were active in caring for their young and always present on my box checks. I cleaned out the box after those baby bluebirds fledged.

THIRD BROOD BY DIFFERENT EABL FEMALE: Within 5 days (!), another EABL female (yes, a different female) had built a pine needle nest and laid ONE WHITE egg so far on my box check. White eggs are rare but do happen. 4-5% of bluebirds will lay white eggs instead of blue ones. These eggs are generally as fertile as the blue eggs. This means it is a different female laying in this box. I am waiting for the completed clutch. Since I think yesterday was the first date of this one laid egg, I will return in 5 days to
see if a clutch of 5 eggs have been laid. If I see 4 eggs, I can assume “yesterday” was the last lay egg date to document in my trail notes.

The best part of monitoring nestboxes, in my opinion, is watching  the variety of happenings with all of our native cavity-nesting birds that like  to use man-made nestboxes. This is why I always carry two cameras with me on my  regular trail checks. It truly is a learning experience. Additionally, this is  why we monitors keep detailed trail notes (I think it’s rather fun, actually!)
and I write everything  down, such as time of day I am at the box, if the box is in shade or sun,  temperatures at box check, other environmental differences such as do I hear or  see any of the bluebird parents and are they swooping at me or just watching me
from a distance, are the nestlings struggling and having labored breathing from  the heat, does the base of the pole need to be trimmed of taller grasses or  weeds, is the stovepipe baffle sturdy or in need of tightening or repair, is the  nest material dry, are there any attempts of insects such as wasps, small  spider web building, possible ant invasion, etc. I also see different nesting
materials on cavity-nesting species in competition and who wins over a box and  how each species wither removes OR incorporate the other species’ nest  materials into their own. I have learned the bluebird cannot remove House Wren  sticks, so once a house wren wins over the box, a monitor can learn to  establish if the sticks are for a real nest for egg laying or if it’s a dummy  nest (which once determined, a monitor can remove the sticks). It is illegal to  remove an active native bird’s nest, so this is a challenge to determine this.  House Wrens are tricky. This bluebird laying the white eggs is indeed a different  female. I wish I knew if it was the same male or not. Perhaps something  happened to his original mate (killed?) or he decided to pick a new lady to  raise another family. Since I’m not a licensed bird bender, I cannot know for  sure. My experience and from discussions with other expert luebirders is the  couple stay together for the nesting season, then split apart into the mixed  flocks in autumn. There are occasions for one reason or another why he look for  a new mate to raise a family. OR….perhaps the couple using the box before was  finished breeding and a new couple needed a nest box to raise a family.

To learn more about why bluebirds sometimes will lay white eggs, see the Sialis.org website to read up on this interesting topic:   http://www.sialis.org/whiteeggs.htm 

It is always good to have a camera ready on box checks to document interesting happenings! 4-5% of bluebirds will lay white eggs instead of the normal blue ones. The thrush-family of birds generally lay blue eggs (i.e., Robin). It is documented in my notes this egg was laid on July 18, 2011. Third broods are starting for the bluebirds on my trail. I have another box starting a third brood. Last year, my last fledging date for bluebirds was August 27, 2010. Not all my boxes are getting third broods, but that can change as I will find out on my nest trail box checks.

PHOTOS OF AN INCUBATING FEMALE BLUEBIRD: DID SHE TRUST ME?


