We still have snow on the ground, but The Clarence Bluebird Trail is getting ready for spring. I spent a sunny but chilly afternoon checking all of our nest boxes for winter damage. Some of our boxes were easily accessible while others required me to don my snowshoes. After schlepping approximately four miles, I have a list of repairs and possible plans for this year.
Owners of Bluebird nestboxes should check the condition of the boxes in early spring. Birds are already scoping out nesting sites, and a damaged box will look unappealing to prospective tenants. In western New York, winters can reek havoc on the boxes.
Although you can stain or paint the outside of a nestbox, we keep ours natural. Over time the wood will weather and warp from nature’s changing seasons. We can seal small gaps in construction with caulk, but cracked or rotting panels will mean a replacement is in order.
Bluebirds are particular about their front doors. Eastern Bluebirds should have an entrance hole measuring 1½” to 19/16″ in diameter. Even if Bluebirds don’t visit our boxes during the winter, other animals might. If the entrance hole is enlarged (e.g., by woodpeckers or chewing rodents), a hole reducer made from metal is an excellent remedy. Attaching a new block of wood with the correct size hole can be an affordable fix as well.
We mount all of our houses on metal posts. These prevent most creatures from crawling up and into our boxes. They also don’t rot like wooden posts. Unfortunately, wind and frost heaving can loosen the poles. If the ground is thawed enough, we can reposition them. It is best to do this before any nesting attempts.
Sometimes posts and boxes are damaged beyond repair. We occasionally find damage from snowmobilers, but it is rare. Most snowmobile enthusiasts in our area are very considerate towards our boxes. When we do see a nestbox or pole knocked down or destroyed, we replace it as soon as possible.
Most of our boxes are in good condition. Some need new signage or a latch nail replaced, but these are easy fixes. Others require a little more maintenance, which we will discuss at our spring meeting.
Our Spring Meeting 2018 will be March 31 at 10 AM at Zion Lutheran Church in Clarence Center, NY. All are welcome to attend. We will review our progress from last year, discuss plans for nesting this year, educate new volunteers, and answer any questions about our organization.
Until then, welcome back the bluebirds and enjoy the change of seasons.
Well, folks, the breeding season has come to a close and our little Bluebirds are getting ready for winter. Like every year, we had successes and failures. Most of our failures are due to nature’s fury and there isn’t much we can do about it. Our job is to provide appropriate nest boxes for the birds and monitor them regularly to get data and we seem to be doing a good job at that.
Our annual end of the year meeting is scheduled for 10 AM on September 28 at Zion Lutheran Church, 9535 Clarence Center Rd, Clarence Center, NY 14032. We will highlight our stats and practices used during the year. I took some time to check our data and create some graphs for the meeting. Since this is the Clarence Bluebird Trail’s 5th year of monitoring, I decided to create some graphs to show trends over time. If you’re interested in seeing all of the data, please feel free to join us at the meeting.
Here are the basic statistics from the 2017 Nesting Season:
We did quite well this year. We had 44 Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) fledge from our nest boxes. That is a 46% increase over last year. We received a good amount of rain during the breeding season but only found Blowfly larva on a couple occasions. These parasites are more prevalent in hot, humid conditions and can kill adults and young in the nest.
Although we had multiple unhatched eggs this year, we only lost one Bluebird nestling. We also found a dead adult Bluebird in one of our boxes, cause unknown. Besides parasites, there are other causes of Bluebird mortality, including predators, disease, habitat destruction (nests destroyed by nature or human activity), extreme weather, pesticides, and invasive species.
Our boxes are prime nesting for other species of birds. We fledged 31 Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) and 10 House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon). We didn’t have any Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) nesting this year and not a single House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) fledged from our boxes. House Sparrows are an invasive and destructive species. We use every method at our disposal to humanely reduce their reproduction.
Our nesting success has increased every year since the inception of The Clarence Bluebird Trail in 2013. As stewards for the Eastern Bluebird, our group should be proud of the work we have accomplished. We have increased the numbers of diverse avian wildlife and continue to improve the Eastern Bluebird’s conservation status. We have also improved our community by providing an opportunity for people to give something back to nature.
Well, after collecting a lot of data, we can show off some of our numbers. Our feathered friends came out early this year and there have been many successful nest attempts. A successful attempt is when at least one bird fledges from the nest. Of course, we hope for more.
We currently monitor 16 Bluebird (Sialia sialis) nest boxes in the Town of Clarence. We removed two boxes last year plagued by House Sparrows (Passer domesticus). We hope to house Bluebirds, but the boxes are great for other beneficial cavity nesters. We frequently find House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon), Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), and Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus).
