THIRD BROODS: HOPING FOR BLOWFLY DETERRENCE AND SUCCESS IN FLEDGING.


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.

FIRST BROOD LOSS TO BLOWFLY INFESTATION SINCE 2008.


My efforts for blowfly larvae control in nests have been successful, until quite recently.  This set of larvae were so strong and in large numbers, the nestlings became too anemic and weak to survive the amount of feedings they were ingesting from Mom and Pop Blue.  They were 9 days old when death came knocking at their nestbox door.  The last time I lost a whole brood to blowflies was Spring 2008.   Not all happenings on the bluebird trail are happy ones.   I will continue my two methods of control:   (1) hardware cloth bases below nesting material (helpful but not as effective as the only method of control) and (2)  the use of puffing some organic food-grade Diatomaceous Earth inside the center of the nesting material and underneath the nest on the wood floor of the nestbox before bluebird eggs hatch. The key is to eradicate the larvae while very young, right after they hatch, which nature usually times around the same time the birds’ eggs hatch. I had treated this nestbox with the DE, like I have all others.  This year and at this nestbox, I must not have applied the right amount of the DE to take care of the number of hatched larvae to cause the damage they did.  Below are a set of photos of different methods I’ve used  in past and presently (applying DE) and another method of using leftover hardware cloth from making the Noel Guards for my boxes for the bases to slide underneath completed nests.  Captions will explain the pictures.  Warning:  The last photo in this series is not a pleasant one.  I cropped out the dead bluebirds, but I wanted you to see the larvae that killed this brood.  You will note how large the larvae got, some gorged with blood, and a dead bumblebee–which obviously was the last-ditch effort of feeding the parent birds attempted to make for their 8-day old kids, too weak to eat.  This is a good representation photo of what the larvae looks like when healthy and successful feeding on the nestlings at night.   I had to dissect the pine needle nest to find this big patch of them.

I put a clean washcloth on top of nest with eggs. I use a mustard/ketchup type squeeze container with tip and insert a few puffs in three sections inside the center of the nest. THIS IS DONE BEFORE HATCHING.

I then repeat a few puffs underneath the nest material on the bare wood floor. I use the metal paint scraper to gently lift the nest up to apply. Note the clean washcloth remains on top of nest. This keeps any DE powder off the top of the nest.

I keep the box open for a minute to let any DE powder settle. Before I remove the washcloth, I use a clean paintbrush to remove any powder residue from the sides of the nestbox. THEN I peel back towards me and out the washcloth, close and secure the box, and quickly leave the nestbox area.

I’m making bases made of leftover hardware cloth from the construction of the Noel entry-hole guards. I use tin snippers to cut and shape to fit the inside of a nestbox. These are slid in an already completed nest. If this can be done after nestcup is completed but before eggs are laid, that’s ideal. If not, you can slide it in after the eggs are laid, but be gentle!

I’m experimenting with one-half inch off the nestbox floor AND one inch off the nestbox floor. This pictures shows a tad higher than one-half inch.

This is about one inch off the nestbox floor. I am finding I like this much better. I can always remove some of the nesting material if it brings the nest up too high close to the entry hole. Also it allows easy brushing out of blowfly larvae when it’s an inch off the floor.

Here is an active bluebird nest with the one-inch high base. I slid this in a nest with eggs. I also applied a thin layer of DE to the bottom of the box. Look closely; you can see the eggs! This box fledged baby bluebirds.

You’ll note dead bumblebee–brought in by the parents but not eaten by the nestlilngs. Larvae are plump, some gorged with blood. This larvae killed 8 and 9 day old bluebird nestlings.

HAPPENINGS ON THE TRAIL – UPDATE SUMMER 2012


 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

IT’s ALMOST HERE! PURPLE MARTIN FIELD DAY — JUNE 22, 2013 –LOUISA COUNTY, VIRGINIA: FREE EDUCATIONAL EVENT IN VIRGINIA on the CONSERVATION OF THE FABULOUS PURPLE MARTIN


Photo by Kathy Laine

Purple MartinSEE FASCINATING VIDEO on YouTube!      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcD8LXQn8nQ&feature=youtu.be

In Virginia, it’s that time again for the Annual Purple Martin Field Day, Louisa County, The 19th Annual Event … please come and bring all your birding friends and family or anyone you think might like to see what Purple Martin colonies are all about!  This special gathering in 2011 was a huge success with a gathering of over 100 attendees from four states.  So here is the scoop for this year–it is coming up–don’t miss out:

Scheduled this year to meet on June 22, 2013.   Main presentation begins at 10:00 a.m. Please try to arrive before 10:00a.m. Scheduled activities end by 2:00 p.m.

The 2012 event was a huge success with 130 attendees from six states!

