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

Copyright - Photo by David Kinneer

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


EABL – Eastern Bluebird

TRES – Tree Swallow

CACH – Carolina Chickadee

HOWR – House Wren

HOSP – House Sparrow


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Bluebird Nesting Guide from Virginia Bluebird Society

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

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

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

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

Mom blue Incubating 2016 at Nestbox 15

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

"The Lone Child"

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

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

13 Day Old EABL

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

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

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

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

Best regards always,




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Can you imagine being a parent bird feeding their young, especially as 5 or 6 of these nestlings just keep growing and feedings take place from dawn to dusk every day up to fledging day, with each parent feeding averaging five times per hour by each (give or take ten feedings total per hour)?  I know it’s not easy being a bird, but being a bird PARENT is even more challenging–such hard workers they are–and then waiting for the “diaper removal” (called fecal sacs) and trying not to attract too much attention to the nest box as they feed their offspring, which helps thwart potential predators.   This video was sent to me from one of Virginia Bluebird Society’s dedicated volunteers.  What a fun compilation of the number of visits these bluebirds take to one nest box for one brood.    I hope you enjoy it.   I’m sure as dusk rolls in, the parents enjoy some sleep until the dawn breaks again!    Location:  Fairfax County, Virginia

Great job on the video creation!   The explanation with the video is as follows:

“It is essentially a time-lapse of our front yard bluebirds, showing the final 1-1/2 days of them feeding the 6 nestlings, and capturing two fledge flights.  It was accomplished by taking automatic photos every 10 seconds, plus a few hand-held at key moments.  After editing out a few “dead spells” in the collected span of many hours, each frame is shown here in 1/10 second increments. The highlights are slowed down and zoomed, with captions.  This all took place at our house on Monday and Tuesday, June 6 & 7, 2016. ”         


Eastern Bluebirds on Hatch Day.

Eastern Bluebirds on Hatch Day in 2014.   It never gets old seeing this during monitoring.  Be fast so that the naked and unfeathered young don’t get chilled on a day below 75 degrees.  That may be warm to us with clothes on, but these guys need to stay draft free as much as possible.  Take your photos quickly and move on.


This is an excellent daily photo journal of the nestling development and some behaviors of the young each day as they progress.  Here is the NestWatch page:  NestWatch Eastern Bluebird Nestling Development (Daily Nest Photos)

Please remember some good monitoring protocol for the safety of the nestlings and “courtesy” to the parent birds caring for their broods:

  1.  If you keep your own photo journal, try to abstain using flash after the young start to open their eyes on the 7th and 8th day — the flash photography is intrusive on cavity-nesting bird young. I set my small digital camera to the macro setting, which automatically turns off flash and adjusts focus for closeup photography.  Long periods of video photography could be intrusive.  Attempt to keep videos short-term.
  2. Please also be quick at the photos using a steady hand and try not to leave the box open too long — this will aid in keeping the smell of the young and any odors from the nest from unpicked up fecal sacs by the parent birds from floating into the air and attracting potential predators towards the young in the nest (snakes!).  I try to do all I need to do my checks in 45-60 seconds and close the box securely and leaving quietly. This includes using my auto visor mirror first for inspection, shut the box, ready my digital camera in the macro mode, reopening the box and shooting two photos and then closing the box again SECURELY and carefully and doing my skedaddle from the area so the parents and get back to business of caring for their young and keeping their stress level to a minimum.
  3. Also remember to abstain from opening your nesting boxes after the 13th day to avoid premature fledging of the nestlings.  Do your final check on the 12th or 13th day of the nestling’s age and stop at that point and do your behavior surveillance up to Fledge Day from a distance using binoculars in a comfy chair or bench in the vicinity of the nesting box — not too close because the parent birds won’t like you being there near this time and will delay fledging until they feel comfortable it’s safe for their offspring to make their maiden flights successfully–even wobbly so!–to the safe haven inside a tree and it’s foliage.  Yes, even you, the monitor the bluebirds have come to know still don’t want you nearby during the fledging process of their kids.  It’s just nature’s way of survival.
  4. Always keep good monitoring (accurate) records.  This will aid you determine their age, of course.  Monitor about 2-3 times a week for best accuracy of the goings on inside the nest box and for troubleshooting problems as they arise, BUT AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK MINIMUM…. but not too often (like every day unless the nesting box has problems) so you are not over-managing the birds.  After all, they are still wild birds–not your adopted pets.
  5. Send on your records to your local state bluebird society or ornithology organization like NestWatch or Audubon group!  They need the records, even from a back yard nesting box.  Find them online and see if there is a County Coordinator near you and contact them and introduce yourself.  You may make new friends at these wonderful NABS-affiliated non-profit, all volunteer cavity-nesting bird organizations.   You can also participate in Cornell’s NestWatch.   Here is their page to get started:  Cornell NestWatch Main Page

Happy Bluebirding to all!  More action on the trail’s Facebook page.  Questions directly to me are easier to access there and get quicker responses.  Come join us and the discussions there:  Woolwine House Bluebird Trail’s Facebook Page

Any questions?   Contact me directly here:  CONTACT ME BY EMAIL  or leave a blog note here.  I will do my best to answer as best I can.  I am out in the field often, so my office time and cell phone time is limited.  Thanks to all for the support.

Beautiful Tree Swallow (TRES) eggs!

Beautiful Tree Swallow (TRES) eggs!


A gaping chickadee. Helps with headcount if you can get them to do this for faster box checks.

This hornets nest was built in one week's time in an active Tree Swallow Nest. This is another excellent example why we need to monitor manmade nesting boxes.

