It’s been about 5 weeks since I posted about the nest box.
[Side note: nest box and nestbox are both used to talk about the same thing… and don’t ask me why, but while I can’t ever remember spelling “gray” with an “a” unless I am thinking about spelling it ‘weirdly’ for me (I use an “e”), I tend to use nest box or nestbox as the mood and flow take me…sorry folks, I hope it’s not too annoying!]
So the nestbox adventure so far: It’s been boring, eventful, busy, exciting, and hopeful at various times.
I have videos up on Ryan’s youtube of most of the trail camera pictures, it’s the only way to squeeze all those pictures into something reasonable to view. Here are the main points of what’s happened, and some of the best pictures taken with the trail camera or my cell phone.
For starters, I didn’t have any activity for a week or two it seemed, and eventually I was worried that the wobbly purple sled (home made hopefully predator guard) was spooking birds, so I took it down. Picture me on a ladder, untwisting the wires holding the nestbox to the 2×4 upright, pulling the box gently down, unscrewing the two scrap wood blocks holding the sled from moving up the 2×4, working the sled up and off, and then putting the nestbox and blocks back. I put the blocks back to keep them around in case I saw any predators casing the nest box.
So a few days later, when I did have some activity, it manifested inside the box. A small pile of twigs… Goody, the house wren male is already trying out the box. Boo… Well, could be worse, it’s just sticks and if I can’t deter him, maybe I can watch the wren raise babies.
I removed a small stack of sticks (less than an inch tall, loosely stacked), and a few days later, I removed another small stack. The second was only maybe 5-10 sticks. I was lazy and just dropped them below the nestbox — which makes it easy for the wren to just pick them back up, but then again, the neighbor’s yard, the open area behind our yard, and our front yard have trees and sticks, so it’s not like it would take a long time to find more anyway.
After removing the first two starts made by the wren, there was a while of inactivity again. The sticks may have not even been actual attempts at building a nest to use, it could have been just to crowd out any other birds in the area. They also may have been an actual nest that wasn’t built far enough for him to show off to a female, who then may or may not have been impressed enough to use them. It didn’t have a lined nest cup, which means it was legit to remove the sticks at this point. I don’t know if he decided to give up on annexing my nestbox, or got busy with nesting for real in a nest box in the neighbors yard, I don’t know. I do hear house wrens quite often (like almost every time I go outside during the day), so they’ve not left the area. I didn’t think to take pictures of the sticks, sorry. Imagine a small pile of 4 inch long twigs thinner than a pencil, almost in a sort of cup/circle shape if you squint, and put in the bottom of the nestbox.
And after a week or so of nothing, I was somewhere else in the neighborhood and saw an Eastern Bluebird and was like “HMMM if I can’t get swallows, maybe, maybe a bluebird? Or I can give the nest box spares to someone near here, for this bird?” And then a day later, I saw a bluebird on one of the fences in the backyard area, and was super excited…
And then in a less than a day, my nest box check revealed a grass cup. Internet searches said that bluebirds use dried grasses, basically only dried grass. Looking good!
I may have already mentioned that I can see the nestbox from several vantages, including the bedroom and the bathroom if I don’t close the door… and I spent a LOT of time staring at it. I discovered I could zoom my phone camera in to it’s max, and then hold it in alignment to one eye piece of my old binoculars and it actually focuses and takes … ok pictures.
And slowly, the grass got piled taller and taller in the box, and I saw both a male and female bluebird coming and going quite frequently. There was a day of really REALLY intense rain, so some was wet. I don’t know if I should have, but I left the side a crack open for the next afternoon, the whole nest was moist. I was worried it was from leaks, but I think it was just they brought in wet grass, and the wind may have blown in some moisture from the really intense rain.
The nest dried, but there was a sort of hiatus in activity, which I hoped was just because it was wet and cold for a day or two, also when it did get sunnier, I ended up mowing the yard, and a day or so later, the replacement of the roof started. That was pretty noisy.
Happily, after a few days of nice weather, activity got back into high gear.
Ryan kept nagging me “you’re going to make them leave and never come back if you keep messing with them!” And I would say “I need to know when they lay their first egg, so I can put the wren guard up!” …. and yes, I was monitoring every day, for the most part. In my defense, I was usually only zipping up the ladder which lived in place, quickly opening the box, snapping a picture, and closing up and leaving basically as fast as I could. I did try to start to restrain myself to maybe every other day or less frequently as they showed more progress with the nest.