Mark your calendars for this fascinating event about those amazing Purple Martins!  If you find bluebird nestboxes fascinating, you’ll love seeing a strategically built Purple Martin colony in action!  You’ll meet expert birders at this event, hear lectures, get free materials, learn what creates a successful colony of Purple Martins and why they need to be cared for and monitored–why the use of predator guards towards their breeding and fledging success of a colony, and how to get them to return and bring joy year after year.  This is located in central Virginia–in Louisa County. Take a look at this website for more info on this event, maps and directions, and more!  Look at these beautiful birds live and talk to great bird people dedicated to this marvelous cavity nesting bird, the Purple Martin.   http://www.purplemartinfieldday.org/

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

For more information, contact (434) 962-8232 or kingston@cstone.net

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PURPLE MARTINS see:

www.PurpleMartin.org

SNAKE GUARDS (WOBBLING HANGING STOVEPIPE)…EFFECTIVE AGAINST MOST GROUND PREDATORS!


Here is a great photo of a black rat snake in action.   Photo posted on the Roanoke Valley Bird Club’s (RVBC) website under their Bluebird Trail page:    Source:    http://www.roanokevalleybirdclub.com/Bluebird%20Trail.html

I talked with the person who took this picture (Mr. Earl Morris, RVBC active member and County Coordinator, Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS).  It was witnessed this snake made three attempts to get past this stovepipe guard, unsuccessfully, and finally gave up.  There were active bluebirds nesting inside this nestbox.   This is a good example of how effective this design guard is to deter *most* ground-roaming critters.  It is a wobbling stovepip (duct) guard, and it deters more than just snakes!  It keeps other ground critters from getting up to the nestbox, too; not just the crafty black rat snake:  raccoons, squirrels, mice, cats….to name a few.  There are several places to get the design to build your own — inespensive to make:

Ron Kingston’s Famous and Effective Design online pages below:

http://purplemartin.org/update/PredBaff.html

 http://www.zbestvalue.com/baffle0001.pdf

http://audubon-omaha.org/bbbox/nabs/rk1.htm

http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Habitat/WildAcres/wapredguard.asp

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

Oh, no you don’t! Many thanks to the Roanoke Valley Bird Club for posting this picture. Source: http://www.roanokevalleybirdclub.com/Bluebird%20Trail.html

WHBBT UPDATE: WEBSITE and FACEBOOK PAGE


March through end of May — this has been the busiest spring I’ve experienced in many years!  While I’m updating several pages on my site with new material (Trail Nesboxes, 2-Hole Mansion Test, and Trail Results) and more, please be sure to check into my public page for the trail on Facebook.  I’ve had great successes and a few failures already this season.  The Facebook page is very easy to update and maintain–be sure to check in (joining Facebook is not a requirement–lurk all you want there, if you desire, to see the happenings).  I like having it as a sidekick page to this main site for the purpose of quick updates and easy uploads of photos and posts when I cannot keep my main site updated as quickly.  Facebook users have an easier place to ask questions and get answers faster.   http://www.facebook.com/WoolwineHouseBluebirdTrail   I will post another note here (copy of post sent to subscribers via Email) once this site has been completed with the updates.  Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Hope you are having a wonderful early summer.  Here is a picture I took on my trail on May 12………a very close look ….. “DOWN THE HATCH, PLEASE!” ….. some very hungry chickadee hatchlings.

“Mom, grub….pass the grub! Mom, is that you?”

GORGEOUS ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY OF A BLUEBIRD.


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?

GENTLE REMOVAL OF AN UNHATCHED EGG.


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!

“THE EARLY BIRDS!” – FIRST BLUEBIRD CHICKS OF 2012 – 7 DAYS OLD


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.

 

MEALWORM FEEDERS ANY TIME OF YEAR.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIFFERENT LOOKING BLUEBIRD EGG CLUTCHES – MARCH 2012


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

    

HERE THEY COME! FIRST HATCHING 2012 on the WHBBT.


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

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

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

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

SPRING 2012: TYPICAL NESTBOX SETUP and SUPPLIES FOR MY BLUEBIRD TRAIL.


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.

WOW! EARLY BLUEBIRD EGG on MARCH 8, 2012!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine

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

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

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

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

END OF THE YEAR 2011


Depending on your location, bluebirds are flying in mixed flocks and roosting together in existing nestboxes or natural cavities to stay warm.  In Virginia, bluebirds stay as residents.   The last of our dogwood berries were blown off the tips of the branches about a week ago.   This is the time to start making suet in your own kitchen just for bluebirds; it’s good to put out dried and live mealworms, too.  Here is a good recipe for bluebird suet, which I extracted from the Virginia Bluebird Society’s website.  Also check out recipes at the following page:  http://www.sialis.org/suet.htm

Suet For Bluebirds – 1 cup crunchy peanut butter, 1 cup lard, 2 cups quick oats, 2 cups cornmeal, 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, berries like currants optional.  Mix dry ingredients.  Melt peanut butter & lard together and mix with dry ingredients.  Press into pan, cool, cut into squares and freeze until needed.

My notes:  I think adding soaked currants or cut up soaked raisins or other dried cut up fruit is helpful.  I prefer to crumble up the suet and put it out for the bluebirds and other birds, too, along with live and dried mealworms in an open platform-type feeder or jailhouse mealworm feeder.  A crumbly mixture is easier for the bluebirds to eat.

If you can, keep water available using a birdbath or large dish with a deicing device to keep the water from freezing.  Birds need water year round!

Photo is by Dave Kinneer — used with permission.   Thanks, Dave!

Christine

Snowcap Landing!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Good eats!

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


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

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

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

 

WHITE BLUEBIRD EGGS!


