The combination of an otherwise overcast and dreary Sunday, a warm south wind, and the sighting of a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, male and female, this morning convinced me that it was time to traipse over these grassy hills I call home and clean out my bluebird trail boxes.
Regular readers know that I try to do my part for the survival of the Eastern Bluebird and I maintain a number of boxes over 20 acres of Kansas prairie. In fact, last year I got my own nest box design approved by the American Bluebird Society, which pleased me to no end. Regular cleaning of the nest boxes, removing old nests and debris, is important to keep disease and overwintering insects to a minimum and thus improve the fledgling rate from the boxes. And it must be done in the cold weather of late Fall, since the bluebirds begin nesting right after the worst of winter.
On this year's box cleaning hike, I found that 10 of 16 boxes had been occupied by nesting bluebirds, and three others looked like nests had been started but abandoned before completion. It's easy to tell a bluebird nest from other nests, for instance from those produced by wrens, because the bluebirds build a shallow messy nest, usually of grass, as pictured at the right. Heck, if I was starting my own nest in chilly February, as the bluebirds do here, I wouldn't be very particular about the construction either. I have three sets of boxes out; my new box design, which had 5 nests in 6 boxes; my older box design, which is identical except for a smaller lid and which had 4 nests in 6 boxes, and 4 older NABS-type boxes, only one of which was previously occupied.
There's always a little maintenance to do on the boxes and this year was no exception. The older-style box pictured at the left must have had a rough year, showing signs that it was pretty singed by the Spring burn here on the prairie, but it will make it another year, I think. I was most disturbed to find 3 boxes knocked off of the fence posts and lying on the ground. I'd never seen that before, but at least I don't think it was due to human activity. The pastured cattle this year were a bunch of steers who liked to rub under the boxes and I had already put one back up near the house that I had witnessed them trying to destroy. I don't know what complaint this particular group of steers had against bluebirds but this is the only year that I've seen them single-mindedly attack the boxes.
All in all, it was a pretty successful Bluebird year here on the prairie. Now I just need another warm day to get busy and build a few more boxes to replace some of the older ones. Happy Bluebird Trails to everyone!