NETWORKING: THE WOOLWINE HOUSE BLUEBIRD TRAIL!


I want to thank photographer Dave Kinneer for letting me use one of my favorite pictures of a female Eastern Bluebird on the holly branch.  All of the header photos featured here are taken by Mr. Kinneer.   We can all wish the birds will easily find fruits this winter until the insects are back out in full force this coming spring!   Last winter was a harsh one.  Maybe this winter won’t be like the last.

Though my site quiets down a bit until next March, I am keeping busy networking in my two Counties for the bluebirds…educating, being available for questions, and seeing what I can do for outreach on the blues!  I am enjoying watching all the birds in my back yard enjoy the sunflower seeds I keep ready for them.    My plans this winter are to make a special bluebird suet which includes cut-up boiled raisins, dried cranberries, and other berries easily found at the store.  I will be freezing the suet blocks; as I pull one out, I will crumble it up in pieces for them to easily eat off a special feeder I plan to get specifically for bluebirds.   It has a cage around it in a platform-style open feeder to keep larger birds from getting all that yummy suet I’ll be making in that kitchen!  I am experimenting with different suet recipes.

Stay safe, warm, and happy travels if you are hitting the roads and airports during winter storms.

See you soon!

Christine

WINTER THOUGHTS FOR BLUEBIRDS


Resident bluebirds are in mixed flocks here with bluebirds migrated from the North.   During snowstorms, ice storms, and frigid snaps in Southwest Virginia, I am feeding bluebirds on my property with bluebird suet and live mealworms.   They eat fruits and berries this time of year.  This food can be hard to find during harsh weather.  All of my nextboxes have been winterized so that the roosting cavity-nesting birds have a warm bed and no cold drafts and wet snow or rains get inside the ventilation gaps.   I use pine needles about two-inches thick and bat it down with my fist to break down the scratchy points of the needles.  If water gets onto a bed of needles, which hopefully won’t happen, that moisture seeps to the bottom and out of the drainage areas on the box floor.  This way the topside needles dry out.   Grasses can stay wet and absorb water and then freeze.  Many bluebirds will pile inside a nestbox for roosting together and use each others’ body warmth during the cold nights.   Never remove a nestbox during winter months–the birds love them for roosting.   I think that’s marvelous!

One additional thought to share during the time we all are thinking of installing new bluebird boxes by February 2011:   …………. please install your bluebird box on a 3/4-to-one-inch size EMT (conduit metal) pole with at LEAST the ground (stovepipe is best!) predator guard below the box so that we landlords are not setting up the birds for failure during the upcoming nesting cycle.   Ground predators I have to deter are snakes, raccoons, ants, mice, squirrels, roaming housecats, and feral cats.   Nestboxes installed on a fence line, tree trunk, 4×4 wood post, and utility pole are dangerous to the birds.   Please don’t do it!   Simply put, to lure bluebirds into our boxes and not help them stay safe from ground predators is like playing a practical joke on them.

Before we know it, the males will be leaving the mixed flocks and looking to establish territories for mate hunting and then “house hunting”.  Have the boxes ready by February 1st.   Please contact me for advice on getting it done.  Let me train you to monitor just one box.   You won’t regret it as soon as you discover the joys of bluebirding!

I hope everyone has safe…. and warm….holidays to come.

WHY INSTALL A BLUEBIRD NESTBOX ON A POLE? WHY TWO PREDATOR GUARDS?


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


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

Predator Guard Designs

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a typical box on my trail.

TRAIL RESULTS ARE IN–REPORT FOR 2010!


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

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

All the best…………Christine

“Woo-Hoo for Blue!”

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

October 24, 2010 – VIRGINIA TECH’s REYNOLDS HOMESTEAD PRESENTATION REPORT


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

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

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

Display Tables and three easels with prepared posterboard displays.

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

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

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

WINTERIZING NESTBOXES


Winterizing Material 2

I will be out on my trail next week to winterize all the boxes so that the bluebirds and other cavity nesters can roost in the boxes. 

What is winterizing?

The ventilation areas of each box will be plugged to keep cold drafts and rain and snow out of the boxes while the birds keep warm in them.  The only sections NOT plugged will be the drainage holes in the box floors and the entry holes, of course!

Winterizing Material for NestboxesWinterizing Material 1

See  a series of pictures below of winterized boxes on my trail.  You’ll see how the materials help keep the boxes warm!