I presently have an incubating female on a clutch of 3 white eggs.  4-5% of bluebirds will lay white eggs–generally just as fertile and healthy as blue eggs.  See the Sialis.org site here for more information on why a bluebird will lay white eggs:   http://www.sialis.org/whiteeggs.htm

First white eggs I've seen since I started bluebirding in 2006. Do check out the explanation why this happens on the Sialis.org website (thanks, Bet!)

 

AUDUBON WATCH LIST: BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Bluebird Society
Summer 2011 Issue, See Page 4:

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

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

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

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

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

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

Photo used with permission. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CAT/RACCOON GUARD: BLUEBIRDS LIKE THEM (AND USE THEM). RECOMMENDED BY THE VIRGINIA BLUEBIRD SOCIETY.


The newest design plan is on the VBS website.   My next batch of guards when I expand my trail will be the recommended “coated” hardware cloth!  Also, I’ve seen Tree Swallows use this with ease.  Also House Wrens and the Carolina Chickadees don’t mind them I am discovering bluebirds like to leave some of their nesting materials, either soft dried grasses or pine needles, inside this entry-hole hardware cloth guard, also known as the Noel Guard (designed by Jim Noel) just underneath the entry hole. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think this is their way of telling other birds, “AHEM! OCCUPIED” ….. and just so you know, we have this box so you may stay away!” It’s fairly consistent with bluebirds on my own trail. They like the guard to sit on and watch over their nestbox! Here is a picture of one of the boxes along my trail. You can see some of their nest material dropped in it. When I’m checking my boxes for new nests being built, this is a sure sign something good is going on inside the box! Though some people think they are not attractive; however, for me, it’s more important to enjoy the beauty of a successful fledging of baby bluebirds than finding a tragedy instead.

 Plan to build this:     http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/forms/bb-guards_03-27-2011.pdf

Bluebirds like this guard. Most of the boxes on my trail show nesting materials laid on it under the entry hole. It looks like a sign to other bird species: OCCUPIED!

CAROLINA CHICKADEES ON THE BLUEBIRD TRAIL: “LATE BLOOMER” NESTLING


I wanted to share this neat picture I took on June 13, 2011 of these 5 baby chickadees that had a sibling that wasn’t developing as fast as the rest.  Good news!   They ALL (five of them) fledged between 3 PM Saturday and Noon on Sunday, June 19th.  It looks like the late bloomer just needed more time to catch up growing.  I never did find out the problem with this one baby.  I did inspect the nest, which had pine needles on the bottom originally built by the bluebirds and the chickadee materials on top after they won the territorial battle over this nestbox.  This is the box that bluebirds laid 3 eggs–then the eggs vanished!  The chickadees won the battle over using this nestbox and built a “dummy” nest in the other box nearby.   Could the chickadee parents have pierced the bluebird eggs so that they could have the nestbox?   I’m thinking yes.   I found no eggshells on the ground or in the used nest.  What I did find was chickadee nesting material and their laid eggs!  Perhaps the female chickadee either removed broken bluebird eggs or ate the eggshells for the calcium.  I’m still investigating this one.   Now that the box is cleaned out, I’m hoping the bluebirds will try again at this location.  Usually the chickadees have one brood.  The bluebirds two to three broods per season.  Last year, I had three broods in my boxes for bluebirds–first time I saw three broods on my bluebird trail.

As you can see, one is not as developed as the others. He (or she) caught up later, though, and they all fledged. Maybe he wasn't getting enough to eat. Blowfly larvae was minimal in this nest. You can see the original white pine needles put there by bluebirds, and then the chickadee added in her own nesting materials.

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


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

Mrs. Bluebird is watching me watching her!

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

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

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

THE CARPENTER BEE: “MY PROBLEM AND HOW I SOLVED IT.”


I just waved a Q-Tip saturated with insecticide around the female carpenter bee to deter her to continue drilling this hole underneath the box hole. After I knew she had left for good, I took the Q-Tip and just rubbed the inside of this partially drilled hole. She never returned. It's the female carpenter bee that drills the holes. Now I need to caulk and even out this this partially-drilled hole.

Every year on the trail, I find something new to deal with regarding “problems” — some problems are larger than others.  In this case, I discovered my problem was actually easier to deal with than I had expected.  I found a spinning carpenter bee boring a hole in one of my nestboxes!   The bee was spinning her whole body around while drilling into the underside and outside of the nestbox’s floor.  Thankfully, a partial bluebird nest was built–temporarily abandoned as my theory goes–possibly BECAUSE that bee was there.   Bluebirds and other cavity-nesting birds will abandon a nest location (whether it be natural or manmade) if pests such as bees and wasps attempt to occupy the cavity.   I have detailed how I took care of the carpenter bee on the PROBLEMS tabbed page of this site, including two new photos.  Be sure to check it out.  This is not something I’ve seen before at my nestboxes, so hopefully it won’t be a recurring issue!  GOOD NEWS:   I have an active bluebird female incubating 4 eggs in that box today!

https://woolwinehousebluebirdtrail.com/problems/

This is why MONITORING is so helpful to our native birds using our nestboxes–my point is:  why even bother taking the time and effort and expense of putting up nestboxes if the birds cannot use them?  Keep an eye on your backyard nestbox or a trail of nestboxes.   Be an attentive “landlord” and make sure the birds can really use them.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

BELOW: 

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

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

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

THE TREE SWALLOW and the BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH


Stay tuned for two additional posts on this site about these two fantastic native cavity-nesting birds–the Tree Swallow and the Brown-headed Nuthatch.  I have received some great photos of these birds from monitors in my area, either using the nestboxes to raise a family, or the competition with the Eastern Bluebird to use a nestbox and how we can enjoy ALL our native birds by helping them thrive and survive using us as their “landlords”.  It’s not just the bluebird that needs our help.