I am posting several photos taken on my trail check administered on Monday, June 13.  On occasion, I’ll find a female bluebird not wanting to leave the nest. I always carefully open a box so as not to spook her. I talk or whistle my tunes as I approach a box to give her or her hatched young fair warning I am approaching. This is the box that recently had a carpenter bee. After I took care of the bee, she returned a few days later to finish nest building.  Theory again on my part, but I’ve noticed with my monitoring schedule that  the birds don’t seem to fear me looking in their nestboxes–never more than twice a week as that is over-managing the
birds. Unless I have a special problem to deal with, I might monitor more than twice a week.  I really wanted to share these photos on my site because this female was particularly interested in me, showing her face and letting me see her and her eggs. She even let me watch her turn her eggs with her feet. Generally, I advise new monitors to be very quiet and quick and careful while opening a nestbox to check on the birds; however, in my case, I have learned how to take photos without spooking the birds–more
experienced monitors can do this–it seems the bluebirds in particular are very trusting of us. Other birds, such as the House Wren and the Black-capped or Carolina Chickadee (the species here in SW Virginia) is more stressed by our presence, so when monitoring boxes with them using a nestbox, we must be particularly diligent to respect their solitude to be sure they do not abandon their nests because they are frightened of us. I was able to successfully take some pictures of a Carolina Chickadee nest and young yesterday, as well; I’m glad I did, as I found one baby is not developing as well as the others. That will be another post soon. I may have to start a new tabbed page on other cavity nesting birds. What you see below is this female bluebird who is sitting on a clutch of 4 eggs. I’m so glad she is enjoying this box—the same box that I had to deter a carpenter bee from boring a hole. I hope you enjoy the pictures below.  Photographing nesting birds can be tricky.  Be sure you don’t spook them too much if you choose to do it.   Never do this during the morning hours–the females lay eggs in the morning–she is laboring and breathing heavily as she lays one egg per day.  She is at her most vulnerable at this time.   I ALWAYS monitor my trail in the afternoons.  I never monitor on very cold days or rainy days.   I wait until it’s a good time that is safe for the birds first, and then what is convenient for me.  (My next post…. in a few days…..will be about the beautiful cavity-nester, the Brown-headed Nuthatch!)

Mrs. Bluebird is watching me watching her!

Though she's on "high alert" here, she allowed me to peek on her eggs, as she stood in front of them. However, I DO NOT RECOMMEND new bluebirders keeping a box opened for a long period of time if the female won't leave the box for you to check on the eggs. You can try again another day. I was able to take these photos without the use of flash fairly quickly. When we spend extra time at a box, we risk spooking the female to possibly abandon her clutch. I don't make a regular practice of photographing an incubating female. This girl stayed true to her eggs. A House Sparrow attack on this female could have been deadly. More than likely she would die to protect her eggs. However, the bluebirds are very tolerant of us looking in on them.

I llike this picture--it really shows her tail markings well.

She let me watch while she did this. I snapped the picture and quietly and quickly closed the box and left her alone.

LOOK WHO MADE THE COVER OF THIS CATALOG FOR SUMMER 2011!


My catalog came in the mail the other day. It was nice to see our bluebird on it. This is one of my favorite bird-supply companies. I have a metal mealworm "cage" hanging feeder from them that I use in the winter and early spring.

THE LOVELY TREE SWALLOW — A NATIVE CAVITY-NESTING BIRD USING OUR NESTBOXES.


I have long waited doing this post on the Tree Swallow.   My first year of my trail (2008) had paired nestboxes because I had seen tree swallows dive-bombing searching for insects over our pond.  I did pair the boxes 15 feet apart on 1” conduits with two predator guards on each paired setup.   Much to my disappointment, no tree swallows used any of the paired boxes on my property.  I still do not know why.   The next year, I unpaired the boxes in February and moved them elsewhere in my community as part of the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail.  The reason I was a little disappointed is this.  For me, the Tree Swallow (TRES) is just as beautiful, just as graceful, and just as much allowable to use nestboxes we made for bluebirds.  REASONS:  1.  They are a beautiful cavity-nesting native bird that also cannot excavate their own cavities.  2. Unlike our Eastern Bluebird (EABL) here in Virginia that has 2-3 broods per nesting season, the TRES has one brood per nesting season. 3.  Tree swallows are aerial foragers for food, namely insects,  as their main food source.  Bluebirds generally forage for insects perched, obtaining insects—grubs, grasshoppers, spiders, crickets, etc.–from the ground.  You’ll see them cocking their heads to the sides, pointing their heads down as they use their good eyes to find that insect and then flying down quickly to retrieve it.   I have also watched a bluebird male in a flash fly out of a poplar tree behind our house and catch a large white moth mid-air.  That is a sight to see!   The tree swallow has to work harder, swooping here and there, dive-bombing using their wings and forked tail for leverage as they catch their food mid-flight-mid-air.  They are a delight to watch.  You can imagine eating for themselves and feeding their brood how much work that is from dawn to dusk.

