This is the Ron Kingston Stovepipe guard.

This is the Ron Kingston Stovepipe guard.

This nestbox was recently treated for ants!

This nestbox was recently treated for ants!

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

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

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

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

 1.  From the Nestbox Builder website:  

 2.  From the Virginia Bluebird society website:  

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

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

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

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

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

Ground Climbing Predator Baffle-Kingston with Illustration





WHEN ice is thawed and snow is gone,
And racy sweetness floods the trees;
When snow-birds from the hedge have flown,
And on the hive-porch swarm the bees,
Drifting down the first warm wind
That thrills the earliest days of spring,
The bluebird seeks our maple groves,
And charms them into tasselling.

He sits among the delicate sprays,
With mists of splendor round him drawn,
And through the spring’s prophetic veil
Sees summer’s rich fulfilment dawn:
He sings, and his is nature’s voice—
A gush of melody sincere
From that great fount of harmony
Which thaws and runs when spring is here.

Short is his song, but strangely sweet
To ears aweary of the low,
Dull tramp of Winter’s sullen feet,
Sandalled in ice and muffed in snow:
Short is his song, but through it runs
A hint of dithyrambs yet to be—
A sweet suggestiveness that has
The influence of prophecy.

From childhood I have nursed a faith
In bluebirds’ songs and winds of spring:
They tell me, after frost and death
There comes a time of blossoming;
And after snow and cutting sleet,
The cold, stern mood of Nature yields
To tender warmth, when bare pink feet
Of children press her greening fields.

Sing strong and clear, O bluebird dear!
While all the land with splendor fills,
While maples gladden in the vales
And plum-trees blossom on the hills:
Float down the wind on shining wings,
And do thy will by grove and stream,
While through my life spring’s freshness runs
Like music through a poet’s dream.

 ~ by Maurice Thompson
Snowcap Landing!

Snowcap Landing!


WHBBT-#5-CACH - May 24-2014

Carolina Chickadee Nestlings

WHBBT-BBs Near Fledging

Eastern Bluebird Nestlings

WHBBT-#12-TRES5Nestlings-June 7-2014

Tree Swallow Nestlings

House Wren Nestlings

House Wren Nestlings

Woolwine House Bluebird Trail Final Results for 2014: 

All 36 Nesting Boxes Occupied (Written Summary Essay Forthcoming) … more details forthcoming on challenges, successes, and disappointments … what was different this year from the past years … etc.


Eastern Bluebirds:  38 Nest Attempts; 221 Eggs Laid; 161 Eggs Hatched; 148 Bluebirds Fledged

Carolina Chickadees:  4 Nest Attempts, 19 Eggs Laid, 16 Eggs Hatched, 16 Chickadees Fledged

Tree Swallows:  4 Nest Attempts; 18 Eggs Laid, 13 Eggs Hatched, 12 Tree Swallows Fledged

House Wrens:  8 Nest Attempts; 41 Eggs Laid, 22 Eggs Hatched, 22 House Wrens Fledged


House Wren Predation:  6

House Sparrow Predation:  2 (broken eggs only)

Snake Predation:  1 (6” wide wobbling baffle/unprongedNoel Guard)

Raccoon Predation:  0

Human Vandalism Predation: 0

Unknown Predation:  2

Dead Adults:  0

Missing and/or Dead Young Combined:  11

Missing and/or Destroyed Eggs Combined:  49

Unhatched Eggs Found in Nest:  31


Birders, bluebirders, backyard bird fans, and those curious and want to learn more about the passion about this beloved bird species and native cavity-nesting birds, monitoring nestboxes for fledging success, etc:  the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) has an awesome program lined up at the upcoming State Conference to be held Saturday, November 9, 2013, centrally located in gorgeous Charlottesville!   I highly recommend attending if you can, especially if you love bluebirds!   Program starts at 9:30 am.  $25 registration covers cost for breakfast, lunch, the program and speakers, and an optional birding tour at a lovely location after adjournment at 2:30 pm.  Come a little earlier and meet and talk to expert bluebirders.