And about this time I was starting to get serious about needing to get out and put up the wren guard, but there were a few other projects that I was roped into… I was hoping that since bluebirds have nested for generations before humans, maybe they could be ok without me for a while.
I wanted to get the wren guard up before they were done laying so I could make sure they had figured out and were willing to go back in after I put it up. If they laid another egg after it went up, then they probably had got the knack. Also, eggs without the wren guard risk being pecked or removed by the wrens.
I managed to finally add the wren guard, I got a hinge I thought would work, but it ended up balancing too much toward the nestbox. So I tried to stabilize the hinge with a twist tie, which was a small improvement. I then spent about an hour staring out the windows, to see if the bluebirds would come back and try to go in.
Both of them did. And they didn’t seem to be able to squeeze/fly in to get to the hole. Knowing my design wasn’t perfect, and after watching the male and female on the top of the box, trying to figure out how to get in… and then when the female started to try to pull the twist tie off she looked so distressed and desperate… and I just melted so I did a quick “what other building materials can I use?!?” … and I found a piece of scrap from the roof project. I didn’t take the time to cut it shorter, so I was a bit unhappy with the length, but I wanted to move fast. The birds did figure out how to get past it that evening, as I was able to make the flap hang farther from the house and hole.
You can also see the set-up I used to hold the trail camera in place, it’s on a spare 2×4 lashed to a curb-alert free hanging swing frame that I will fix later… or not, I like having the hanging plants on it (not in picture). I’ll put the trail camera pictures in at the bottom. Obviously, there is a fourth egg, so mom is able to get in and out. Also, I often hear a sort of soft brushing/scraping noise and flutter when I go to do the check, or sometimes if I go to mess with my plants in the back end of the yard. It’s one of the birds, bailing out of the nest box so a predator doesn’t trap them in the box. Mom zipped out when I went to take the above pictures and then she gave me the evil eye for a while from the fence before flying off to a more covered location.
The weather changed a few days later and brought a LOT of strong wind. The wren guard flap was flapping so much I was worried the birds would have trouble getting past it, so I took the chance to go cut it down. I also had wanted to put some sort of edging on the …edge of the metal, in case it was sharp on their feet. So I added a strip of duct tape folded around the edge.
Bluebirds can lay more than 4 eggs in a clutch, but the weather keeps having cooler snaps, which may slow her down from laying eggs, it’s harder to get food when the insects she eats are less active. Or maybe she only feels comfortable with 4 eggs in the location. And here is the last set of nest peek pictures I have, taken today, the 16th of June.
So with four eggs since at the latest, the 8th, I think she probably started sitting on them at some point, as usually an egg is added about every day. I do want to keep a watch every few days, because I want to know when the eggs should hatch, and after that at about day 4-6 I need to take the wren guard down. There would still be danger from the wrens, but the babies will need a lot of food, and that’s a lot of going past the guard, which will stress the parents, so it comes down.
So that’s the pictures I have from me taking them. Here are the coolest trail camera pictures, hopefully in order. When the camera was positioned in front of the box, instead of to the side, I think they often sat on the camera top…
And here is one of my favorite pictures because it looks like a GIANT bird has landed on the house across the street… instead of a normal sized bird is in our yard…
I think the next photograph actually is not a product of a water droplet on the lense… I think the birds wings really were flexed that much… it’s amazing and beautiful and a bit mind-warping to look at!
This is the last big chunk of pictures. Some of the early one are the male and female, all sorts of sad and confused on top of the new wren guard… and then I go and switch guards and move the trail camera so it will see from the side of the box. There are two pictures I kept to show how widely flexible the metal flap turned out to be, touching the box at the base from one wind gust and almost a foot from the box at other times from the wind gusts. I also get pictures of other birds, sometimes sparrows or grackles or red-winged blackbirds, but usually, it’s robins…
Well, that’s about it for this update on the ‘swallow’ nest box! Interestingly, someone farther down the neighborhood where I first saw the bluebird said they usually get bluebirds in their nestboxes but this year they had several swallow families fill them up instead. We joked that maybe these were the bluebirds that nested there last year, and when they spotted this box, they were like “MINE!!!” Oh, well. Bluebirds are beautiful as well, and one of my Dad’s favorite birds, which we don’t have the habitat to spot around their house, so this is kind of fun having them here. It’s been weird seeing and hearing them so often!
I did find homes in the neighborhood for the other two nest boxes, both takers promised to clean them out at the end of the season, and be responsible housekeepers, so I am pretty hopeful they will eventually be put to use by some great bird families.
Thanks for checking in, I’ll try to keep the progress posted as I get time. Wish our bluebird family luck!