Also next week, two of my boxes will be moved to new locations.   My criteria for changing is the current box locations were not used by cavity nesters this past season.  It’s good to tweak the trail each year for best use of all nestboxes available for the birds! BBIce-AllRightsResered-DaveKinneer-UsedWithPermission-CBoran2009The Virginia Bluebird Society’s  website  helped me when I went to Lowe’s Home Improvement to get the supplies…  cost was $14 for everything and all the materials can be recycled again for the next winter season! CLICK ON LINK below:  

http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/about-bluebirds/winterizing-nest-boxes/

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

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

Photo of foam in front-opening box in ventilation.

Pine needles, gloves, ventilation plugging materials.

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

Repair your nesting boxes between September and January!

Repair your nesting boxes between September and January!

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

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

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

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

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

LAST BLUEBIRD BOX FLEDGED 3 BABIES ON AUGUST 26th!


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

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

Christine

A FEW BOXES: THIRD BROODS FOR 2010!


I have three boxes so far with third-brood bluebird nests and egg laying!   We’ll see if they can survive the continued heat we’re having here.  I have had one year with one box that had a third brood successfully nest and fledge babies this late.  This is interesting to me.  My theory is:  in spite of the late start due to the harsh winter we had, Spring came in fast and warm and the birds started their nesting cycle and incubation earlier and faster than before. Another thought is these bluebird adults are more fertile than others in years past.

Also, good news in the test site box “two-hole mansion” on my trail….the bluebird babies just fledged either on Day 19 or Day 20–Saturday afternoon or sometime on Sunday morning or afternoon, July 24th or 25th.  We’ll see if another nesting will be attempted there.   See my final notes on the “2-Hole Test Box” page, updated today, July 28th.

BREEDING SEASON ALMOST TO A CLOSE? CAN THIS BE?


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

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

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

CHECKING NESTS AFTER FLEDGINGS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLUEBIRD TRAILS: MAINTENANCE IS KEY!


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

THE TRAIL MONITORS

A Poem by “Bluebird Bob” Walshaw

Out they go, rain or shine,
Checking on their Bluebird line.
Helping out those birds of blue,
Walking in the grassy dew.

Opening nestboxes one by one,
Reveling in the morning sun.
Finding nests and eggs so blue,
Spring’s promise coming true.

Another nest with little ones,
Waiting for the parents to come
From east, west, north or south,
With insects for each open mouth.

One more nest -oh so sad!
A roving Black Snake has been bad.
Predator guards work in many ways
But nature can have a different say.

Another nest with babies strong,
Showing that it won’t be long
Before their growing wings they’ll try
And out into the world they’ll fly.

They continue to check nest after nest,
Enjoying successes and fighting pests.
Enemies with beak and claw,
Sharing the Bluebird’s luck of the draw.

But they know from day to day
That all their efforts lead the way
To bringing the Bluebirds safe and strong
Back where all can hear their songs.

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

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

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

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

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

TRAIL RESPONSIBILITIES: RESOLVING PROBLEMS


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

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.canlyme.com/ticks.html

http://webpages.charter.net/balplanman/_MicPix/Ticks/Ticks.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLUEBIRD PRESENTATION, MAY 27, 2010, Reynolds Homestead


UPDATE:   There is a possibility of a REPEAT of this presention in Fall 2010.  Will keep you posted.

INVITATION!   JOIN ME…PRESENTATION/WORKSHOP ON BLUEBIRDS!

Designed for beginners in bluebirding and how to use properly use nestboxes and monitor those nestboxes for success.

by Christine Boran

Thursday, May 27, 2010 – 7 PM

Location:  The Reynolds Homestead, Critz, VA

See May 2010 Newsletter, Page 2, below for information: http://www.reynoldshomestead.vt.edu/Newsletter.html

Directions/Map to the Reynolds Homestead: http://www.reynoldshomestead.vt.edu/map.html

SOME TRAIL NOTES


NOTABLE WEEKLY WHBBT UPDATES:

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

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

MY PLAN: COMBATING the BLOWFLY PROBLEM FOR 2010


You know the saying for many years, probably from a well-known homemaker magazine’s monthly column:

My Problem and How I Solved It!