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

VERY CUTE VIDEO CLIP OF A FLEDGING.


This video has recently been sent to me from Floyd County.  These guys came out one after the other–bing, bang, boom!  Perhaps Bluebird Mom and Dad delayed coaxing them out due to the number of hard storms rolling through this spring.  This is fun to watch!   You’ll see how intent and focused the parents are to get those that flew down to the ground back up after first flight (swooping down and flushing them back up again), hopefully to a tree and out of harm’s way.  These youngsters are particularly vulnerable to predators after fledging.  It is best they stay hidden behind leaves in a tree until they are old enough to fend for themselves and have strengthened their wings.  This is one of the main reasons the babies are still grayish and spotted–for camouflage.  Their more colorful plumage will come later.  In the meantime, the parents feed them and teach them to hunt insects for about another month.  The male will pick up on the feeding and Mom Bluebird will start another nest, sometimes within the same week.  Now that’s what I call determination–do you agree?   The video is dated May 20, 2011, on YouTube.  Thanks for sharing this with me on my website, Sue!  Enjoy.

PHOTOS TO HELP YOU ID HOUSE SPARROW NESTS AND EGGS (DO NOT ALLOW THIS NON-NATIVE, OVERPOPULATED INVASIVE SPECIES TO REPRODUCE IN MANMADE NESTBOXES DESIGNED TO HELP OUR NATIVE BIRDS.)


Some elements to this House Sparrow nest. 

Good photo of the HOSP eggs. This is the nest removed from my Two-Hole Test Box on May 16, 2011. Note the variable spotting-type markings on the eggs.

It’s a sure thing none of us need to be told what a cigarette butt looks like, but I’m always amazed at how much the House Sparrow likes them in their nests. This is a good example of a splayed cigarrette butt on the left bottom of this picture. Since the HOSP likes to hang out where humans are, often we see our trash in their nests!

I learned early in bluebirding how to ID nests of different cavity-nesting species.  Bluebirds are easy to ID.  They build tidy, clean nests (at least those I’ve seen on my trail, which is the Eastern Bluebird) of either soft grasses or pine needles, depending on habitat close to their chosen nesting site, and create a perfect cup for the egg laying.   Our other native birds have a variety of materials and nesting behaviors I have learned to look for to ID the species.  After having some experience, I know the species without seeing eggs.  For instance, our Carolina Chickadee (CACH) is easy to ID by using plenty of mosses first and then layering on top with more materials, including plenty of animal and plant hairs and fibers.   The Tufted Titmouse (TUTI) will also use mosses as well as the Carolina Wren which intertwines mud and dead leaves in the mosses.   If I’m not sure on a nest what the species is, I wait for the eggs to arrive to ID for sure, as the eggs are distinct in markings and color.

We should never allow this species to reproduce in our nestboxes designed for our native birds.  To help new bluebirders to know what to look for to ID the House Sparrow nest and eggs, I’ve included a few photos below of the two nests removed.  This is the ONLY sparrow species (it’s not really a sparrow–the House Sparrow is actually a Weaver Finch) that are causing havoc for our native birds.   This is the only site on my trail that I HAD a House Sparrow problem starting with a 1-holed box.  The 1-holed box (with an existing HOSP problem) was replaced by a 2-holed test box which (over the course of the test period) solved the problem without the need to trap out HOSP.   The 2-holed box test was a success and I haven’t had any sign of HOSP for over a year.   When I removed these nests and eggs of this invasive species, I conserve them for educational purposes (such as displays and for photographs).  Remember, the House Sparrow is not protected by law so it is legal for me to remove those nests.

Two HOSP nests. Eggs laid. Nest dome not completed.  Photo looking into nests from side view.Top side of the two nests; eggs barely visible.

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


In Virginia: Annual Purple Martin Field Day, Louisa County

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

Photo by Kathy Laine and used with permission.