I have had people ask about this bird competing for a nestbox–my reaction is always enthusiastic, as it’s been my wish to be able to monitor this gorgeous bird for myself, along with other cavity nesters.  I have not had that opportunity yet to monitor a nesting pair of tree swallows.  I still wait to see it on my own trail, and I still hope it will happen, as I do see them in our area.   I am fascinated with the nest building of the TRES, as it will fly for many miles from its chosen nesting site to obtain large feathers from other birds to place on top of its nest materials of grasses, such as goose feathers or other waterfowl feathers.  You will see the TRES near agricultural fields (open habitat just like the bluebird) and many times near water sources, such as ponds if available, probably for the reason of finding waterfowl feathers there and insects being available surrounding the ponds, such as dragonflies that I see by our pond.  This bird is marked strikingly, particularly the male, with a bright white neck and belly and a greenish-violet-iridescent blue on its back and wings.  It’s a gentle, assertive bird, as I have stood next to a monitor in one of my counties at a newly-installed nestbox just 4 feet away and watched a female enter to build the nest and the male sitting on top guarding the box and looking at me as if to say, “Hey there—hope you don’t mind us using this box you installed.   First come-first serve, so thank you for providing us this perfect nesting place!”  Of course, I smiled, and the new monitor I was training appeared seemingly a little disappointed, because she also wanted bluebirds.   I immediately explained that this bird, the tree swallow, has the same issue as the bluebirds with needing nesting sites which is cavity only and having the same challenge as bluebirds in finding “available” cavities to raise a family, in natural habitat, used woodpecker holes for nests.

With many thanks to a new monitor in Floyd County who has been taking excellent photographs of bluebirds and tree swallows nesting in some of her nestboxes, I can now share this wonderful bird with you here on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail’s website.  Many thanks, Karen, for sharing these lovely pictures of this bird which you are lucky to be able to see a nesting cycle.  Many of our cavity nesters have one brood per season, so after the TRES are completed, you may get a second or third brood
nesting cycle from our beloved bluebirds after…perhaps another native species.   It’s all part of the fun of monitoring, isn’t it?

I will be highlighting other cavity-nesting birds that use nestboxes shortly.  In my opinion as a trail monitor, trail manager, and trainer to new bluebirders, I find monitoring other bird species helps us learn more about our native birds and the joys of monitoring brings variety of experiences  and joys to being a good landlord of our nestboxes.  If you find you have both bluebirds and tree swallows where you have one or more nestboxes, they will nest peacefully side by side with each other if you pair your boxes 5-20 feet apart.  Some have actually put two nestboxes on one pole.  I have included a video of that below the photo set, which you may find interesting.   This box was installed on PVC, looks like about 4” wide, with a cap on
the PVC.  I’ve seen other setups with one pole and the boxes installed with opposite directions for the entry hole.  I have heard stories from others who have successful nesting of tree swallows and bluebirds of a bluebird parent feeding a tree swallow set of nestlings when one of the tree swallow parents disappeared (probably killed).  They WILL nest next to each other if they don’t feel threatened by the other.  However, if you have one box, there COULD be the usual territorial war over the nestbox, understandably so, since both birds need an available cavity to bring up a family.  I’ve seen this with chickadees and bluebirds on my trail this year.  If this happens, you could quickly install another box right away near the other one where the competition is taking place.   You then could have both birds nesting as friendly neighbors–all the while monitoring, enjoying them, keeping notes, and seeing behaviorial antics, some similar and some different.   I still recommend the two predator guards on a pole because of the amount of predation we get here in Virginia, both ground and avian predators.  As a monitor, I want success, so I go all out to be sure the birds can be protected.   If I put up a nestbox for the birds, the least I can do is help them succeed.  Otherwise, the time and expense of installing a nestbox seems fruitless–as I say, it’s like luring them to use your setup and then playing a practical joke on them because we make it easy for those predators to get to them.  It’s not my style of managing nestboxes.