I have ordered and received Diatomaceous  Earth.  (It took me a while to learn how to pronouce it.)  Here is info on this wonderful organic product that is going to help me combat the problem I’ve had in years past of the blowfly larvae attacking nestlings at night and thus causing anemia to those nestlings and potential death to them in the nestbox.  I am anticipating no more nest switchouts with this product!  I learned at the NABS conference last September 2009–thanks to Harry Schmeider and his presentation there–that if I use a few puffs of this organic powder inside a nest prior to nestlings hatching– that the larvae cannot survive and cause harm to the bluebird nestlings.   What I like most about this product is it is NOT a pesticide and is an all-natural product.  Here is a photo of what I have new in my trail tack box below.  My plan is to insert CAREFULLY this powder just prior to hatchlings.   One thing to watch on this is to make sure none of this powder gets into the nestlings eyes.  I think this is the safest way to administer this very fine powder.  I will still inspect the nestlings anyway during my trail checks to be sure they are developing normally. 

Fascinating reading–read here first to learn more:  http://www.ghorganics.com/DiatomaceousEarth.html

The tools! This is a 2-lb. bag and pistol. You can also just use a plastic mustard or ketchup container that has the tip. I like this pistol. I ordered an extender for it so I can use it in the corners of the house behind appliances--all organic!

You can see how fine this powder is and the pistol I’ll be using to carefully administer the right amount at the bottom of a nest and in the middle inside the nesting material.   The second and third broods, if I have those on my trail, are the nests where the blowflies lay their eggs in birds nests.   I am really anticipating an easier way to deal with the problem for this season and forthcoming seasons.   I still keep a few extra natural clean bluebird nests on hand for emergencies.   I always try to be prepared on trail checks. 

Text on the bag. I also received a more detailed pamphlet on usage of this organic DE.

WHBBT (TRAIL) UPDATES: FINAL BLUEBIRD FIRST-BROOD EGG COUNTS, INCUBATION, and HATCHINGS!


NOTE:  This website’s header photos (used with permission) credit with my thanks go to photographer:    Mr. Dave Kinneer

The handsome fella above is doing his wing-waving dance to the female “aren’t I good-lookin’!   Be mine, be mine”!  By now the females have picked their mate for the first brood.  Nests are built, eggs are laid, and now those eggs are hatching on my trail as of April 27!   Both parents feed the nestlings.  Many times they remain mates for the whole breeding season and even family siblings from the first brood will help the parents feed the second brood! 

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Updated notes that are interesting along my trail are posted below.  See “Nestboxes 2010” gray tabbed page  for individual notes on each nestbox.  This post will remain “sticky” so that it is always at the top of this site for quick reference and changes along my trail this season.  New posts will follow below this one, always with the latest update at the top.

April 29:  Hatchings of bluebirds have commenced on April 27 on my trail.  More occurred on April 28.  I expect more today, the 29th!

Pine needle nest at one of the boxes -- incubating female would not leave the eggs!

April 23, 2010:  On my trail check yesterday, two boxes could not be counted for final egg counts since incubating females would not leave the nest.  I will go back to those two boxes in late afternoon when I predict the females will be off the nest.   Egg count (with an estimate count included for those two boxes) are as follows for my small trail consisting of 16 bluebird nesting locations: 

FIRST BROOD for 2010:  30 eggs — 1 egg was dumped by a female bluebird in a one-day’s work partial nest and female did not return to the nest 1 week later.   The egg possibly may be infertile or abandoned.  That is theory only on my part.  I do not know why a female bluebird would lay one egg on a bare wood floor in a box with just a few pine needles circling the egg.  I will confirm the egg count in a few days at the two boxes that had incubating females that stayed on the nest when I opened the boxes.  See photos above trail notes here taken with my large SLR digital camera held in one hand while holding the box door open (April 22, 2010).

This is the other box where Mrs. Blue decided she was not afraid of me, even when I opened the box. She is protecting her eggs with her life! I managed to hold the door and mirror with my left hand and my heavy SLR digital camera with my right to catch this picture. She's even prettier when she's sitting on the nest. I was amazed at how blue she looked. This is another pine needle nest, which surprised me considering it's mostly field grasses and pastureland near this box. I believe pine needles are #1 choice of nesting material for the bluebird, if they can get them. Notice she is not looking at me in fear. This is how incubating females can get killed by attacking House Sparrows.

 April 21, 2010:  Tomorrow I will be back on my weekly box checks.  We have only bluebirds nesting with eggs.  I should get the first brood egg counts in total tomorrow.  I have no other cavity nesters so far, no Carolina Chickadees, no House Wrens.  Only one box, the Test Two-Hole Mansion test site, has continuous and relentless, never-giving-up, House Sparrows wanting to nest in that box.  I am removing the nests (no trapping) as part of the test.  See my Two-Hole Test page for more information.   I will be back on on Friday to update my trail notes here.  I am adding a picture of a redesigned wren house that is doing extremely well for bluebirds.  It is posted below this post (two photos of the altered wren house)!  This is not a standard NABS or VBS approved box.  It is a built-at-home box that bluebirds really liked for the past three years and have bred and fledged young successfully.  They roost in the box in the winter.   Bluebirds are “opportunists” and will use what works!   Who can argue against a bluebird?  