This hornets nest was built in one week’s time in an active Tree Swallow Nest. This is another excellent example why we need to monitor man-made nesting boxes.  THIS IS THE SECOND BOX with a hornet’s built this size within one week’s time.   If you see this or wasps attaching their materials to the ceiling, soap the box ceilings.




This is the Ron Kingston Stovepipe guard.

This is the Ron Kingston Stovepipe guard.

This nestbox was recently treated for ants!

This nestbox was recently treated for ants!

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

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

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

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

 1.  From the Nestbox Builder website:  

 2.  From the Virginia Bluebird society website:  

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

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

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

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

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

Ground Climbing Predator Baffle-Kingston with Illustration






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

A man’s interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town.”  ~  Letter, November 22, 1858, from Henry D. Thoreau to Daniel Ricketson, in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, 1906

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

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

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

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

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


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


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: http://kck.st/128GNK1il.com

“Bluebird Man” website: BluebirdMan.com
Wild Lens website: WildLensInc.org
“Bluebird Man” facebook page: facebook.com/BluebirdManFilm
Wild Lens twitter feed: twitter.com/WildLensInc

“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: http://www.sialis.org/whiteeggs.htm

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.


BLUEBIRD – by Naturalist John Burroughs (1827-1921)

Copyright - Photo by David Kinneer

A wistful note from out the sky,
‘Pure, pure, pure,’ in plaintive tone,
As if the wand’rer were alone,
And hardly knew to sing or cry.

But now a flash of eager wing,
Flitting, twinkling by the wall,
And pleadings sweet and am’rous call,-
Ah, now I know his heart doth sing!

O bluebird, welcome back again,
Thy azure coat and ruddy vest
Are hues that April loveth best,-
Warm skies above the furrowed plain.

The farm boy hears thy tender voice,
And visions come of crystal days,
With sugar-camps in maple ways,
And scenes that make his heart rejoice.

The lucid smoke drifts on the breeze,
The steaming pans are mantling white,
And thy blue wing’s a joyous sight,
Among the brown and leafless trees.

Now loosened currents glance and run,
And buckets shine on sturdy boles,
The forest folk peep from their holes,
And work is play from sun to sun.

The downy beats his sounding limb,
The nuthatch pipes his nasal call,
And Robin perched on tree-top tall
Heavenward lifts his evening hymn.

Now go and bring thy homesick bride,
Persuade her here is just the place
To build a home and found a race
In Downy’s cell, my lodge beside.


(Due to technical errors in the WordPress original post today, I am reposting.)

Not only am I experiencing the emotional empty-nest syndrome but truly my last nestbox became empty, not to bluebirds fledging, but to a clutch of 4 unhatched eggs. I watched this female stay true on these eggs from July 24th through August 3oth. The female Eastern Bluebird laid and stayed on these eggs, turning them daily, with no hatching action. It was a strange experience for me, wondering why. I checked this nest almost every day, taking photos as the eggs were turned.  It has become apparent she finally gave up and abandoned the nest. I removed the nest.  NOTE in the photo below all the very large seeds from the late-summer berries she consumed that have been deposited inside the pine needle nest by this incubating female (see right side and underneath eggs).  OK, so, I have plans for the eggs — nothing goes to waste! — they will go in the gorgeous cedar and Plexiglas “display nestbox” handmade for me by a very talented woodworker using the Virginia Bluebird Society’s suggested nestbox design. Once I place the eggs in the display, I will dissect this nest and count the number of seeds deposited by this female.  I enjoy learning what does a late-in-the-season incubating Eastern Bluebird eat other than the overabundance of grasshoppers, katydids, beetles, spiders, moths, grubs, butterflies, and slowly-floating bumble and carpenter bees?   Bluebirds eat mostly insects during the spring and continue throughout summer.  As summer ends, more berries become available.  Dogwood berries are red now and pokeweed berries have been available for several weeks.  In winter months, depending on the locale, berries are the main diet since insects become less available in the colder weather.  Bluebirds in the northern parts migrate south to have access to the berries available in the warmer winter climates.  Most bluebirds in Virginia do not migrate and are year-round residents.

Empty-nest syndrome, for me, also includes the migration watch in spring and also in the late summer for our ruby-throated hummingbirds.   I consistently make a gallon of sugar-water per day to accommodate the hundreds we have here at our house.   Most have left and the migrators from the north are showing up, some singly, and some in numbers during stops.  The overnight rests allow me additional joys as I watch the tiny, hovering, mystical fairies.   Once they are gone, there is a somewhat bittersweet feeling of knowing nature is working and now I must wait to see them again.   The miracles of nature will always comfort me as I continue the glorious days of living in the mountains of the Blue Ridge.  House Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, and Eastern Bluebirds were the species in my nestboxes this year.   Thankfully, the House Wrens caused minimal damage to bluebirds eggs laid this year.    As always, the chickadees struggle to fledge successfully one brood per year.   The past two years showed me how the chickadees seem to become more aggressive for nestbox usage with other species.  This must be the survival instinct to procreate their species.

My website/blog here is under new material and layout of information.  Since I’m expanding my trail to a goal of 30 nestboxes by February 2013, I am holding off posting photos of the nestboxes.  More good news comes with the successful deterrence of House  Sparrows using the Two-Holer Test Mansion, which fledged THREE BROODS OF EASTERN BLUEBIRDS!    No House Sparrows attempted to nest this year, and the bluebirds won the territory of that nestbox!   That is truly GOOD NEWS.  That page on my site is currently being worked on for a summary of this 3-year test.   I plan on revamping the TEST RESULTS page, and more.   The Facebook page has become a great success—I’m finding it easier to post photos there as well as update followers.  It allows others to ask questions and have me answer in an easier-to-use format.