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

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

    

INTERESTING DEVELOPMENTS ON THE WHBBT


I have some interesting new developments along my trail–first ever on the Woolwine House  Bluebird Trail that I’ve seen since I started my trail in Spring 2008:

1. Territorial Nestbox Wars between the Carolina Chickadee and the Eastern Bluebird — for a nestbox–back and forth–by our house–changing the nest material and reincorporating their materials and style of building over the other. The bluebird lays an egg; then the egg disappears two days later and chickadee nesting materials appears on top of the nest. The bluebird comes back and takes the chickadee material dropped in the nest, such as hairs and plant fibers the chickadee uses, and pushes all that into the nestcup sides again and lays two more eggs. The chickadee comes back with more nesting materials with two more bluebird eggs
found missing. Back and forth this went on for weeks. Today, I found 5 chickadee eggs in the nest. I believe the bluebird will leave the chickadee nest alone now. I’ve not known bluebirds to peck other birds’ eggs or kill other birds. The other box not far from this one appears to be a chickadee “dummy” nest of just moss materials. I have no idea what happened to the bluebird. I don’t hear them anymore singing and warbling away; perhaps they moved to natural woodsy habitat on the property such as an available woodpecker hole. I found this interesting, as this has happened at another location on my trail. It appears that the chickadee is winning the territorial wars over a nestbox. It has been my understanding that the bluebird is more assertive in winning those wars. I’m quite surprised the bluebird didn’t use the other box where the chickadee put some mosses.

2. Carpenter Bees — I stood one day and watched one spinning a hole outside a nestbox upside down and into the floor. I deterred him from continuing this by waving a cotton ball with some Hot Shot (a pyrethrin based insect killer) sprayed on it
around the spinning carpenter bee and then I backed away. He flew around and up and in some circles and acted a little confused. As soon as I felt I could, I took that same cotton ball and quickly wiped just the hole with it (again, this is OUTSIDE the box UNDERNEATH the floor and above the stovepipe baffle, not inside the nestbox), and it stopped him from continuing a hole on the nestbox. I sat in my car for a few minutes to see if he returned, and he did not. During my nest box check a few days later, still he did not return.

3. Bluebird Nest Building Materials Variances — usually it’s either soft grasses, neatly woven together, or pine needles. I have a nest with grasses and pine needles mixed together. This is the first I’ve seen this. It could possibly be more than one female bluebird attempted to build a nest, or the same female just used two sets of materials to build her nest. This is a first on my trail I’ve seen both materials together in one nest. It’s either one or the other. It will depend on the habitat and what’s available nearby the nestbox. Perhaps she found the pine needles later. I have found, if available, the pine needles seems to be Choice 1.

4. Finding Large Dead Uneaten Insects on Top of a Nest that Fledged Bluebirds — I’m not sure about this as I’ve never seen this before. Either a parent brought in the insect, but the babies fledged before eating the insect or the babies fledged and the parents were not aware of it until after they came with the food that the babies were gone already and then dropped the njured/dead insect in the nest and left the box to find their fledglings. I have found a full dead grasshopper and a large brown beetle on top of a nest. I can’t imagine why they would not take the insect with them, however, as those fledglings, if they made it to the trees as we can hope they did, would be hungry. Perhaps an expert bluebirder will read this and post a reply here. Please do so!

5.  Later Fledging Dates – in past several years, fledging dates averaged Day 15-17.  This year, it’s averaging 18-20 days.  Their development seem to be a little slower this year.  I also think all the prevailing and persistent rainy weather could delay fledging dates.  I’m thinking the parents are not encouraging their babies to make their maiden flight until the weather is more conducive to
the youngsters having safe travels the first time.  One other thought I have is a record of blowfly larvae infestation I’m finding on my trail—more than ever before.

6.  Bluebirds Taking Their Time To Lay Eggs — Perhaps one female wasn’t fertile and the male picked another femle or this couple just had a long romantic courting period.   This box is located at another residence along my trail.  They were observed moving around from location to location trying to decide where to build a nest.  This is the same location that chickadees took one of my nestboxes at that property.  The owner installed another bluebird nestbox on the back side of the property.  It took them a long time, but finally bluebird eggs were found, much later in the season for a first brood — not 4 eggs, not 5 eggs, but 6 eggs!   This same female is also extremely assertive.  She’s been observed constantly chasing a squirrel up the tree trunk over and over again.

7.  Strange Chickadee Nest (2 Cups) and Unhatched Eggs — This Carolina Chickadee built her nest but made TWO small cups in the one moss nest in one nestbox.  She laid 3 eggs in one cup and 2 eggs in the other cup–in the SAME nest in the nestbox.   Only 1 baby hatched and is developing quite slowly.   The only thing I can think of is either the female is slightly off on her judgement or perhaps (theory here) two female chickadees had been fighting over that use of that nestbox, both laying eggs in the same box–one female made a cup and laid and the competing female made a cup a laid a few eggs.  Also, perhaps because of two cups, the female chickadee could not incubate them properly; thus unhatched, unincubated eggs.  I’m hoping on my next trail checks, which is tomorrow and weather permitting….the baby chickadee will have developed and I’m seeing the color markings and feathers growing in.

FIRST BLUEBIRDS 2011 FLEDGED on the WHBBT!


"Are you our Mama and Papa?" I think these guys are ready for some big grubs! (Photo taken April 19, 2011 on the WHBBT)

It has been quite a while since my last post. I’ve been busy!

