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.
With that, I also have cross posted this on those same Facebook pages. It is not only fitting to share this on the topic, but imperative for educational purposes. Here is that text:
I am cross posting at a few Facebook pages Cornell’s NestWatch monitoring protocol guidelines and principles of birding ethics, the Code of Conduct, in human monitoring all nests in the wild, including our nesting boxes. The advice and guidelines are easy to read and is based on the American Birding Association’s birding ethics and protocol (find them at www.aba.org). I participate and am certified in NestWatch. It’s an excellent source of information! If you haven’t yet, take some time to look around the NestWatch website. While you’re there on the Code of Conduct page, look to the left and click on the links on Nest Monitoring Protocol and Nest Monitoring Manual and FAQS, which is great for new bluebirders to learn from. Enjoy!
I also follow all state and federal laws on my 43-box bluebird trail and all other birding adventures in my locale (such as monitoring a Northern Mockingbird nest at my neighbor’s house), based on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 ( in particular, I am referring how I handle native birds and non-native invasive species). Here is that website from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: https://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-and-regulations/laws-legislations/migratory-bird-treaty-act.php
Here is a recent photo of Mom Blue who did not flush off the nest during a box check. I never force her off. However, with my quick skill one-handed with my small digital camera with the box panel door cracked open so as not to startle her too much (I never use flash photography on live birds inside the boxes), I was able to capture her on her egg clutch. The natural lighting also captured the brilliant blue feathers on this incubating female.
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?
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!
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All the best to you as you continue your birding ventures and adventures. Happy Birding. Have you joined in on the trail’s Facebook page yet? C’mon over — lots of posts and action there! https://www.facebook.com/WoolwineHouseBluebirdTrail
Feel free to share this post away on the public sites. Education is key in properly appreciating and handling birds in human monitoring and Citizen Science protocol. Happy and safe birding!
Best regards always,