As September is now upon us, I am collecting my own data, monitors in my two counties, and will be submitting these details soon to the Virginia Bluebird Society and others, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  As I remember all the interesting details from this year from my trail and others, I will be sending through another post here to explain all the new interesting happenings.  Year after year, there is always something new!

My first ever full set of unviable eggs.

This is my display I use for educational purposes. Only unhatched eggs are used.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology


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

Here is another 3rd brood–3 days old.  Presently on the trail, I have four nestings on third broods!  This bunch appeared a tad weak and hot yesterday.  Growth size observed the same for all three nestlings.  Both parent birds are very active in feedings.  Good!  Since only three here, there is more food for all.  Will watch them closely–about every 2-3 days of “looking in” on them.  Worried about another ” macho” bunch of blowfly larvae–have treated the nest for deterrence of larvae surviving while hidden inside the nest during the day.  I have two clean unused grass nests saved similar to this one.  I will use one for a possible emergency nest switch-out on next visit tomorrow.  I ONLY micro-manage nestboxes where problems may be evident and only then.  I let nature provide as much as I think will provide for the birds and intervene only when necessary.  Sometimes it’s a tough call because time is of the essence in some circumstances.   Photo taken July 27, 2012.

The heat is hard on our cavity-nesters. These three nestlings appear to be holding their own so far. The parent birds are active in caring for them. I am hoping my blowfly deterrence will work on these little guys. The more bluebirds, the better! How can we not wish them the best? It’s all part of the monitoring process. It’s worth all the work and time helping bluebirds succeed. The more bluebirds fledge, the more chances we will have them return to the same nestbox where they were born. The average fledgling generally has a 50% survival rate within the first year of life in the world. Therefore, we can never have enough bluebirds!  Never.


 Greetings from the trail.  This has been a significant year for interesting data!

Looking good!

For a few examples, observations include how the nestlings survived in a three-day freeze snap after a warmer winter and earlier than usual egg laying, the number of unhatched eggs on my trail as well as other bluebirders around my locale, a loss of a nest site mid-season due to construction, no blowfly larvae infestations first two broods, the terrible heat the nestlings seems to be struggling with this summer, new nestboxes getting installed to expand the trail, and much more. I will be updating here, both on this main page as a new blog post as well as on the Two-Hole Mansion Test page, a results summary of the three year test as a success! … and WHY it succeeded.  This will be formatted as an easy read of the explanation of why this test took place.  Thanks goes to Linda Violett in California for her support these past three years on the Two-Hole Mansion Test in Southwest Virginia. She has been instrumental in mentoring and guiding me along the way through this test. She will be assisting me the summary report of the Virginia test at the close of this nesting season.  If you haven’t seen Linda’s page for this test, please take a look and see this effort of how the bluebird is able to establish territory on his own in House Sparrow locations without the use of trapping or gadgets.  It is a fascinating test.  I’ve worked with Linda on this and I know it works.  It is important to read about the Keys to Success that is necessary for this test to be conducted properly and to have the success we were looking for and attained.  In my case, the test HAS been shown a success—truly I’m amazed. See link of the test page on Linda’s website below.  MANY thanks to the homeowner who has been so cordial to have allowed me to continue this test at her property.  There will be more information coming about this on the Facebook page for the trail, as well.

Linda’s Page on the test Mansion Two-Hole Nestbox on my trail:  http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett/testwoolwine.html

 There have been many questions and discussions I’ve received through my new Facebook page for the trail. Thank you for your participation. It’s a good place to ask questions and has made it quite easier for me to address the questions and issues much faster and easier for me and the followers. I’ve received 69 LIKES so far there. I appreciate the support. This website is under revamping and organization. I appreciate your patience as time permits me to update it.  As things start to wind down now in July, I’ll be actively supplying more information here and reports. WordPress is a great program;  I do need to delete some graphics and reorganize some so that the program continues to run smoothly.

I’m happy to also report I’ve spent some time in studies this past June and July to attain certification with Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources under the guidance of the Conservation Management Institute’s Ecologists as a new naturalist. I’ve completed the requirements of hours, both in classroom and field work and written and field exams, to attain the points necessary as a Certified Naturalist. Many thanks to those who supported me in this effort.  It took me away from many things–worth every moment of my time, of course. I’m quite grateful I had this opportunity to be better educated about our natural environment and natural history including geology, culture, music, plant and tree species, how to use dichotomous keys for ID-ing species, learning about birds, bats, insects, herps, mammals, and so much more—specializing the focus on the Southern Appalachians.  Many thanks to the Virginia Tech/CMI instructors and fellow students for leadership, support, and laughs through the learning process, some of it quite grueling.  I told myself I could do this, and I did.  I have been quite proud to be a part of this adventure—thanks to Primland in Meadows of Dan, VA, for hosting this course on the lovely Appalachian mountain acreage and natural surroundings.  Please see this Virginia Tech news release, dated June 4, 2012.  I highly recommend this to anyone in my area.  It was worth it.  See some photos below–the catch and study of the Cedar Waxwing in a mist net, Primland’s own Field Guide, and a photo I took at the overlook where I was staying during studies.

About the course:   http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2012/06/060412-cnre-primlandnaturalistcourse.html

Cedar Waxwing caught in a mist net, studied, and released.

Field Guides, Pressed Tree Leaves, and some music.

Primland View


Kung Fu Bluebird?  Beautiful action shot–many thanks to Dave Kinneer for capturing this exciting action from behind the lens.  What confidence, grace, and pure beauty this female has.   I would love to ride the back of a bluebird and carry the sky with along me.   How about you?