I do want to report in I’ve fledged my first brood of the season — bluebirds on Sunday, May 1st! It took them 19 days to fledge from the day of hatching. After I cleaned out the box, I inspected the nest. (I always do this.) Yes, I found blowfly larvae inside this nest–a heavy infestation. I did treat the nest prior to the 4 babies hatching with a few puffs of the organic Diatomaceous Earth, which helped them immensely survive! Since I started treating the nests with this organic DE (starting last year), I’ve never lost a brood to blowfly larvae causing the chicks to become so anemic, they have no strength to even take in food from their parents.  Just a few light puffs are all I need to do to each nest.  None of it gets close to the babies or their parents because I insert those puffs on the base of the nest by the wood floor and in the center of the nest. I am very careful how I do this, including how quickly I do so as not to worry Mr. and Mrs. Blue too much as they sit in the trees watching me. I first learned of DE from the NABS conference two years ago (thanks, Harry!) during a presentation called, The Fledging Experience. It was  excellent!  I was relieved then to learn there was a way to deal with the blowfly infestation I was experiencing on my trail.

I’m still going to make hardware cloth “screens” to put in the base of the boxes about one-half inch from the floors and not apply DE to see what happens. I’ve found in my area, blowflies have been a regular pest I need to deal with on the trail for every brood. Safety and Success for the nesting native birds — those are my two main goals as I manage my own bluebird trail. My third goal is to be a mentor in educating others and sharing experiences with other bluebirders…those who are new and those that are veterans. It helps to talk to others of their experiences so we can continue to learn from others.

I’ve been busy “managing” of my two computers. I’ve backed up all my programs and files and did a clean install of a new Operating System on both of them, so my time has been occupied working with software,  files, and the new op systems updates….and getting out on the trail, and training and sharing with others in my counties! I should be posting more
within the next two weeks. I have lots of material to share–more photos–more stories. You’ll be hearing from me again very soon.  In the meanwhile, do enjoy the birds. They bring us so much fascination, don’t they?  It’s never a dull moment learning about the bird world.  Are there any times you wish you had wings, too?  Wouldn’t it be fun to trade places with a bird for a day?

PRESENTATION TO 4-H TEENS IN PATRICK COUNTY


Had some fun recently talking to 4-H Club teens on March 21, 2011, at their recent meeting held in the cafeteria of the local high school.   We had a demonstration with displays after the presentation.  Included was the North Carolina Bluebird Society’s DVD, INSIDE THE NESTBOX–a video created from a live cam inside a nestbox of the full bluebird nesting cycle–including nest building, egg laying, hatching, feeding, and fledging.  Many thanks to the NCBS for their wonderful video creation and humorous narration!  I’m happy to be a new member of the NCBS, as well.  It will be great to get to know new bluebird folks that live just south of me.

These kids of 4-H will be assisting Primland Resort’s new bluebird trail, learning more about bluebirds; i.e., the nesting cycle close up and how to monitor bluebird boxes in proper protocol and safety for the birds at Primland’s newly installed trail of 5 boxes, built in their own workshop using the VBS box plans and both predator guards recommended by VBS.  I will be assisting the training.  All training by the teens will be supervised by Primland’s Golf Superintendent.   We are hoping to do this after Primland has some new baby bluebirds in one of the nestboxes.  This is the fun part of training–hands on–the real thing–sharing the excitement of new life during this wonderful time of year!  Many thanks to the 4-H Club and Primland for helping our local Eastern Bluebird conservation efforts!

Hatching Photo by Bill Matthews

FIRST LAID EGGS ON THE TRAIL – 2011


Here is a photo of my first laid eggs on the trail.  First egg laid was March 27th, 2011.   After I took this photo, I looked closely at the long “hair” on top of the nest.  So, take a good look yourself.  What does it look like to you in the photo (below)?  I realized right away I needed to return to double-check that is NOT monofilament line accidentally picked up with some of the grasses from our lady nest builder.   However, I could not return the next day due to the cold rainy weather.  It was a bit excruciating for me just wondering what it was.  That monofilament could tangle up her legs and cause injury; and if left there for the hatchlings, it could strangle them to death.  This concerned me greatly.  Upon my return and a closer look two days later, there were several long HUMAN hairs on the nest; frankly, they looked like mine!   I’ve had bluebirds in past use some of my chocolate Tibetan Terrier’s long hairs when I had groomed her.  I would save the hairs pulled out on the grooming brush for the birds.  I found some of her chocolate long hair and some undercoat of hers, a lighter mocha color, mixed in the nesting material in one of my nests in 2008.  Mostly, the bluebirds in my area either use all grasses or all pine needles.   To theorize my own hair was picked up (I had to ask myself:  would she see it and pick up the hairs purposely?) or were the hairs just entwined already in the grasses she used?  We may never know.  It may not be my hair, but it’s very likely it is.  I studied it closely.  It looks like my hair!

Additional note on laid eggs this Spring: Two neighboring counties to mine have had first eggs laid March 21 and March 22.   That is really early. The warmer weather this Spring may have started the bluebirds in nest building, mating, and laying.  However, some cold, rainy weather moved in as you’d expect in early Spring, and I’ve seen them delay or interrupt nest building and egg laying.   I will be back on my trail early this coming week to see what’s happening in my other boxes.  I have nests in most boxes–a few are Carolina Chickadee nests, which are mostly mosses.  The past two years, I had no chickadees in my boxes.   I expect to find completed nests and some eggs.

First 3 eggs on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail. See the large light-colored, almost clear-looking long hair on top of the eggs? I'm happy to report it is not monofilament line--it is human hair, possibly mine.

