Preparing for Bluebirds
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Ken Kernodle awed the audience at Cunningham Research Station on February 20 with his detailed tips on getting bluebirds to nest on their property. Sixty-four were in attendance to hear the details of how we can help these birds continue to raise their young in our area.
At one time, the native Eastern Bluebird was one of North Carolina’s most common songbirds. In the late 1970’s, bluebirds were declared rare and uncommon. Several factors contributed to the decline including the loss of natural nesting sites, the introduction of invasive species and pesticide use. Kernodle encouraged everyone to install nest boxes and invite bluebirds to nest where they can be enjoyed.
Now is the time to get boxes installed because male bluebirds are beginning to locate a nesting site and attracting a female. Once a female accepts a site, she will do most of the nest building while the male warns other males to stay away. She uses dry grasses or pine needles to construct a nest taking as few as five days or as long as three weeks.
There can be up to three nesting cycles per season. The first cycle in our area is in April resulting in about five eggs. The second cycle is from May through June resulting in four eggs. The third cycle begins in July and continues through August and three eggs are commonly produced. About 90 percent of the eggs laid by bluebirds are blue in color but 10 percent can be white. It is important to clean out the nest material between each clutch. Bluebird parents keep their nests very clean but occasionally a quick wipe down with a white vinegar and water solution may be needed.
The adult birds begin feeding the young immediately after hatching with soft insects and increase to coarser foods gradually. The parents also keep the nest clean by removing the fecal sacs which enclose the nestlings’ waste. Hatchlings usually fledge from the nest when they are 18 days old. They can fly fifty to 100 feet on their first flight. It is ideal if there are shrubs or small trees near the nest for the young birds to land in. The parents continue to feed the young birds during this time. The bluebird diet is 70 percent insects: grasshoppers, crickets and worms of all kinds. They are especially fond of meal worms. In the winter months they consume berries and will appreciate peanut butter when the weather is bad. Peanut butter can be spread on a small strip of ½ or ¼ inch hardware cloth and hung on a tree.
The male bluebird continues to feed the young while the female prepares for additional nesting. Surprisingly, the first nesting young may help feed the nestlings from subsequent nestings. Bluebirds do flock together and are joined by migrant northern bluebirds and roam looking for berries. Nest boxes are used in winter by groups of birds to avoid extreme cold weather.