“The bluebird carries the sky on its back.”  Henry David Thoreau

Is this not beautiful?


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!):  http://www.sialis.org/eggsunhatched.htm

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.



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!):


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.


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.



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.


I’m in the process of completing twenty more nestbox setups just like this. Ten have been completed so far–ten more coming for this season. Three I have sold back to a local monitor with all costs for the complete nestbox setups given to an excellent local charity to help our less fortunate who live in our county.  One has been installed just last week at a private residence along my trail–monies to the same charity.  Woo-hoo!

This is what is in the setup:

  • Side-swing-down door on this observation nestbox for easy monitoring using the Virginia Bluebird Society nestbox plan made from western red cedar.  This wood will weather year after year beautifully.  No painting needed!
  • One-inch metal galvanized conduit (you can also just call it hollow metal pole) cut to 7.5 feet, 6-inch wide x 24-inch long galvanized “stovepipe” round duct with duct cap ground predator guard (to deter snakes, raccoons, mice, opossums, squirrels, feral and roaming housecats and more) designed to W-O-B-B-L-E while hanging on the conduit below the box.  A wobbling stovepipe is harder to get by.
  • Vinyl-coated hardware cloth entry-hole predator guard (highly effective to protect nestlings and eggs!)
  • All hardware to install all of the above.
  • My own small black lightweight canvas “tack” supply bag I use on the trail with essential tools I need beyond my car and at each nestbox visit, which I do about twice a week.
  • Post driver to pound the conduit about 1.5 feet into the ground so that the top of the nextbox roof is at about 5.5 feet.  (By the way, the one-inch conduit is about the right sturdiness to secure this nestbox, particularly if one of our local black bears bumps into one!)

Now that I look at it, it doesn’t look like too much at all.  Also included in this picture is what to use if one chooses to spray paint the galvanized conduit and stovepipe a color conducive to disappear into nature (I suggest a dark brown).  You will see white vinegar, a spray bottle for the vinegar, an old pillow case, and a good quality dark brown oil-based spray paint. What is not in the picture is a large twist tie or string to secure the pillow case over the nestbox during the spray painting.  Pick a nice day to do this.   Make sure NO BIRDS are nesting in a box!   Put an old pillow case over the nestbox and tie the bottom.  This keeps the nestbox separate from the vinegar spray and painting.   (DO NOT spray the nestbox with any paint inside or out.   If you use a good wood that weathers well, you need not paint the box.)  First, spray the galvanized pole and stovepipe and cap with the vinegar and let thoroughly dry.   Then (important) check for any winds!   If you have some, you best wait on the painting.   If after “pickling” the galvanized metal with the vinegar and you have determined it is dry, you can then spray paint the rest.  I recommend the brand Rustoleum UltraCover 2x Matte color (only one application needed) in color Expresso.  Make sure the paint is dried completely and then remove the pillow case.  By pickling the galvanized metal first, the oil-based spary paint won’t peel off.  By the way, do not spray paint anything if birds are using the boxes! That’s a good warning to share with you. If they are using the box, don’t do it–just wait until later in the year after the nesting season is over, such as in September.  I have to be honest with you….I think the pickling and spray painting of the stovepipes are not necessary; but if you prefer it, this is how to do it.  Most of mine are kept as they came from the store, including the price stickers.   The priority here is to keep that stovepipe as smooth as possible.   I have found greasing them won’t be necessary is MOST circumstances.   If you want to purchase pre-painted stovepipe round duct, some retail outlets will sell them in black.  They are a bit more expensive, however.   Also, DO NOT spray paint the hardware cloth entry-hole guards.

Installation How To:   Having 2 people helps!  One person holding the conduit straight (use a level if you have one), use a post driver to pound the 7.5 length conduit into the ground (search for sturdy, flat ground with not too much rocks).  Next, insert carriage bolt into pre-drilled hole where the ground stovepipe guard will hang.   Add the two nuts and tighten with a hand-wrench.  Install ground stovepipe with duct cap screwed on both sides to round duct onto the conduit so it will hang and wobble on the carriage bolt.   Next, take a ready-to-install nestbox with a drilled hole in the back and open the side door.   Add another carriage or machine bolt with a half-inch size washer and insert that through the pre-dilled hole on the inside and backside of the box.   Then insert the box with bolt through pre-drilled hole in the conduit and add nut on other side of conduit and tighten well.  At bottom of box for added support to conduit, add U-clamp over the conduit and use electric drill to install two wood screws (about 1.5″ size) through the U-clamp on each side and  into box.  Be sure those screws are not too long or they’ll stick through the nestbox on the inside (dangerous to birds).   You should not see any screws points inside the box.  The hardward cloth entry hole guard can be made and installed on box prior to setup installation.  Through another follow-up post forthcoming, I will detail more tips on the installation method.  Where to find these plans?  Of course, you can find them on the Virginia Bluebird Society’s website:   http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/nestboxguards.html            You can find all kinds of helpful information there, free of charge!   Do visit if you haven’t been there yet.   Happy Bluebirding.  Comments and questions encouraged!   Leave them here!

Left to Right: Nestbox, stovepipe ground guard, conduit, tack bag, pillow case, hardware, post driver, white vinegar and a spray bottle.

I love this nestbox plan! Easy opening with the door swinging down so you can see top to bottom, oversized slanted and kerfed roof to shed rain, completely vented above entry hole width of box, and triangular vents on both sides at top and in backside.


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!