Speakers and program include:

1) Marshall Faintich, PhD, Birding Activity Manager, Rockfish Valley Trail, “The Birds of Wintergreen”,

2) Alycia Crall, PhD, Virginia Master Naturalist Coordinator, “The Virginia Master Naturalist Program: Opportunities for Volunteer Projects with Bluebirds”,

3) Awards Program for 4 outstanding volunteers for bluebirds,

4)  Maureen Eiger, Wild Bird Rehabilitator: “Bluebirds in Rehab: When They Should Come In for Care and How They are Returned to the Wild.”, and

5) OPTIONAL event:  “Birding at Secluded Farm”, led by Doug Rogers, President, Monticello Bird Club.  This conference is held every other year.  The VBS website and downloadable program flyer including agenda and driving directions can be found on the VBS website’s main page.

ALL ARE WELCOME TO ATTEND.   DEADLINE FOR REGISTRATION:  Thursday, October 31.  For more detailed info, directions, agenda, and to register:  Go to the VBS website (see below), click on the “Registration Form” link under the Upcoming Events box on the main page:   http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/

VBS is a fully volunteer, non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable conservation organization.  Hope to see you there!  Feel free to cross-post and share this with others you think might be interested.  Thanks, and Happy Birding!

~ Christine Boran, State Coordinator, Virginia Bluebird Society

Fly like the wind with the sky on your back, Mr. Bluebird!

Fly like the wind with the sky on your back, Mr. Bluebird!



I’ve finalized and 3-times checked my statistics for fledging numbers for the permanent records. I’m going to write an essay and a “summary” in near future with more details; in the meantime, here are the final numbers of the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail for Year 2013. 34 monitored nestboxes. Only 1 box was not used. 5 boxes had partial nests and no eggs laid. 1 box I could not monitor due to an unforeseen circumstance. You will note a difference of # of eggs laid to # of birds fledged. Bottom line: The birds had a tough year with issues to deal with–some on their own and some with my help. Some won over the issues; some did not. My last bluebirds fledged late, on August 29, 2013.  NOTE:  A nest attempt means at least one egg is laid.  Questions?  Leave your notes here on this post and I’ll answer!

Reminder, too….lots of interesting discussions going on through the Facebook page!  If you are on Facebook, join us.  Keyword on Facebook Search:  Woolwine House Bluebird Trail or go to this main page and click on LIKE.



Eggs Laid: 192
Eggs Hatched: 146
Young Fledged: 138


Eggs Laid: 19
Eggs Hatched: 8
Young Fledged: 8

TREE SWALLOWS: 1 Nest Attempt

Eggs Laid: 5
Eggs Hatched: 3
Young Fledged: 3

HOUSE WRENS: 2 Nest Attempts

Eggs Laid: 11
Eggs Hatched: 6
Young Fledged: 6


Eggs Laid: 9
Eggs Hatched: 0 (removed nest/eggs)
Young Fledged: 0


Snake: 3 (all at boxes with no predator guards–I plan on changing this on these private properties for 2014)
Cat: 1 (at a box with no predator guard)
House Wren: 4
One adult death is unknown predator (My studies indicate an attack outside of the nestbox)


Earwigs: 2
Ants: 3
Wasps: 4
Spiders: 3
Unknown Winged Insect: 1
Blowfly Larvae: 10 (some WITH and without hardware cloth risers–more on this in detail soon)


