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Tag Archive | "bluebirds"

Seventeen and Twelve


Spring-cleaning time has arrived. Seventeen bird nest boxes contained last year’s nesting material at Ody Brook. The backyard supported an Eastern Bluebird family. House wrens arrived later in the spring and raised a family in the same box. We were concerned the wren might kill young bluebirds to gain nest box access but it did not.

This year I checked 29 nest boxes. Seventeen had nesting material and twelve were empty. Empty ones probably were not used to raise young but likely provided winter shelter. Boxes are in the field, shrub thickets, woods, and at pond’s edge in hopes of attracting a variety of 30 plus cavity nesting species.

Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and even the Great-crested Flycatchers nest in hollow living or dead trees. Lack of tree cavities could be a limiting factor that prevents bird reproductive success when hollow trees are removed from neighborhoods or are in short supply. Unless a tree poses a danger to the house or people, let them stand. Woodpeckers excavate cavities that other birds use in succeeding years. Fortunately dead trees stand for many years. People remove many for firewood and that makes nesting success difficult.

About 20 years ago a cherry tree died at the edge of the yard and it still stands through gale force winds. An Eastern Phoebe selected it as a favorite perch from which to hunt insects. The Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker considers it a great drumming tree. The dead wood resonates sound creating a loud territorial announcement. The barren tree provides great views of perching birds.

Install nest boxes to assist bird survival. Avoid placing them close to trails or where people regularly frequent. Most should be obscure of easy view to provide nesting privacy from predators and people. I have placed nest boxes in the woods to reduce nest cavity shortage. Boxes in the field serve Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds where they vie for the nesting space. Two boxes are placed within 15 feet of each other. Tree Swallows claim one and prevent other swallows from using the second box. Swallows do not object to bluebird neighbors but draw the line at other tree swallows. In effect the swallow helps bluebirds by protecting the second box from swallow use.

Wrens prefer shrubbery nearby. When shrubs grew too close for bluebirds, I cleared more area and bluebirds returned to use the box.

The Eastern Screech Owl nest box was not checked to make sure it is empty. We can see the nest box opening as we enter the carport and sometimes the owl peers out at us. The box is the same style used for Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Buffleheads. We have suitable habitat for Wood Ducks that are present each summer.

I clean nest boxes but let the birds do their own spring-cleaning in natural cavities. Hopefully nest cavities are not in short supply at Ody Brook. To help bird populations install nest boxes where you live. Our expanding human population is crowding birds out of neighborhoods so help by providing nest boxes. Hopefully clean water and food are abundant if pesticide and herbicide use is limited. Provide nest boxes and maybe you will have 17 occupied boxes and 12 empty ones. If water and food are plentiful, empty boxes might indicate adequate nesting space is present in nature niches.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.


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Helping Bluebirds

OUT-BluebirdRanger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Many people hope to attract Eastern Bluebirds to their yards. Bluebirds prefer moderate to large open areas. I maintain an open area in the backyard just large enough for bluebird acceptance. Now in early June they are starting a second brood for the year.

You can help bluebirds raise successful broods. Water is near by so it is not a critical concern but birdbaths are welcomed. Adequate food is essential. Bluebirds eat a large quantity of fruits and berries during the year and feed heavily on insects during the summer. Young are raised on an insect protein diet so maintain yards with rich insect populations.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s bluebird populations declined dramatically due to the use of pesticides like DDT. They were outlawed in the United States in the 1970’s. Since then bluebird populations have made good recovery. The neighbors changed pesticides allowed for use on crops. Some people do not like neighbors (government) regulating the use of pesticides because it takes away personal freedom. Unrestricted use takes away human life. Pesticides like DDT in human breast milk are not healthy. I substitute the word neighbors for government because it puts a face on who is really creating laws to balance, protect and benefit both society and individual rights.

Bluebirds are cavity nesters seeking hollow trees near open areas. People excessively remove dead trees from woodlots for firewood or to prevent a dead tree from falling and injuring someone. Cleaning the forest of dead trees prevents bluebirds and about 35 species of cavity nesting birds from successful breeding. Placing bluebird boxes throughout the area helps bluebird populations recover. Appropriate shelter remains an important limiting factor preventing bird-nesting success. Allowing dead trees to stand benefits nature niches. It is better to thin live trees from the forest than to cut dead trees. Thinning live trees allows remaining trees to grow healthier and faster. Some removal of dead trees for safety is needed.

Placement of nest boxes is critical. European Starlings are an abundant exotic species that kills bluebirds and other cavity nesters to use a cavity themselves. Keeping the cavity opening to 1 ¼ inch diameter prevents starling entrance. House sparrows are another exotic that enters and kills bluebirds and they enter a cavity hole the size needed for bluebirds. To reduce house sparrow predation, place nest boxes on post well away from trees and shrubs. House sparrows prefer to stay near woody vegetation.

When a nest box is placed in a large open area it appeals to Tree Swallows and they will compete with bluebirds for a nest cavity. Placing two nest boxes 12 to 15 feet apart can solve this problem. Tree swallows take one box and prevent other swallows from using the second box but they do not mind if bluebirds use it. Beyond 15 feet other swallows may compete with bluebirds for the nest box.

One additional nest box precaution. Place a predator guard over the entrance hole. Place a second board with a hole over the access to make it deeper. When a raccoon reaches in for eggs or young, it cannot bend its leg to reach them. Raccoons have become excessively abundant and are a major threat to successful nesting.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Helping Bluebirds

Ray Winnie
Kent County Credit Union


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