Bluebird activity on the increase!

January 31, 2008

Now that February is just around the corner, bluebirds know it is time to start seriously looking at nest boxes and “bird friendly” yards to determine who the lucky folks are that will get to have them for neighbors

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Be sure to clean your nest boxes and have them ready for “open house.”  Keep your birdbaths clean and filled with fresh water and your feeders loaded with food that attracts bluebirds — sunflower chips, peanut suet crumbs, suet cakes, etc.

If you have questions regarding Eastern Bluebirds, Email me by clicking on the Bluebird Shepherd signature below.

Happy Bluebirding!

Bluebird Shepherd



Attracting bluebirds to your yard!

January 22, 2008

The question I am asked most frequently is how do I attract bluebirds to my yard?  The answer is simple — create a “bluebird friendly” environment.  However, the effort required to create and maintain the environment is not trivial. 

The first step in creating a “bluebird friendly” environment in your yard is to provide safe comfortable housing located in a suitable spot. 

Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters.  They do not excavate their own cavities.  Primary cavity nesters, including many woodpeckers, excavate their  own nesting chambers.   The number of naturally occurring nesting sites suitable for bluebirds is dwindling each year at an alarming rate due to urban expansion.  Bluebirds look for existing cavities with suitable dimensions. 

Click on the links below to view the specifications for safe comfortable bluebird nest boxes.

Bluebird nest box specifications

Mounting bluebird nest boxes

Gilbertson #1 150 pixels

Eastern Bluebirds nesting in a modified Gilbertson nest box

Safe comfortable bluebird nest boxes can be purchased from a number of sources including wild song bird retail stores, home supply centers, and hardware stores.  Nest boxes can also be ordered through the Internet.  DIYers can obtain plans for a standard wood nest box and a modified Gilbertson nest box by sending Email to Bluebird Shepherd.

If you are a teacher and want to integrate the bluebird nesting cycle into your curriculum, take a look at the off-the-shelf color nest camera unit sold by Shaw Creek Bird Supply.

Shaw Creek Wireless Color Nest Camera

If you are a DIYer, take a look at the Internet-enabled wireless color nest camera unit built by  Send an Email to Bluebird Shepherd to obtain the plan for the unit. Internet-enabled Wireless Color Nest Camera

The second step in creating a “bluebird friendly” environment in your yard is to provide food acceptable to bluebirds and plenty of fresh water.  Many bird lovers believe that bluebirds don’t eat seed.  That notion is incorrect!  Bluebirds have relatively weak beaks and cannot crack sunflower, peanuts,  and other similar seeds.  They can and do eat types of seeds that have been reduced to the point that cracking is not required.  Safflower, cracked sunflower hearts, peanut suet nuggets, suet cakes, mealworms, etc. are perfectly acceptable to bluebirds.

Bluebird Breakfast

Bluebirds eating cracked sunflower hearts

Bluebirds love mealworms especially when they are feeding their young.  Mealworms can be purchased from most wild song bird supply stores or through the Internet.  I recommend putting up a bluebird feeder if you plan to feed mealworms to prevent other bird species from “free loading.”  The typical bluebird feeder is enclosed and has 1 1/2” diameter entrance holes on either end.  The sides are made of Plexiglas to allow observation.

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Typical Eastern Bluebird feeder

The third step in creating a “bluebird friendly” environment in your yard is to provide for the SAFETY of the birds.  Mount your bluebird nest boxes properly and use predator guards on the poles.   Avoid locating nest boxes in places where predators can drop down on them from above.

Make sure the area around your nest boxes,  bird feeders, and bird baths is clear of undergrowth that provides cover for predators. 

Cats, domestic and feral, are considered the most dangerous threat to the wild song birds in your yard.   Most cities and towns have Animal Control Officers who enforce ordinances commonly known as “leash laws.”   If you notice a cat or cats hunting in your yard and you can identify the animals, I recommend contacting the owners and asking them to comply with the applicable ordinances.  If you cannot identify the cats or the owners do not heed your request, I recommend contacting an Animal Control Officer and requesting the loan of a cat trap.  I have found the best bait for cats to be canned sardines.

If you do trap a cat, keep the animal comfortable until it can be picked up by an Animal Control Officer.  Use care in handling trapped cats due to the risk of rabies and other infectious diseases.