I hope you enjoy the 5 pictures posted below—photos by Karen Hale in Floyd County, VA.   I adore the Tree Swallow—I want to have some nest in my boxes SOON.  Thanks, Karen!  I support all native birds.  Lucky we humans it’s not always bluebirds we are helping.  My next post will be about the  fascinating Brown-headed Nuthatch…a bird found in the South near pine forests.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, underneath these photos I have linked direct viewing to a YouTube video of bluebirds and tree swallows nesting side-by-side and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s info page on the Tree Swallow.  There you can also hear what the TRES song sounds like–a chittering sound that requires good listening ears to ID.  I hope you enjoy.  Questions and comments welcomed and encouraged on this post!

Great photo of pinkish-white eggs. Tree swallows have white eggs, but they appear to have some pink hue here, probably because of the lighting. This is a good-size mirror for seeing a nest in its entirety and taking photographs. Of course, as monitors, when we do this--we learn to be quiet and fast so as not to stress the nesting parents too much. Good job!

Great photo of the couple resting on a nearby fenceline. The male is on the left. Like the female bluebird, the female tree swallow is a muted grayish-blue. Depending on how the sunlight hits them, the coloring can be bright hues of blues-violet-greens! They have tiny bills, like the bluebird. If you go to the Cornell "All About Birds" link at the bottom of this post, you'll see an outline of the bird in flight--forkish-pointy wings and tail.

This is one of the most exciting moments of monitoring nestboxes!

See how the soft feathers are placed on the nest. These young nestlings cannot hold their heavy heads up yet.

All 5 are doing well. They will be ready to fledge in about 20-24 days from hatching date. Both the male and female feed their young, like the bluebirds. When adults, these guys will join large flocks and migrate. They need to do this to get insects in the winter. Bluebirds eat berries in the winter, so many of our bluebirds in Southwest Virginia stay as residents.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

BELOW: 

FIND THE FOLLOWING LINKS TO CORNELL’S PAGE ABOUT THE TREE SWALLOW AND A VIDEO ON YOUTUBE OF PAIRED BOXES FOR SUCCESSFUL NESTING OF THE BLUEBIRD AND THE TREE SWALLOW AS NEIGHBORS– ENJOY!: 

CORNELL:    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/tree_swallow/id

PAIRING NESTBOXES FOR EABL AND TRES:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bkir2NkdQ-I

PRIMLAND RESORT’S NEW BLUEBIRD TRAIL – PATRICK COUNTY, VA


Primland Resort is doing an outstanding job in their newly installed bluebird trail.  Here are two photos I’ve just received.  Many thanks to Barry Towe Photography for giving me permission to post these photos.  Also, I would like to thank Primland’s Golf Superintendent, Brian Kearns, who has been overseeing the planning, installing, monitoring, and managing the new trail.  Mr. Kearns recently reported to me that all boxes are occupied by our Eastern Bluebirds.  After our nesting season is completed for 2011, his first set of statistics for Primland’s bluebird trail which will be forwarded to me for compilation to the Virginia Bluebird Society’s (VBS) state records.   See VBS site for more info:  http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/aboutus.html

 As you can see from this picture, this sturdy hardware cloth Noel Guard over the 1.5″ entry hole is no problem for the bluebirds–as a matter of fact, they actually like them and use them to guard their nestbox and also as a “porch”.   VBS highly recommends the use of these guards for ground predators that may get past the stovepipe ground guard on the pole and underneath the nestbox and also for any avian predators.   As County Coordinator for VBS, I encourage the use of them to others who want to install a nestbox; I use them on my own trail, as well, since most of my boxes are installed in rural Patrick County habitat.

For more info about this gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains resort location in Patrick County, Virginia–a beautiful retreat, spa, and vacation spot with something special for everyone, see their website:  http://primland.com/

This is a full VBS recommended nestbox installation, including the two predator guards. The nestboxes were made in Primland's workshop. The wood is Western Red Cedar (not aromatic cedar!)

The female Eastern Bluebird with food for her brood--it appears to be a grasshopper!

 

MARK YOUR CALENDAR! 17TH ANNUAL PURPLE MARTIN FIELD DAY IN VIRGINIA: JUNE 25, 2011


In Virginia: Annual Purple Martin Field Day, Louisa County

The 17th Annual Event is scheduled for June 25, 2011.  Mark your calendars for this fascinating event about those amazing Purple Martins!