April 12, 2010:   OK, we’re having bluebirds nesting, eggs are being laid….we are on a roll now!   I’m so exited!  A detailed update will be posted on or around Saturday, April 17th, when I have more details of nesting bluebirds on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail.  By then, I should have some first nest egg counts.  I have revised the photos today on the gray tabbed page titled “Nestboxes 2010”.  

April 8, 2010:   I am pleased to report the trail has bluebird nests….some with perfect cups.  A week ago, April 1, no eggs were laid yet.   I expect to see eggs later today when I check my trail.   NOTE:  This site is presently in update mode.  Please check back in a few days as I update the new photos and text on The Nestboxes gray tabbed page.   Some of the box locations have changed.  The new header photo above is endearing to me as I anticipate the first baby bluebirds this season taking on their new life with wings.  This is always the most exciting part of bluebirding for me…the first egg laid, the first hatching, and the first successful fledging of nestlings.  When monitors keep trail notes, it makes it even more fun.  Mrs. Bluebird above is feeding her baby in the trees and will continue to do so for about 4 weeks after her nestlings fledge.  Once the nestlings are “outside the box”, they are no longer nestlings but then called fledglings.   They remain a camoflage grayish-blue with spots until they develop their adult plumage.  They are still very vulnerable to predators until they attain adulthood later.

As I watch the weather report, there is a possibility in my area for a cold snap coming.  This can be dangerous to chicks, but if eggs have not hatched, I’ve seen Mrs. Bluebird delay incubation until she feels comfortable to continue the incubation in warmer weather.  She just seems to know the best safety for her hatchlings and does what she can to make it work!   Weather makes a big difference in results.

March 11, 2010:  The trail results have begun this week!   The two-hole test site had a partial HOSP nest built and nest was removed on March 10.    Other boxes will be checked again, predator guards secured, and boxes soaped to deter wasps.   This was a problem on the trail last year during sudden warm temperature surges.   Soaping is easy–I use a pastry brush to “paint” an Ivory soap paste I make with a small amount of water.  This is primarily added to the surfaces on the inside of the box on the box walls and near ceiling. 

February 23, 2010–Sunny today and 45 degrees–more snow coming tomorrow!    The bluebird males have been sighted in our area in the past two weeks.   This is about two weeks later than the past four years that I’ve seen in my own bluebirding observations (usually around February 1st in SW Virginia).  The males are enjoying the sun and warmer weather, establishing their territory, and looking for eventual nesting sites and mates.   This is the time of year food sources are challenging.  It will be interesting when the first observation of attempted nest building will take place in my boxes this Spring due to the severe winter snows we’ve had in our area.   I keep dates of all activity for my permanent notes.  We still have snow on the ground; however, it’s starting to melt now.  I’m seeing grass and pine mulch again.  I’m hearing new bird songs out the windows.  My nestboxes will be modified in some locations for this year–I hope within the next two weeks or so as the ground softens up.   I usually have this completed by the end of January each year.  We’ve been snowed in at home a few times this winter.  I am really looking forward to seeing my first bluebird egg this year!   I hope some of our resident bluebirds flew down to NC for food sources this past winter.   This has been the harshest winter our county has seen for many years; certainly the harshest I’ve seen since I moved here in early 2006.  I plan to visit my winterized boxes on my trail early next week and see what birds have been hopefully roosting in them and look to see what repairs need to be done to the boxes and baffles.   Some of my stovepipe baffles have fallen down in some high winds.   I will leave the ventilation “plugs” in until sometime after the first eggs are laid, depending on the temperatures.

This site will be updated again sometime in late March for the 2010 breeding season after I have some activity to report.    

Happy bluebirding!

INTERESTING TRAIL PHOTOS — INCUBATING and HATCHLINGS: APRIL 22, 27, and 28th.


APRIL 27th ANNOUNCEMENT–WOO-HOO!

We have hatchlings on the WHBBT!   On my trail check dated April 27, new nestlings have emerged.   I checked again on April 28, and more hatchlings have come into the world.  I am waiting for 4 more locations to hatch bluebirds.  Here is a photo I took from one of my boxes on April 28.  I had to use a mirror for this picture since my boxes do not open at the top.  Note:  I only have bluebirds nesting in these boxes — no Carolina Chickadees yet.   The Two-Hole Test Site still has House Sparrows attempting to nest there.  So far at 16 locations, 3 have hatched bluebirds.  I am still waiting for 4 more to hatch any day!