FIRST BLUEBIRD NEST FOR the WHBBT 2011!


  • 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
  • Bluebirds have commenced nesting for first brood.  Photo taken today–March 23, 2011.  This is Day 4 of nest building! Nest is not quite finished (a bit lopsided now) – my prediction is approximately 2 more days to finish and create the perfectly shaped cup–this building is earlier for first brood 2011 than past 2 years.   White Pine needles (choice one for bluebirds if available).  The scoring seen on left side of picture is a “fledging ladder” or toe-hold used by baby birds to use at fledging time (maiden flight) as assistance to help them stay at entry hole.  However, bluebirds’ feet don’t need this as much as Tree Swallows do, but I like the scoring on all of my boxes.  Last two years, first egg laid was April 8 (one of those years was on Easter morning!  I remember it distinctly as I visited a few of my boxes late afternoon on the holiday.)  If this warmer weather continues, she may start laying any day.  If we have a sudden cold snap during egg laying (usually one per day in the morning), she’ll delay incubation until the warmer weather returns again.  Her mate will bring her food as she lays her clutch, usually in the mornings.  In the afternoons, she most likely will leave the box for a break, exercise her wings, and to hunt for her own food.   On my trail, generally I get 5 eggs per clutch.  I rarely have seen 6 eggs in my boxes.

  • WE ARE READY!


    “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

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    Here we go!  The WHBBT is ready for action!   Stovepipe guards are reinforced.  I have finished prep for all trail boxes to deter wasps, removed winterizing/roosting material, have cleaned the boxes, trimmed tall grasses and thorns near the base of the poles and — guess what — saw and heard the bluebird males out and about and telling me they know I am there.  While all this is going on, I am hearing them singing loudly and watching me work from the tree branches and nearby fence lines.  It gave me such a good feeling knowing they were around—it gave me such comfort.  It’s as if they were thanking me for helping them get their nesting site ready just for them!

    On my next trail visit, which will be during the last week in March, I’ll be taking new photographs of my tweaked trail—a few boxes have been moved to new locations.  This will be updated on The Nestboxes tabbed page shortly.  While there, I’ll open the boxes looking for new nesting material.  I always note this on my new trail notes–my first notes of the season.  I look at the date, if the nest is completed, and what material the nesters used—soft grasses or pine needles.  It will depend on habitat near their nestbox of choice!  On my trail, if pine needles are nearby, those are their choice #1 if they can get them!

    Of course, I check for species nesting.  It will either be the Eastern Bluebird, the Carolina Chickadee, the House Wren, or in one location (the “two-hole” test box near town), possibly a House Sparrow (HOSP).  That nest will be removed!  Today, I removed another HOSP nest from that box.  I saw the HOSP fly out of the box—the female.  I also noted bluebirds in the trees above, watching me, and singing their hearts out.  I can only hope the bluebird will try to win over that box on my next check.   It probably will be a battle for it this week.  I will know next week on my next stop at that location.  During 2009 and 2010, back-to-back years, the first egg laid on the WHBBT was the exact same date—April 8.  I wonder what will happen this year?  Seeing the first egg laid every year is my most exciting moment of all on my bluebird trail.  To me, it represents renewal and hope.   I feel so light and airy, as if I could fly myself.   Corny–yes–inspiring–oh YES!

    I am working on my next presentation to the Patrick County 4-H Club teens at the PCHS.  This is a collaborative-effort with Primland Resort’s Golf Superintendent.   Primland, with my guidance, has commenced a small trail for this season on their grounds somewhat off the golf course using Virginia Bluebird Society’s nestbox plans and TWO predator guards—the stovepipe ground guard which hangs below the nestbox and the Noel hardware cloth guard over the entry hole.  I have seen them—they look terrific!  The trail will be monitored weekly and statistics forwarded to me at the end of the nesting season for coordination for the VBS state records (and for NABS).  This is such good news to get more monitors for bluebirds!  I’m looking forward to training Primland and the local 4-H teens–learning about proper protocol of monitoring bluebird nestboxes at Primland’s new trail sometime in the next month or two while there are baby birds growing inside the boxes.  Primland is working hard to create nature events and programs there for the 4-H teens.  There will be a live walk to the boxes as I show them “demonstration style” how fun it is to see our native cavity-nesting birds use the nestboxes to bring their young into the world through the nesting cycle.   I send out my thanks to Primland for their outstanding efforts for Eastern Bluebird conservation in their gorgeous habitat!  Good job!  Thank you for helping bluebirds!

    For more information on this beautiful resort, here is their website:   http://primland.com/experience/land/

    Happy Bluebirding, everyone!

    While the female rests on the roof, the male is removing the fecal sac to help keep their young's nesting material clean. This couple seems to enjoy the Noel hardware cloth guard here over the entry hole. They use it as a "porch", rest inside while they guard their box. The Ron Kingston design stovepipe guard below the box is 7-8" wide, wobbles, and deters most ground predators from climbing to the babies and causing them harm. It is very effective on my trail from most Black Rat Snakes--indeed the expert climber of the snakes here! (Photo by Christine Boran on the WHBBT, 2010)

    “WARBLE” IT OUT FOR BLUEBIRDS: ANTICIPATION OF THE NESTING SEASON OF 2011


    Greetings from the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail.  The photo seen above on my site’s header, which will remain through the month of March 2011, is a photo taken by Dave Kinneer of the male bluebird courting his lady love.  He is wing-waving to her, telling her how wonderful he is.   It makes me feel all fuzzy inside how romantic the male bluebird is.  April will soon be here—a very significant month for me as I prepare for the nesting season once again.  Last year, 2010, and interestingly in 2009– my first egg laid on my trail was April 8–both years the exact same date!