` Thorny overgrowth up a pole (fastest growth I’ve seen yet!)
` Hypothermia to nestlings (wet nest–OLD nestbox on private property–nestbox should be replaced)
` Fallen stovepipe baffle (and repaired using galvanized wires–will replace before February 2014)
` Messy bluebird couple not cleaning nest daily (unusual but it can happen)
` White egg clutch (this is always a pleasure!)
` Bear knocking nestbox setup flat to ground (immediately after fledging – phew!}
` Roof needing repair (thankfully, the repair was before birds started nesting)
` Utility pole nearby with fresh creosote application. This is a long story.
` House Wren attacks on eggs and nestlings (worse year ever on this problem)
` Dead nestlings (not due to weather but other issues)
` Broken eggs (by House Wrens)
` Missing Eggs (this is the time I wish I had a live cam in every nestbox)
` 2 Dead Adults, both female (from a cat and one unknown attacker which was NOT House Sparrows)
` Several Carolina Chickadee vs. Eastern Bluebird competition (ongoing for several years)

“THE TRAIL MONITORS” – A Poem by “Bluebird Bob”

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

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



A Poem by “Bluebird Bob” Walshaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Coming soon…..”what’s in my bag?” upcoming post….photos and explanations of what I carry with me when I monitor the bluebird trail.  A work in progress–there will be three parts to this series on this topic:

~ Part 1 (first post) is the bag I use and what’s in the bag and why I carry the items on every nestbox check.

~ Part 2 (second post a few days later) will be what I keep in the car on most nestbox visits (but not always carried to each box when monitoring them).

~ and Part 3 (third and probably the last post in the series ) will be the extra stuff to keep on hand, if needed — what I found helpful to have around for different circumstances…and why.

Every monitor has tools they like the best–for different reasons.  Not everyone will be the same.  Some tools might be what every monitor will always have.  This will be mine–am happy to share with you what I like to use.  I started monitoring nestboxes in 2006 and 2007.  The Woolwine House Bluebird Trail started February 2008.  As the monitor and caretaker of this trail and after all these years and experiences, I’ve tweaked my bag.  Stay tuned!  Here is a sneak preview–the bag I’ve used thus far that really works for me!  It’s new–just purchased it this winter.  Bottom line:  use what works for you!  The point is:  MONITOR your nestboxes.  Use the tools to make it work for you.  The native cavity-nesting birds need you to do so to help them succeed in case there are problems with the manmade nestbox you put up for them.    Do you need more info on monitoring?  Here is a great place to start (North American Bluebird Society Fact Sheet on Monitoring) — PDF file is downloadable and printable!  http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/PDF/FAQ/NABS%20factsheet%20-%20Monitoring%20-%2024May12%20DRAFT.pdf

This Stanley-brand bag is perfect for me to carry what I need!   Not expensive!  It's about the size of a ladies handbag.

This Stanley-brand bag is perfect for me to carry what I need! Not expensive! It’s about the size of a ladies handbag.


March 19 – 2013:   Nestbox checks searching for new nestings has official commenced for 2013 season.  I visited all boxes on the trail.  Out of the 33 nestboxes I am care-taking, four (4) had new bluebird nests started.  I am thinking they are one or two days into building time.  You know, when Mr. Blue does good husbandry and helps find nest materials and drops them inside the box, it is faster for her.  I am waiting to see tree swallows and chickadees (really hoping for those swallows this year).   I am expecting some house wrens in another location.  Here are two new photos.  The first is the one nestbox that has the most materials–grasses being dropped and arranged by Mrs. Blue in that circular design.   The other photo is the latest addition to my trail–the last nestbox (#33).  You will note the 8″ width, spray-painted stovepipe wobbling snake/ground critter guard on the conduit and the extra predator guard (original called the Jim Noel Coon Guard) made of hardware cloth over the entry hole.   So, here we go, folks!   Wishing everyone a blessed bluebird year!  “May All Your Blues Be Birds” !  by B. Zimmerman

#18 - This box had the most amount of materials of the 4 that had nests started.  This is much later than last year.  I'm sure the colder weather is making a difference when these birds decide to start the raise-the-family thing they do!

#18 – This box had the most amount of materials of the 4 that had nests started. This is much later than last year. I’m sure the colder weather is making a difference when these birds decide to start the raise-the-family thing they do!