UPDATE:  APRIL 29th:  I am still waiting for two boxes to hatch.

Photo taken April 28 using a large mirror. One must be quick and careful photographing nestlings so as not to stress out the parents too much. After a few trail checks, the bluebirds come to trust careful monitors more.

Below are the larger pictures I posted below of two boxes that had incubating females that would not leave their nests on my box checks on Thursday, April 22.  

She is telling me, "I'm not leaving my eggs!" She graciously allowed me to take this picture, a bit awkwardly, I admit, but I managed to get this as best as I could.

This lady is not leaving her eggs -- no fear at all. I took this photo to show how the pine needles are used for the inital nest. Before the eggs are laid, it's amazing to see hwo perfect the deep cup is made in the center before the eggs are laid.

 

ALTERED WREN HOUSE FOR BLUEBIRDS equals SUCCESS!


NOTE:  This website’s header photos (used with permission) credit with my thanks go to photographer:    Mr. Dave Kinneer

~ ~ ~

This box, along my trail, is a REDESIGN (alteration) of a hanging wren house. It was built and hung; instead of wrens using it, bluebirds moved in. The house was then changed by removing the perch and resizing the hole to 1.5 inches. This box consistently does well every year at least two broods. It is hung on a front porch in perfect bluebird habitat. A plum tree and a high wire are not far from the porch. Because it is hung like this, no ground predator guard is needed. There have been no avian predators at this box. This box is monitored by watching activities, including nest building, incubation, and fledgings. It cannot be monitored weekly as the box has to be taken down and opened with a screwdriver. After each fledging, however, the box is cleaned up and hung up again. It was reported to me this box had winter-roosting bluebirds, as well! Cavity size is 6.5x 6.5 inches. This box has been approved by the VBS to me to include what stats I can on the WHBBT. In this circumstance, my philosophy is if the bluebirds like it and are safe and successful…bring it on! I would like to hang one of these but make it a standard rectangular style box but hung from our front porch. A Black Rat Snake, if inclined, could still get to this box, but I’ve been told so far in three years, that has not happened to this box.  Carl, who helped me build my nestboxes for the WHBBT built and altered this wren house.  Good job, Carl!  …. And many thanks to Carl for sharing this on my site! 

ENJOY BLUEBIRDS …. EXCELLENT PHOTOGRAPHY and SUET RECIPES!


Wendell Long Photo

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

 

DO YOU NOT AGREE THAT PICTURES TELL THE STORY? 

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

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

Source:  Virginia Bluebird Society

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

DaveKinneer Photo-UsedWithPermission-AllRightsReserved 2009.

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

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

WINTER CHEER

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    BB-CLARIFIED

    brdpw030817

VIRGINIA BLUEBIRD SOCIETY: NESTBOX DESIGNS AND PREDATOR GUARDS


Bluebird Nestbox Design

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

VBSlogo_small

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

                             

Download nest box design

Download a diagram showing the recommended box mounting method

Predator Guard Designs:

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

Download diagram showing correct predator guard mounting

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

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

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

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

pict0032_tn

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

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

BACK FROM THE NABS 2009 CONFERENCE!


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

NABS 2009 Banner

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

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

 

SAVED FROM BLOWFLIES AND CLOSE TO FLEDGING!


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

 

 

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

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

 

THE HISTORY OF BLUEBIRDS IN NORTH AMERICA


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

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

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

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

 

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


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

~  Cole Porter, Be Like the Bluebird, 1934  ~

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLUEBIRD PREDATORS! THE DREADED HOUSE SPARROWS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROM EGG TO FLEDGLING, MATE FEEDING, and NESTCAMS.


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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


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

The Eastern Bluebird’s Warble:  Click Here and turn the volume up:    http://bluebirdia.homegrowngoodies.com/bluebird-song-audio.htm

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


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

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

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

5 boxes are on my own property.

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

All local in Woolwine:

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

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

1 box is at a private residence.  

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

NOTE: 

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

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

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

BLUEBIRD UPDATE — 2008 TRAIL REPORT.


Guarding his goodies!

Guarding his goodies!

 

Trail 2008 Report:

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

Fall 2008 VBS article:

“Lessons of a New Bluebirder”, by Christine

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

They should fledge between 15 and 18 days.

They should fledge between 15 and 18 days.

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

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

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