    This will be my 6th year of my interest in bluebirds  and my 4th year of having a bluebird trail of my own.  I want to be sure I don’t have more boxes installed that I can be a responsible “landlord” to and that I’m able to monitor what I have at least once a week. Sometimes I do it twice a week, depending on activity or if I’m fixing a particular issue or problem along my trail, or if bad weather delays me to monitor on a fixed schedule.  I have to drive to all my boxes—they are spread out.   To install more boxes than I can physically monitor is not recommended—really, it’s a bad idea all around.   Too many things can go wrong for the bluebirds.  I will add more boxes to my trail as I think I can handle the responsibility of taking care of those boxes.   I am finding a box that isn’t getting any activity within a two-year period needs to be moved to different habitat.  I make this determination each autumn after I summarize my trail results for that season.  I like November as a good time to tweak my trail—at the same time I winterize my boxes for roosting for the cold winter months.  The Virginia Bluebird Society gets my trail results and incorporates them with other monitors’ records from other counties for all of Virginia combined.  This is how we can see how the birds are doing year after year.  Thanks to installed nestboxes and monitoring, the birds are increased in numbers in the past decade.   You can go to the VBS website to see the records—go take a look:  http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/trailstatistics.html As a monitor, accurate records, such as the date of the first egg laid (exciting to see that first blue egg) and when incubation by Mama Bluebird begins is really important to me.  She delays incubation until she’s finished laying her clutch.  Once I have those dates secured, I can better anticipate the date of that first hatching—by far the most thrilling experience for me every season!

    I have found it helps to have people networking in support of someone like me on behalf of the bluebirds.   Many thanks to The Floyd Press for getting this article  released in Floyd County and beyond of my efforts to get the word out about my availability to assist in education about bluebirding and how to properly install one box or a trail of boxes using a properly made nestbox and predator guards:   http://www.swvatoday.com/news/article/peoples_efforts_have_bluebirds_rallying/9260/

    It’s paying off.  I’ve had many inquiries about bluebirds this past week.   Primland Resort in Meadows of Dan has started a trail with many thanks to the Golf Superintendent who contacted me for information.  I will be training him on monitoring the boxes installed on their grounds.   Primland Resort built Virginia Bluebird Society recommended nestboxes from their nestbox plan….and ….with TWO predator guards.  We are making a joint-effort presentation to the local Patrick County 4-H Club in mid-March at the Patrick County High School.  There is a particular joy I feel when I can successfully tell others what the bluebirds.   Many thanks to all who continue to support the bluebirds in my two Counties–Floyd and Patrick.  I can’t tell you enough how inspirational you are to me and, just so you know, you will be to others when they see what you’re doing to help these birds.    I believe people I talk to feel the energy behind why we can get hooked on helping the bluebirds.

    I will be starting my weekly list of findings of the Test Site on my trail of the Two-Hole Mansion, Year 2.   As of February 18 this year, 2011, the (English) House Sparrow has started nest building in that box already.  This is the earliest I’ve seen yet.  I removed the nest and will return this weekend to see if another has started; frankly, I’m expecting one.  If you refer to my tabbed page of this test site, you’ll see the bluebirds were able to move in last summer after weeks of removing the House Sparrow nests and successfully fledge bluebird babies.   You’ll read what this test site is about and why I’m NOT trapping the sparrows for this test.   It should be noted over and over again:  The  (English) House Sparrow, which is NOT native to our country and is an aggressive bird taking cavities from our native birds, should not be allowed to use and breed in our nestboxes installed for bluebirds and our other native cavity-nesting birds!

    So, with this update above, I’ll be seeing you again soon, as the nesting season is just around the corner; my posts here will start to increase as bluebird activity increases along my trail.   I’m busy answering inquiries about bluebirds and helping others to prepare for monitoring bluebird nestboxes for the VBS.  The males are out now establishing their breeding territory. For those who have boxes now, make sure they are ready for nesting.  Early March is a good time to soap the ceilings of your boxes to deter wasps, which always start showing up in warmer weather.  I’ve seen some out already in our area.  I create a soap paste mixture by taking Ivory soap bars and let them sit in a plastic container in water.  Once the soap paste is the right consistency, I use a pastry brush to “paint” the soap mixture on the ceiling of the boxes and slightly down the sides and underneath the eaves of the larger roof of my boxes.   I do it early enough to allow it to dry so it is before the female starts entering the boxes to build the nests so the damp soap  paste does not get on her wings.  The boxes should dry first before the birds investigate nesting in them.

    If you don’t know yet what the bluebird sounds like, check out the Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds page on the Eastern Bluebird’s warble-song-call.   For me, this is a sweet sound of Spring when I hear this:  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Bluebird/sounds