There are reasons–important ones from those who have learned from experience of losing bluebirds to predators.  Once you’ve lost them and see it firsthand, you never want to see it again.    Take a look at this box and read the text below the box.  This is one of my displays when I give a presentation.   The VBS recently talked about this in one of their newsletters, particularly the use of the Noel hardware cloth guard over the entry hole.  See diagrams below.  I am happy to answer any questions.   More bluebirds fledge successfully with a monitored box with predator guards.   It’s been proven by the VBS statistics.

Per the VBS at their website:  http://www.virginiabluebirds.org:

Predator Guard Designs

We utilize two types of predator guards to help limit predation of our bluebird nest boxes. One we call the Cat/Raccoon Guard is made of a heavy wire mesh 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.)

This snake is fed by bluebird nestlings. This is a wonderful nestbox; however, it has no predator guards on it....because no ground guard (particularly to ward snakes away), this snake made it to the nest. Note: The Black Rat Snake is a good snake. We must not kill them. Let's keep them off of our installed manmade nestboxes, though, and be good landlords of our nestboxes so the bluebirds can succeed in raising their family to healthy fledglings to healthy bluebird adults.


Cute little guy isn't he? He's very good getting to bluebird nestboxes. Use predator guards to help the cavity-nesting birds.

Recommendations below from the VBS for box mounting and guards below:

This is what I use on my trail. It's 99% effective for me.

Avian predators, raccoons, feral and housecats are predators. The entry hole guard has helped Virginia bluebirds succeed!

This is a modified North American Bluebird Society nestbox with the mounting diagram suggested by the Virginia Bluebird Society. It has the Kingston Stovepipe Ground Guard and the hardware cloth Noel guard over the entry hole.

A better PDF printout file can be found at: http://www.virginiabluebirds.org

This is a typical box on my trail.


NOVEMBER 6, 2010
(This is also duplicated on the gray tabbed page, Trail Results.)

Each year, with the same number of nest locations, I have noticed  from my trail notes that I fledge 20 more bluebirds each nesting season.  This season I fledged 20 more bluebirds than last year.   I continue to deal with problems and I think each year as I learn how to better be a good trail monitor and keep good statistics, I can see how every year is a little better than the last.
This was Year 1 of the 3-year test for the larger “Mansion” designed by Linda Violett in California for the Western Bluebird (with the two entry holes)  for testing how bluebirds do against the non-native House Sparrow. Please see the gray tabbed page for those results.   I fledged bluebirds successfully, one brood, after House Sparrows attempted to nest in that box.  It’s the only box that has a House Sparrow problem.  See Linda’s website on all of the tests going on throughout the USA on how the bluebirds are doing in this box design which gives the bluebirds a chance to survive attacks inside a nestbox by providing an extra hole on the front as an “escape route”.  Additionally, the box is deeper, both holes have the standard Eastern Bluebird 1.5″ size, which keeps larger avian predators from reaching inside the box to remove nestlings.   I would say I had success on this test for this year with no bluebird casualties.  Though trapping the House Sparrow to control them in bluebird territory is generally recommended, this test requires not to trap.   The reasons for this is explained on my page about the test as well as on Linda’s website.  On her main page here, she explains the test sites: http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett
This was a bad year for ticks. Since one box is in field grasses, my plan is to move that box to a “garden and back yard” location, which is attractive to bluebirds and will be easier for me to monitor so I don’t have to walk through hayfields.   I do have another box on that field, but I don’t have to walk far to monitor it nor is it surrounded by the grasses.  Now I use lots of clothing to cover myself up and also a non-deet spray to put on my clothes and my skin to keep the ticks off.  Note:  This field is cut several times a year.   When the boxes were installed, the grasses were short.   Lesson learned:   install a box that is easy to monitor and excellent for the birds to stay close and guard their nestbox and not have to fly far for food.  About 2 acres is about right for a pair of nesting bluebirds.  They are territorial, and they like their space.
I did have ants at several boxes, which I took care of right away. The blowfly problem was taken care of this year by using the Diatomaceous Earth carefully before bluebird eggs hatched.   The predator guards on both the entry hole and the ground guard proved worthy again for this season.  Only one very large black rat snake made it past a stovepipe ground guard, much to my dismay!  It will happen; however, not using a ground guard for sure causes more predation and unsuccessful fledgings.   I have a 99% success rate using the stovepipe ground guard!
Weather was interesting this season.   Because of the harsher winter we had for 2009 and into early 2010, my bluebirds started to nest later in the spring than prior seasons.  However, I had three broods on my trail this year, the first I’ve ever had THREE broods nesting.   The last of the bluebirds fledged late August.
I have contacted both Floyd and Patrick County Chamber offices to let them know who I am!   Patrick County was kind enough to put up a page up for me  to get the word out how to contact me (thank you, Mr. Tom Bishop)….http://www.patrickchamber.com/news.cfm?newsID=2549:
Additionally, both the Floyd Press (Floyd County) and The Enterprise (Patrick County) submitted articles in late winter 2010 to contact me about installing nestboxes before the male bluebirds start establishing their territories and female Eastern Bluebird picks her mate to start nest building.
I am seeking bluebird enthusiasts to contact me so that I can train how to monitor bluebird boxes and collect statistics. Please help me get those valuable statistics in!  I coordinate that for the two counties.  All this helps the Virginia Bluebird Society and the North American Bluebird Society to see how the bluebirds are doing year after year.   The Virginai Bluebird Society posts those records.  It’s a great website…do take a look:   http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/
Those statistics we Coordinators collect eventually go to the Transcontinental Bluebird Trail (all of North America, including Canada).   It’s easy to monitor a box when installed properly and in a nestbox designed for easy monitoring and cleanout  and …. this is the fun part ….. you get to watch the birds close up.  You’ll find it to be fascinating, and you’ll love it!  Please get in touch with me via this website so I can help you get started … just leave a comment (it stays private) and give me your phone number and let me call you back.   Or call my voice number and leave a message (703) 919-4302.  I want to help make bluebirding fun for you!   Let’s get the statistics in to the VBS.  I train new monitors and also assist in looking at your habitat for the best success for you. I enjoy doing that!  I also enjoy meeting new people who love birds.
I enjoyed presenting twice this year, May and October, at Virginia Tech’s Reynolds Homestead, in Critz, VA. I thank them for allowing me to present there–I had such wonderful staff assistance, a beautiful room to present my displays and the PowerPoint slideshow in the Continuing Education Center, and all the working behind the scenes to get the word out via the press:
Again, as always, many thanks to my neighbor, Carl, who always is there to help me with workshop details for moving and repairing boxes as needed.   Thank you, Carl!  An article about Carl recognizing his efforts is in the Fall 2010 issue of the Bird Box, the VBS newsletter.   It can be found online here on Page 2 (Adobe Acrobat Reader is necessary to see this page in PDF format):
Before we know it, 2011 nesting season will be upon us!  I hope everyone has a blessed holiday season!  Thank you for your support of this site and the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail.