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Trapped cat awaiting pickup by an Animal Control Officer

If you have questions regarding Eastern Bluebirds, Email Bluebird Shepherd.

Bluebird Shepherd

Time to ready bluebird nest boxes for the 2008 nesting season!

January 15, 2008

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Eastern Bluebird – 01/15/2008

The calendar is edging toward February so it’s time to get ready for the 2008 bluebird nesting season.  Take a look at all of your nest boxes and make sure they are in good mechanical condition and the nesting cavities are clean and ready for use.  Repair or replace nest boxes that are  not mechanically sound.  It’s a good idea to coat the ceilings and door interiors of your nest boxes with a bar of unscented ivory soap to deter paper wasps.  Check around the base of your mounting poles and be sure that there is no significant undergrowth that could hide predators.  Add predator guards if you don’t already have them.  You can purchase predator guards at hardware stores and wild song bird supply stores.  If you’re handy with tools, you can make your own predator guards using 4” diameter PVC sewer & drain pipe or sheet metal.

Check back later this week to see an article on mounting systems, predator guards, and predation mitigation.

Mounting nest boxes on trees, fence posts, or the sides of buildings is not a good practice.  Predators and other undesirable visitors can easily reach nest boxes mounted in this fashion.  If you have a nest box that hasn’t had any nesting activity in the past two years, relocate it to another suitable spot.  Put molded wood fiber nest cups in your nest boxes to facilitate monitoring activities during the nesting season.  Nest cups enable you to safely remove and replace nests without physically damaging them.  Nest cups can be purchased at wild song bird supply stores or ordered through the Internet.

Tip:  Possessing real wild song bird nests and unhatched eggs is illegal unless you are properly licensed by federal, state, and local government agencies.  If you are a wild song bird lecturer or exhibitor and wish to display nests, you can make very realistic simulated nests including eggs.  Artificial eggs can be purchased at craft stores and painted as needed.

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Simulated bluebird nest in a nest cup — 01/15/2008

If you have questions regarding eastern bluebirds, Email Bluebird Shepherd.

Bluebird Shepherd

Yum, yum!

January 8, 2008

“Timothy” Titmouse loves his peanuts. He stops by frequently during the day to snack.

Timothy Titmouse

“Timothy” Titmouse snacking on peanuts — 01/08/2007

Bluebird Shepherd


Bluebirds and side view mirrors!

January 7, 2008

Bluebirds often occupy themselves by flying to a car parked in your yard and watching themselves in the side view mirrors.  When these antics occur outside of nesting season, they are amusing except for the bird mess left on the car.  During nesting season bluebirds become very territorial and can mistake their own images for competing bluebirds. Bluebirds have been known to injure themselves attacking and flying into mirrors and windows during nesting season. Watch for this activity and drape an old towel over the side view mirrors of your cars to block the view.  Also check the windows of your house to be sure the bluebirds don’t see their own reflections.  You can draw the shades or blinds to block the reflections.  In more difficult cases put plastic film over the windows to eliminate reflections.

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Bluebird admiring itself in side view mirror — 01/07/2008

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Bluebird perched on side view mirror after admiring itself — 01/07/2008

Bluebird Shepherd

Birds need to eat frequently to maintain their body heat.

January 2, 2008

It’s a cold windy day here in Piedmont North Carolina.  The temperature at 3 PM was 33 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wild song birds must eat frequently on cold days to maintain their body heat.  It is very important to keep plenty of food and fresh water available for them especially when it is cold.  If possible, try to put out food that is acceptable to all wild song birds that visit your yard.  Suet is a low-cost high-energy food that nearly all common wild song birds will eat. 

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Bluebird eating suet — 01/02/2008

Cardinal eating suet

Cardinal eating suet — 01/02/2008

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Robin eating suet — 01/02/2008

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Red-bellied Woodpecker eating suet — 01/02/2008

Nuthatch eating seed mix

Nuthatch eating my special seed mix — 01/02/2008

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Finches eating my special seed mix — 01/02/2008

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Finches eating thistle seed — 01/02/2008

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Titmouse drinking water — 01/02/2008

(birdbath is equipped with a 50–watt thermostatically controlled submersible heater)

For the money, it is hard to beat suet as a general purpose food for wild song birds especially in the winter.  Don’t forget the fresh water and please remember that a frozen birdbath is worthless to the birds.

Bluebird Shepherd