The birds started nesting in early April. Here are our stats so far:
We've had 11 nest attempts by Bluebirds, with 5 producing fledged young. There was a total of 21 Bluebird fledglings from our boxes. We love seeing them grow from tiny blue eggs.
Tree Swallows have been using many of our boxes. There was a total of 5 successful attempts out of 8 boxes, giving us 24 fledglings. We also have 3 active House Wren nests. They still have eggs in them so we will have to wait and see.
Some of the nest attempts aren't successful for various reasons. Eggs may not hatch or young die due to genetics or environmental conditions. Eggs can sometimes disappear, usually because of a predator or another bird. We've even had whole nests go missing. We try to make safe and appropriate nest boxes for the birds, but there are only so many precautions we can take. Much is up to Mother Nature.
One precaution we take is preventing the nesting of House Sparrows. This invasive species can destroy eggs, kill nestlings, and kill adult Bluebirds. After destroying a nest they will take over the box and start a nest of their own. It can be devastating to see this happen, so we remain vigilant and quickly remove a House Sparrow nest as soon as possible. We might have to remove their nests many times from a box before they give up and move on.
It may seem discouraging dealing with these little buggers, but knowing that we are giving other birds, especially Bluebirds, a chance to succeed, gives us hope. And a little hope can make all the difference in the world.
We had our first meeting of 2017, but that doesn’t mean the birds waited for us. Even before we sat down to discuss plans for some of our boxes and review our previous year’s stats, the birds were busy making nests and laying eggs. The weather has been nice, so I can’t blame them. The birds got a head start on us and we have to play catch up.
We temporarily reduced the number of our nestboxes. The two at the local library were inundated with House Sparrows, so we wanted to prevent them from using them. As soon as we find a new location for them, we will let you know.
Our crew has been checking boxes and making repairs where necessary. Some of them received damage during the winter, but we have a few extra on hand for just such an emergency. When we check the boxes, we sometimes get lucky and spot some Bluebirds courting. I didn’t have that kind of luck, but I did get some nice photos of one on his nestbox.
I was lucky that he held still long enough for me to take the shots. He flew off right after, but it allowed me to check the box and count the 3 eggs in the nest without disturbing him. With a little more luck, I should be able to get some nice pictures of the young in two weeks. Keep your wings crossed.
If this crazy weather has you wondering when spring will arrive, you’re not alone. If you’re wondering when the Bluebirds will return, well, some may already be here looking for the perfect home to start their family.
Spring officially won’t begin for a couple of weeks, but the wildlife don’t use the same type of calendar that we do. Warmer temperatures will entice migratory birds back to their breeding grounds. So that means The Clarence Bluebird Trail needs to get ready.
Our 2017 Spring Meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 22, at 10:00 AM. We will meet at Zion Lutheran Church, 9535 Clarence Center Road, Clarence Center, NY, to discuss our new year of nest box monitoring. All are welcome.
At our meeting, you can get information on our monitoring program. You can learn:
- what type of nest box is best for Eastern Bluebirds
- how and where to install the nest box
- how to identify various species, their nests, and eggs
- how to monitor the birds during the breeding season
- what type of data we collect
- how we help with Eastern Bluebird conservation in Western New York
If you would like to join our organization but are unable to attend the meeting, please feel free to contact us. We can arrange some time to instruct you and pair you up with a bird buddy if you don’t already have one.
We are always happy to have volunteers join us in our conservation mission. After all…it’s for the birds.
Well, here they are. We have the results of this year’s nest box data. Honestly, I hate to close out the year. We did well with our Bluebird (Sialia sialis) fledgling numbers, and I was hoping our group could meet to review them. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts prevented that.
Therefore, along with the regular stats, I thought I would include some charts to show the progress of The Clarence Bluebird Trail over the last few years.
Even though many of our lawns are brown from lack of rain, we have been busy with our nest boxes this year. I intended to post an update earlier in the season, but we ran into a few hiccups with entering data on the NestWatch site. After spending a couple of days furiously entering and compiling, I found I was still behind. The birds were laying many eggs. Hey, they don’t wait for us. They work on their own timetable.
Now that we have a good amount of our data, and even some photos and videos, I feel confident at giving you a review of how our nest boxes are doing this season.
For those that aren’t familiar with our organization, we have 18 nest boxes in the Clarence area. These are located at Beeman Creek Park, Memorial Park, Peanut Line Bike Path, West Shore Bike Path, and the Clarence Town Library. All the sites have grassy fields, with large trees nearby—ideal habitat for the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis).
Our volunteers check the boxes every few days and log when an avian species uses them for breeding. Our small crew works hard maintaining the boxes, identifying the nesting species and jotting down all the information.
Although it is only the end of July, we are well on our way to beating our end of the year total for 2015.