All the best…………Christine

“Woo-Hoo for Blue!”

I hope to hear from you...leave a message at my mobile device: (703) 919-4302


Everything went well for the Sunday, October 24, 2010, “Dessert and Coffee Series” presentation, which took place at 3 PM.

Here are a few photos from the presentation below.  There were many displays and handouts for the attendees.  A Q&A period followed after the PowerPoint slideshow.   There were many questions afterwards.  That, for me, is the most enjoyable–talking about bluebirds and what I’ve learned these past 5 years and how best we can help them succeed….as human landlords…to make sure the bluebirds fledge successfully and why we install nestboxes on poles and use predator guards.   I really enjoyed meeting everyone.  I have the Virginia Bluebird Society, the North American Bluebird Society, and all of the bluebird experts I’ve learned from to thank that have helped me understand more what bluebirding is all about and the joys we get from monitoring the boxes so that we can get statistics of how they are doing and see how the bluebirds have “come back” in numbers in the past decade, thanks to installing nestboxes.   Other than for educating others on this, to see the birds closeup is the biggest thrill of all, especially when I can share that excitement and pass it on!

This was such a nice room for the group. Coffee, tea, bottled waters, and desserts were served. This was the beginning of the PowerPoint slide show. We are discussing the three different species of bluebirds in North America and the ranges they can be found. In Virginia, we have only the Eastern Bluebird. We are too far East for the Mountain Bluebird.

Display Tables and three easels with prepared posterboard displays.

There are a variety of good books and pamphlets available to help new bluebirders get started out right.

Lots of interesting free materials (handouts), mostly from the Virginia Bluebird Society and the North American Bluebird Society. VBS is an affiliate club to NABS. Included were handouts about what type of shrubs and trees bear fruits for the birds to eat in the winter as well as info about mealworms and VBS nestbox building plans, VBS recommended predator guard plans, and VBS recommended installation instructions (on a 1" conduit).

Many thanks goes to the Reynolds Homestead staff for assisting me in a successful presentation. Since this was an afternoon show, we had to close the blinds in the rooms to see the projected PowerPoint slideshow. The end of the show had a surprise 3-minute musical ending to a series of gorgeous professional photos of young bluebirds fledging and being raised outside the nestbox in the trees by their adoring bluebird parents!


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!)


The last of the bluebirds on my trail fledged on August 26, 2010, at my most successful bluebird nestbox–4 eggs laid in the nest–only three hatched.   All three babies did well but fledged on Day 18…they really took their time, which is good, as they should fledge when they are ready and not forced to do so earlier (unless they feel threatened by a predator).  There were three broods at this box this year.  I also had a few other boxes that had a third brood.   There has only been one year in my 5 years of bluebirding of having more than two broods, and it was only at one box location during those 5 years.  The bluebirds love the habitat at this location. This fledging is one month later this year than last year.  Wow!  What a bluebird season this has been!   Stay tuned to some summary notes to be added here to update and finish my site for 2010′s bluebird season.

I’m now officially feeling empty nest syndrome.  I go through this every year. It’s a good time to reflect on how the birds did in comparison to years prior and to gather and summarize my statistics for the Virginia Bluebird Society and then to the North American Bluebird Society.   I hope this website has been beneficial and enjoyable to you in some way this season.   Thanks for all the inquiries and support, folks!  Again, many thanks to my neighbor, Carl, for his help on my trail this year in movement of some of the boxes and repairs needed before the season started.



I have one set of nestlings left…in my two-hole test box.   I believe the breeding season may be coming to a close now.   It is my belief that the birds know this excessive heat we’ve been having (and insects!) is not good for raising their young.  This means the time of having “bluebird withdrawal” begins.  I go through this every year.   Once the hummingbirds end migration in late summer, it’s double the withdrawal for me.

I always take notes what changes each year on my trail–what worked…what didn’t…what was a wonderful surprise….what disappointed me.   Year after year, there is always something new that happens.   I feel honored to be a part of nature in this way and making my contributions to help the Eastern Bluebird in the area where I live.

Once all boxes are cleaned and it’s been established the breeding season of 2010 is closed, I know the bluebirds here will flock with the migrators from the north and will stick together until next spring again when the males start establishing new territories and mates.   The anticipation of spring is particularly satisfying for me as I await the first males to look at my boxes and for the first male ruby-throated hummingbird to arrive again!  My hope is we have no major snow and ice storms for our resident bluebirds that will take their food sources from them (fruits and winter berries).


