For the Love of Bluebirds
October 25th, 2022 by georgann
February is the month of love and what a great month to show our love of Eastern Bluebirds. In the southeastern United States, nearly all cavity nesting birds begin looking for nesting sites during the month, so you need to get your bluebird boxes ready…now.
Years ago, many homes in the entire North America were, indeed, blue—sadly missing the soft “cheer, cheerful charmer” and chattering of cheerful, friendly bluebirds. Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were in a serious decline in the 1800s and early 1900s primarily due to loss of natural nesting cavities, competition with introduced House Sparrows and European Starlings and the toxic effects of pesticides. Fortunately, humans rallied behind these vibrant blue birds and established bluebird trails across the eastern United States (www.nabluebirdsociety.org/). Eastern Bluebirds now inhabit nearly every suitable open landscape in the eastern part of the continent.
So how do you add Eastern Bluebirds to your property? Because they are so amiable and comfortable around humans, getting Eastern Bluebirds to nest should be a no-brainer provided you offer them a well-constructed nest box, good placement and careful nest monitoring. Get started by either visiting your local bird supply store and purchasing a box with the correct dimensions or by building your own (http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/eastwestbox.htm ).
Location, location, location. Bluebirds prefer an open area on your property with scattered trees and sparse ground cover. You will have more success if your box is mounted on a pole, about five feet above ground and facing an open area with the entrance hole away from the prevailing wind. It helps to have a small tree or shrub nearby for the fledglings to land, keeping them off the ground and away from predators.
By early to mid-February, male bluebirds begin to scout out boxes, landing on the rooftops and singing encouragingly to his mate. Basically he is advertising that he is available and has found a proper cavity (so he thinks) with all the best features: a nice view, ample room inside and all the protection and help with the brood that she could ask for. The female does the actual choosing of the box and she can be quite particular. You can help the searching pair by placing two or three boxes about 50 to 100 yards apart on your property with slightly different views, thereby increasing their choices of available real estate. Once she chooses her perfect box, she will construct a nest inside and lay four to five unmarked blue eggs.
She alone incubates the eggs for 12-14 days, but her attentive mate will help in the care and feeding during the nestling period of 18-20 more days. Once these young are on the wing, the dutiful male will take charge of them while the female immediately begins another nesting. Often the first fledged offspring will hang around and help with future broods during the summer.
Don’t set out a box and then forget about it. Monitor your boxes during the nesting season. Check your boxes once a week by opening the pivoted side of your box and removing any ants, wasps, broken eggs and dead nestlings. Try not to open a box during the last two days of nesting as you may flush the almost-ready nestlings to fledge too early. If you wish, you can report the results of your nesting boxes online at the Laboratory of Ornithology’s Citizen Science Program, NestWatch at http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/nest/home/index
It may take a few years for bluebirds to find a new box, but if all your neighbors have successful occupied boxes, just be patient. You may want to move your boxes just slightly, trying to think like a choosy female bluebird. Or try placing out their favorite food—mealworms.
After each brood has fledged, remove the old nest from the box if possible. This is important to keep any parasites away from the new clutch and nestlings. Also the female might add more nesting materials to the old nest, raising the level of the eggs and young upwards to the entrance hole which makes it easier for predators to reach in. After the nesting season is over in the fall, remove the nest along with ants or other debris. In the deep south, it rarely stays cold long enough for birds to use the box for winter roosting, so you might want to plug the hole to keep wasps and hornets out. Come February, check the box one more time for any necessary repairs and you are ready to go, waiting for another eager (and undoubtedly grateful) cheerful charmer to land on the roof.
Birding Adventures, Inc.