Photo by Kathy Laine and used with permission.

If you find bluebird nestboxes fascinating, you’ll love seeing a monitored and strategically built Purple Martin colony in action!  You’ll meet expert birders at this event, hear lectures, get materials, learn what creates a successful colony of Purple Martins and why they need to be cared for, monitored, and why the use of predator guards towards their breeding and fledging success of a colony, and how to get them to return and bring joy year after year.   This is located in central Virginia.  Take a look at this website for more info on this event, maps and directions, and more!   http://www.purplemartinfieldday.org/

Look at these beautiful birds live and talk to great bird people dedicated to this marvelous cavity nesting bird, the Purple Martin.

    

CHECKING NESTS AFTER FLEDGINGS


It is important that we monitors always INSPECT nests when nestboxes are cleaned out between broods and after “alleged” fledgings.   I get questions how I know fledgings actually took place at nestboxes at locations where I cannot watch closely the goings on.   Here are some tips and examples of nests after inspection:

First, I make sure I monitor at least once a week.  I prefer about every 4 days. I can keep a better handle on happenings if I monitor more than once a week.

After I think there has been a successful fledging, I can actually tell by looking at the remaining nest if indeed a fledging took place as opposed to a snake predating the older nestlings.   The parents always “change diapers” or clean up the nests of the fecal sacs.   During the fledging period, usually within a 24 hour period (sometimes a little longer if the parents think it’s not safe or a nestling is weaker than the others), the parents don’t bring food to the nestlings as often or clean up their waste matter to entice them to make the first flight.   The adults will also swoop down to the nestbox and call to them to come out.  It’s fun to watch if you can do so!   Most of the time during fledging, the waste matter (fecal sacs) remains in the nest as the young birds fledge.   If a snake gets them, their usually is no waste matter in the nest.  The parents are diligent the nest stays clean.   When I see a flattened nest with waste matter, that’s a good sign the youngster made it!

Note:  I always look for waste matter left on the front-side of the box under the entry hole.  That’s a good sign they made it out OK, leaving a bit of matter behind as they fly out. This is cleaned off between broods by me so the box is as clean of the birds’ waste matter as much as  possible.

When cleaning out a nestbox, I turn nests over looking for blowfly larvae and other possible parasites in the nest material which are not visible in the box itself (such as the beginnings of ants or mites).   It’s really important to always remove used nests but PARTICULARLY those that shows parasites, such as the example of this first brood nest for this season (first time I ever had blowfly larvae in first nests).   The female likes to build a new nest for the second and possibly third broods.  Clean nesting material is good.  Otherwise, she may bring in new nesting materials and build on top of old nests that could have parasites in them.  This also brings the nest higher to the entry hole, which is not a good idea for the safety of the nestlings.  The youngsters did make it out OK according to what I could determine in the nest you see in Photo 2 below, but there was the beginnings of the hatched blowfly eggs in the first brood.  The larvae in the nest cause harm to the nestlings if they multiply and then the nest is heavily infested with them.  The more larvae present in young nestlings’ nest material, the more chance they become anemic from losing blood to the larvae, which feed on them at night.

In the photos below, you’ll find two photos of nests:

First photo shows a clean pine needle nest.  I inspected it in detail from top to bottom — no evidence of any larvae, no larvae nest “dust” (the blowfly breaks up the nesting material to a fine dust usually found on the bottom of the nest along where the nestbox floor is located where they rest during the day), and as you can see, there is waste matter not picked up by the parents.  When I inspect nests during breeding, I always take a small spatula and lift the nest up a little to look for the dust, a sign of possible blowfly larvae.