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.


A monitor’s day out on a bluebird trail is very well reflected in Bluebird Bob’s poem, which I have posted on this site on another page.  It’s worth repeating here, then read on regarding my trail notes from Saturday, June 12:


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.

Between some thundershowers, I was able to carefully and methodically visit all my boxes this weekend.  My findings were two boxes that successfully fledged young bluebirds for first brood, those adult bluebirds have not returned to those boxes.   Part of my theory is a fast growth (since last trail check) of weeds and thatch near and around the pole.  Within one week, morning glory (a fast-growing ivy) grew and attached itself not only to the pole but to the stovepipe guard all the way past the hardware cloth at the top—all in one week’s time!   Other weeds, like milkweed and thorny growth type plants have inundated some of those poles.  This is telling me to visit my trail at least every 3-4 days, not once a week. I like this schedule better also to get a better idea how the birds are doing and what they are doing.  I look to see both male and female, where they are watching me from, if the nestbox is in the sun or shade depending on time I am there, etc.   I look for any possible tree branches that may be reaching too close to a box, if any trees are nearby.  Two boxes had ants move in, which I treated.  A bluebird couple found another nestbox I installed not far that was empty and moved in.   I believe it was the same couple in the box before those ants came around.  I look around the base of the pole to see what’s there, if anything of interest….pests or any claw prints from a feral cat or raccoon or even a possible sign of a snake.  I try to keep the materials around the base of the pole as dirt.  If the pole is in a mowed lawn, that is not possible, obviously.  I have no intentions in ruining a resident’s lawn who allows me to install a box.

The maintenance of a bluebird trail requires commitment and patience.  In my humble opinion, no matter how hard it can be sometimes to see failure and why that failure occurred, by keeping my commitment and monitoring the trail AS NEEDED despite my busy schedule can allow me to do so, the birds are FIRST, not my schedule.  The purpose of the trail is to help the birds succeed.  If I don’t monitor and do the maintenance to keep the boxes safe, clean, and habitable, the birds can fail in reproducing young and having successful “HELLO WORLD!” fledglings to care for as they learn to be adult birds and be on their own.   Keeping detailed trail notes is fun for me.  I enjoy it.  I keep my clipboard on my car seat and write my notes upon returning to the car.  I keep them on file from year to year, and it’s good education for me to go over how the years did prior to this one as comparisons.   Ants and a very heavy thatch/weed growth is a first for me.  Also first for me is blowfly infestations in first-brood nesters.  Thankfully, the larvae showed up late as the babies were about to fledge and not harmed.  Though weeds grow, I think the heavy rains, many of them, has told all those weeds to keep on coming!  Weeds can’t talk, but they sure read water.  Weeds love water and sun, but it seems more water that comes down, the faster they grow, like any plant.   Since I am in a rural community, many of my boxes can only be maintained and ground cover kept to a minimum by me.   We don’t want predators having easier access to a quick lunch to a bluebird nestbox that is built, installed, and monitored for the purpose to fledge native cavity-nesting birds, specifically the Eastern Bluebird.   A clean, slick conduit and predator guard is important.  If I allow unmonitored boxes, my time is wasted, and so are the nesting bluebirds.   It’s like playing a practical joke on the birds.  Thinking of it that way makes me realize my efforts are worth it.

I am pleased to report I do have repeat nesters in some of the same boxes, treated for future blowfly larvae in advance of hatchings; therefore, I am looking forward to hatchings for second brooders.   Females are incubating those eggs now.   The females are so sweet.   When I know I have incubating females, my trail visits are in the mid-afternoons when she is more likely to leave the nest to get a break from the box and find some food and fresh air.  One female looked at me, and I gently said hello and she flew off the nest.  I could take my mirror and do my egg count.  It gives me such pleasure to also inspect a pine needle nest or a grass nest occupied by an incubating female who seems happy with her box and confirm that the nest is clean and clear of parasites and is dry, too.  If a nest stays dry after rains, that is a good sign my nestbox is constructed properly!   Every year I monitor (and I still consider myself a NEW bluebirder!), I learn something new.  I hope this page helps share with others the importance of keeping an eye out on our bluebird boxes (to put it mildly) helps them succeed, and the rewards we monitors get back are great.  Though my trail is not a big one, it’s what I can consistently monitor.  I do not want to put more boxes up with a commitment to monitor them and keep statistics for the VBS and then fail doing so because it’s too much to do.

A quick note regarding my “two-hole mansion” test page and findings.   It was determined within the last two weeks that bluebirds and house sparrows are battling somewhat to nest in that box.  So far, the house sparrow is winning attempts to build there (and I continue to remove those materials).  The good news is the bluebird male is still attempting to get that box—and that’s what the test is about!   I will continue to remove the house sparrow nest materials to see if the male bluebird can win over that box.

Comments here always welcomed.   Please do so–I encourage you to do so.  (Spam never makes it to my site, thanks to WordPress which hosts my site.  Good job, WordPress!)  All comments come to me privately first and not posted without my review.  Your Email address remains private to me only and will never be displayed publicly on this site.  You can write to me through the comments section.  If you prefer NOT to have your question, inquiry, or comment posted on this site, just indicate so, and I will not post it.  However, by leaving your name and Email address, I can write back to you privately.  It also deters spammers!   Thank you for your time to read my website.  I appreciate the support.