In the chart above, you can see various totals. A nest attempt is any nest with at least one egg present. The data allows us to keep track of the number of eggs laid, number of chicks that hatch, and the number that eventually fledge the nest.
This data is from multiple species of birds in the area. Although we are concerned with providing Bluebirds a safe nesting place, House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon), Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus), Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), and House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) also use the boxes.
The Eastern Bluebird
We have had 10 nest attempts for Bluebirds so far this season. Our nest boxes allowed 20 young Bluebirds to fledge successfully. We are thrilled with every success and hope to see a few more. We currently have three active Bluebird nests, one with a few partially feathered young.
The Tree Swallow
The Tree Swallows are insectivores, just like Bluebirds. They are very beneficial and, like most birds, are a protected species. There were six nest attempts, with 19 fledglings. Our most successful broods had 5-6 young fledge.
This year I was able to film some nest box checks. Here is one of a Tree Swallow. The female even stayed in the box while I filmed.
The House Wren
The House Wren is a small bird with big aspirations. Besides making nests in our Bluebird nest boxes, they will also create dummy nests in nearby boxes to lessen the chance of rival birds. It‘s not too hard to tell the difference between the two, especially when the tiny Wren’s eggs show up in the nest shortly after it is made.
There were 10 nesting attempts by House Wrens, with 23 fledglings so far. We still have three active Wrens nests with young, so we still have to wait for the final totals at the end of the season.
The Black-capped Chickadee
In the past, we had Chickadees nest in some of our boxes. This year we weren’t so lucky. They have been seen at some of the sites, but the chose other locations for raising their families.
The House Sparrow
This common bird is very difficult to deal with. House Sparrows are an invasive species, and wreak havoc on other birds. They will not only destroy eggs and young of other nesting birds in the area, but also the adults. To make matters worse, they like to use the Bluebird nest boxes as well.
House Sparrows will occasionally visit some of our sites. Our best defense is to remove any nests started by the House Sparrow before they start breeding. Because the House Sparrows are not afraid of people, they will nest in the eaves of buildings and signage. They see our boxes are prime real estate.
This is constant issue with the nest boxes at the Clarence Town Library. Our goal was to utilize two nest boxes at the library and fit one with a nest camera for a live feed inside the building. Unfortunately, the invasive species plague that site. We have removed over twenty partial House Sparrow nests from the boxes, and I personally have witnessed the birds attacking Tree Swallows at one of the boxes. At this time, it is not advisable to install a camera in a box that will not produce nesting footage.
After the season is through, our group will discuss if the library site is still a good fit for the Bluebird nest boxes. In fact, that is what we do each year. We review our totals and determine the best placement for the nest boxes, in order to provide optimal nesting for the Eastern Bluebird.
We still have a couple of months of breeding left for the year. Thanks to our volunteers, we will continue to check the boxes and collect data. It can be hot, or muggy, but with persistence and patience, we can aid our state bird in increasing its numbers.
For those interested in helping, it is not too late. Feel free to contact us. You can spend time outdoors, aiding wildlife, and being part of our bird loving community. After all, it’s for the birds.
It’s that time again. The snow is gone—we hope, the birds are chirping, and we have a little spring-cleaning to do, but not before we make a plan.
The Clarence Bluebird Trail will be having their spring meeting of 2016 on Saturday, April 23 at 1:00 pm, at the Clarence Public Library, located at 3 Town Place, Clarence, NY 14031. Please stop by if you are in the area and would like to find out more about our organization, or become a volunteer.
We will be reviewing past years’ progress, learning facts about the Eastern Bluebird, and planning for a busy season of monitoring. Remember, it’s for the birds.
It’s February and that means many things to the bird enthusiasts. First, The Great Backyard Bird Count is fast approaching. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society launched the event in 1998. It was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.
The event is February 12-15, 2016 and all you have to do to participate is sign up online and count the number and kind of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world! If you are new to this event, you can register online.
Many participants choose to count from their own backyards, especially if they have one or more birdfeeders filled for their avian visitors. That leads us to a second event in February, National Bird Feeding Month.
Enacted to raise awareness of the needs of our feathered friends during the winter, National Bird Feeding Month fits perfectly with The Great Backyard Bird Count. During the cold winter months, wild birds have greater difficulty finding food to sustain them. Food supplies are low due to the reduced vegetation, lack of insects and the sometimes frozen ground. You can help them out by providing feeders filled with appropriate seed, until spring arrives.
What is the perfect birdfeeder? Well, that depends on what you want to attract. So, here is a little guide to help you decide.
Our busy year has come to a close. All of our nest boxes have been empty for a while, and we doubt we will have any more new nests. We have had great success at many of our sites. Here are some of our stats.