The second photo below shows the bottom of a nest (what appeared to be a clean nest on top when I first looked) when I flipped it over, this is what I found…this detail of blowfly larvae in first brood nestings material went into my trail notes.   This is the earliest I’ve ever seen the larvae appear in nesting material along my trail.   I am thinkig the early warmer weather this Spring may be why–only theory on my part–nature’s way.   Blowflies in birds nest has been going on for centuries.  However, by installing manmade nestboxes, my goal is for the bluebirds to fledge, so I make sure as best I can that they make it successfully to bird life outside of the box.   Monitorig is fun but it’s work, too–I don’t want to monitor boxes to find sick or dead birds.  It’s best not to have a nestbox up if you don’t take care of the birds using them.

Bottom line to monitors:  Always inspect nests to know for sure what happens in the nest during breeding season.   What remains of the nest tells a story.   Never drop old nests near the nestbox, as this attracts predators to the area.   Always take it away in a plastic bag and dispose of it later. Any pristine clean nests I have I keep for emergences that could be possible later.

Anyone know what emergencies I would need a clean, used bluebird nest for?  There are two possible reasons.  I will update this post with the answers.  Leave a comment here, if you wish, if you know what the reasons are.

One more thought:  we can’t assume once the nestling fledge, they actually survive to adulthood.  Survival rate will vary on the young birds that fledge.   We can’t assume every empty nest means all young birds live a long life.   If possible, if you have a nestbox by your home, you can look for the fledglings in the area in your tree branches, put out a platform feeder with mealworms to entice the adults to feed the mealworms to the fledglings, and you can watch them for another month or so as they learn to find food for themselves.  If the youngsters don’t make it, nature rules.   It’s probably good the bluebirds try more than once per season to breed.   The chickadee generally has only one brood per year–interesting to me why some species breed 2-3 broods and others once.   The House Sparrow breeds average 5 times per season!   The start earlier and breed later each season.   The one sparrow species not native to North America breeds often!

I surmised the young birds fledged successfully in this nest. The waste matter remains behind which is normal during the fledging period. After turning this nest over and inspecting it, there was no evidence of parasites. The nest was clean on the bottom side. With gloves, I pick off the dried matter and keep the nest handy for possible emergencies later. The nest I keep is clean through and through. These are white pine needles.

The young birds made it out with evidence of matter on top side. However, when I turned it over to inspect it, this is what I found on the bottom of the nest. I tossed this out in a tied plastic bag in a waste can away from the nestbox.

ENJOY BLUEBIRDS …. EXCELLENT PHOTOGRAPHY and SUET RECIPES!


Wendell Long Photo

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

 

DO YOU NOT AGREE THAT PICTURES TELL THE STORY? 

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 Sialis.org website:  http://www.sialis.org/suet.htm#recipes     

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!)

WINTER CHEER

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.

MY NOEL GUARD STORY is in the VBS FALL 2009 NEWSLETTER, “THE BIRD BOX”:


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.     http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/newsletterpage.html
 
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                                                                 

    BB-CLARIFIED

    brdpw030817

VIRGINIA BLUEBIRD SOCIETY: NESTBOX DESIGNS AND PREDATOR GUARDS


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.

VBSlogo_small

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!  

pict0032_tn

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):   http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/grantprograms.html

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.  

SAVED FROM BLOWFLIES AND CLOSE TO FLEDGING!


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!

 

COME TAKE A WALK WITH ME AND SEE THE WORLD OF BLUEBIRDS.


 “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.

FROM EGG TO FLEDGLING, MATE FEEDING, and NESTCAMS.


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

http://www.sialis.org/runt.htm

Also, click below for a video of bluebird action male feeding female from Sialis.org:

http://www.sialis.org/video1.htm

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

http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/nestcams/camera/view?cameraID=C100046

 

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.

SPRING 2009 — CLIPBOARD READY FOR NEW STATS. QUOTES AND A BLUEBIRD SONG.


  • 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:    http://bluebirdia.homegrowngoodies.com/bluebird-song-audio.htm

2009 TRAIL … NEW LOCATIONS. FIRST BLUEBIRDS FOR 2009 SIGHTINGS.


4 males and 2 females were courting each other...no fighting surprisingly among the males.

4 males and 2 females were courting each other...no 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.

NOTE: 

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.

BLUEBIRD UPDATE — 2008 TRAIL REPORT.


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:   http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/

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.

http://www.mountainrose-inn.com/BirdingattheMountainRose.htm