FLOYD AND PATRICK COUNTIES:  LEARN TO MONITOR AND MANAGE A NESTBOX!  I am available to train you….call me and leave message at (703) 919-4302 if interested.   I specifically cover Patrick and Floyd Counties, VA, for the Virginia Bluebird Society as County Coordinator.

I am seeking monitored boxes for stats to include to the VBS.   These stats go to the North American Bluebird Society, as well.  Please let me include your nestboxes.  Learn how rewarding bluebirding can be, even ONE nestbox.   Include your box (or sponsor one through the VBS!) in my trail stats for Virginia!  It’s fun and very rewarding.  I love to train!


This is an important post at this stage of my trail.  The latest as of June 3, 2010:

During first broods this nesting season, I had THREE  FIRSTS on my trail.

1.  Ants. First time on my trail.  I will use vaseline at the base of the pole and underneath the stovepipe guard for those locations I’ve found these little black ants (not fire ants).

2.  Blowfly larvae on FIRST broods–first ever on my trail–usually it’s on the second broods.   All bluebird babies fledged OK for first broods since the nestlings were older when the larvae first appeared.   I am using the organic Diatomaceous Earth (very fine powder) to puff inside the nesting material and underneath the nests to keep the larvae from climbing onto the nestlings at night.   I have my goggles, mask, and pest pistol to administer this powder.  See a previous post below on DE.   Someone asked me one time why the bluebirds don’t eat the larvae–it’s because they hide at the bottom and inside the nesting material by day while the parents feed the nestlings.  At night, when the parents aren’t entering the nestboxes to feed their nestlings (from dawn to dusk about 5 times per hour!) is when the larvae crawl up and latch onto them to feed on the nestlings’ blood (like mosquitoes).  If these larvae aren’t removed or killed off, the nestlings will get anemic and cannot develop properly to fledge–most nestlings will die in the nest for lack of nutrition and muscle strength.  We monitors must keep this from happening in our nestboxes. We cannot control this in natural cavities for obvious reasons, but we CAN in our nestboxes, which is why a NESTBOX MUST NEVER BE INSTALLED AND THEN NOT MONITOR THOSE BOXES.   It is part of the responsibility of installing even one nestbox in our back yard.  Monitoring is not difficult but it does take training.  Monitoring has its huge rewards when we help the birds succeed.  Why do we want to set them up to fail?  (I certainly do not.)

3.  Ticks (on me!): I am prepared on next trail check with my camp hat, two tick sprays (one on skin and one for clothing (a non-deet spray made by Coleman), and will have to wear a light windbreaker, even on hot days,  in some areas of my trail to keep ticks off my arms and neck.  My last two trail visits, I found ticks on me….thankfully early before they latched into my skin.   We must be careful out there.

Good sites on ticks ( click to enter or cut and paste in browser):



Above:  Photo of American Dog Tick--this is what I found on me, not the Deer Tick that carries the dreaded Lyme Disease.  I am now better prepared to ward off these pests during trail checks!

Some interesting additional trail notes as of June 3, 2010:

I have one box so far as of trail check on June 3 with a completed pine-needle nest and two laid eggs.  This weekend is my goal to administer the powder before the female is incubating the completed clutch of eggs.   By puffing or “poofing” small amounts of the DE inside the nesting material and at the bottom, it should not risk the female or nestlings any harm by the powder getting on them directly.

I believe the other nesters after first fledgings delayed building nests for second broods due to the large number of thunderstorms (only my theory from experience) in our area.  I think they are starting their second nests now, and I’ll be checking my trail more than once a week (about every 4 days if I can, weather permitting).

I do have my two-hole test site in past weeks with House Sparrows; however, I’m seeing some changes with a territorial battle between an unidentified brown bird (House Sparrow or House Wren) with a bluebird.   See my test site page for updates on that.

Only one other box has nesting House Wrens. I positively ID’s successfully 6 laid HOWR eggs in that box.  These birds, when nesting, are protected and therefore the nest must be left alone.  I doubt these birds will bother another box with bluebirds.

I do need to cut back some weedy growth on some of my poles in rural locations.

I have found more insect issues this year–I am attributing it to the amount of rains we’ve had.  Perhaps I am incorrect on that.   The only pest problem that is not as bad this year are paper wasps and mud dauber wasps–though they are here, they aren’t bothering my boxes as much this year.



May 29 — I was disappointed not to find second-brood nesters just yet.  We have had some strange weather lately–hard rains, thunderstorms, and flash flooding warnings.  Today was a break with some sun for my trail checks.  There ARE still two boxes I need to check but I ran out of time.  I’ll go back tomorrow to check those.  Some of the empty boxes from the first broods had the beginnings of small tiny black ants!  This is a “first” for me on my trail.  I treated the boxes, will return again sometime this Holiday weekend to make sure they are clean and dry and will apply vaseline at the bottom of the poles to deter the ants to crawl back up.

So far no more paper wasp or mud dauber wasp problems in my boxes this season.   It’s not as bad this season as last season for some reason.  I also found out recently the Cornell’s hosted Bluebird-L bluebird list has ended, and the group has moved over to Yahoo Groups.  I’ll be getting on that today–been delayed in getting things done.   Now that my presentation/workshop at the Reynold’s Homestead is behind me, I can catch up a little.   I am very happy with my PowerPoint presentation, displays, and handouts.   It was hard work to get it all together, but it’s worth it when I know it helps others understand more the content of proper bluebirding.  I am prepared with my DE applications for the second nests to keep blowfly larvae from bothering baby birds!  So….see you next update, in about a week.


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 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!)


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.     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                                                                 




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):   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.  


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 Sialis.org 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 Sialis.org website is the best bluebird information site.   We thank Bet Z. (the Sialis.org 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.