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Are those Eastern or Western bluebirds?

Which of the bluebirds, Eastern or Western, would be found in Boerne (30 miles NW of San Antonio)? We will be relocating there would like to know which ones to expect and build a home for.

The only nesting bluebird in that area will be the Eastern Bluebird. Both Western and Mountain Bluebird may be seen in the winter, but neither nest anywhere east of the Guadalupe mountains (west Texas) in Texas.

Clean or leave nestbox alone?

I have a nest box that Eastern Bluebirds have nested in previously. A pair has been hanging around the box again this year. Should I clean out the old nest that's still in it or leave it alone?

Look in the box. If it looks like the old nest from last year, remove it. If only one nest from last year is in the box and the pair have started nesting, leave it be. It would not be unusual for the bluebirds to start nesting in mid February in Texas. If it is the old nest, the nesting material (if grass) will be a slight brownish color much like silver tarnish. The grass may also be matted down if babies fledged last summer with bird fecal matter strewn about. If this is the appearance of the contents of the box, then go ahead and remove the old nest. I hope this helps. TBS Board member, R. David Shiels

The most prevalent school of thought is that nests should be cleaned out each time the young fledge. One advantage is that removing the old nest keeps the next nest that is built at a safe (from predators) distance from the entry hole. Pauline Tom

Yes it is better to clean out the nest as soon as the young leave the nest. This reduces the chances of mites or lice building up populations in the nestbox and also keeps the new nest and eggs lower down in the nestbox and further away from predators. Bluebirds are beginning to build nests in Texas now and should begin laying eggs in about 2-4 weeks. If you have any other questions be sure to write again. Thanks Keith Kridler

Can eggs survive 30 degree temperatures?

In doing a nest check Sunday during 30 degree temps I found a female on her nest. I checked again yesterday and found two eggs. Could the eggs survive the 15 degree night temps we had for 3 days? I assume she laid the first on Sat or Sun. Thank you (from Tolar, TX , SW of Ft. Worth, March'02)

You may have some of these eggs that will not hatch. It seems to vary as to how cold these eggs can get and still survive. She will probably lay a couple more and these should be fine, sometimes the female will actually brood these early eggs during really cold temperatures and they would then be fine. I normally see only 1-3 eggs hatch out of 5 when we have temperatures similar to this past cold front and the female was not staying in the box. Let us know what happens and don't be surprised if she covers these up and starts a new nest in a week to 10 days. Keith Kridler

What can I plant for birds and wildlife?

Texas Native Plants That Provide Food For Bluebirds PDF (31KB)

A few links that may be helpful for you:
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
National Wildlife Federation
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Nest Identification and Tree Frogs

I have 3 boxes up. One in parent's large, wild, suburban backyard. One in horse's pasture. One at local suburban retention pond. (hoping to regain this for habitat). All 3 locations bluebirds seen and heard - and I have been checking the boxes. The box at pond has a tree frog in it - I need to remove - assuming it is dead.(Not what I had expected). Now for question: this week noted a nest in the box in horse pasture. I have seen the chickadees flitting in and out of that box for days. Assumed dee nest but still hoping for bluebirds. Now - today - I noted 2 bluebirds sitting on the box and inspecting the box. So...What happens in that case? Dees and bluebirds both in and out of the box? Whose nest could it be? What if dee made the nest - what would bluebird do if he/she wanted to claim it? This is a situation I had not considered. Today was the only day I noted the bluebirds on the box. One was peeking in it - then both perched on top. Any advice/help appreciated. When I last checked - the nest was made of pine needles and grass - rather a donut shape - and no bottom (ie just sides - but then again I have no idea what to expect). (still learning). (I don't know what a bb nest should look like or a dee nest - sorry) (no eggs yet). Thanks in advance, Susan in NW Houston.

Hello! Wow you have a pretty interesting start to the season! Tree frogs of several species will sometimes sleep in natural cavities or nestboxes. You can probably leave it in the box if it is alive and the birds will probably disturb it enough that it will want to leave on it's own pretty soon but the frog will not prevent the birds from nesting. It is pretty rare to find these in nestboxes....Enjoy this "find"! HMM normally when I find tree frogs in a box it is because the box is mounted to a tree....Normally boxes mounted to trees are more likely to be raided by snakes, squirrels and other four legged predators. How are you boxes installed?

You have competition between the Carolina Chickadee's and the Eastern Bluebirds for a limited number of nest sites....In these cases the bluebirds normally win and the nest you describe is the bluebirds. In the next couple of days the female will fill in the bottom of the nestcup and you can probably expect eggs in about 10 days.

The chickadees nearly always begin their nests with a deep base of green moss and then line it with fur. They often "hide" their eggs under a layer of fur when they leave the nest so it often appears as if there is an empty nest one day and then 5-7 eggs the next! These birds will only lay one egg a day though! Normally chickadees like to nest near mature trees in a fairly wooded area while bluebirds prefer the forest edge or clearings to nest near.

To help out the chickadees try placing another "bluebird" nestbox about 75-100 feet away, closer or into the edge of the woods and install a "hole reducer" simply a small block of wood over the normal entrance hole to make a new smaller entrance hole that is only 1&1/4" round as this will allow the chickadees to enter but not the bluebirds. When the Chickadees are done nesting you can remove this smaller entrance hole reducer and you will have another "bluebird" box again as chickadees and titmice normally only nest once and early in the spring.

It sounds like you really need a few more nestboxes if you are seeing that many bluebirds and chickadees....I really like to have 3 or 4 nestboxes per city lot to allow different native cavity nesting birds to nest. Write if you have more questions! Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas

Do bluebirds migrate?

Do bluebirds migrate in Texas / to Texas? What are the patterns of each of the three species within Texas?

Bluebirds generally don't seem to migrate within the state but do come here from more northern states. They move around in winter in search of feeding areas. Eastern bluebirds are common throughout the eastern 2/3 of the state and in winter Western and Mountain bluebirds are most abundant in the western 2/3 of the state.

When should I install a nestbox?

The answer on this question is always "now" :-) For this nesting season some birds began active nest site selection in January - for their first nesting. But, there's still time! In Texas, some bluebird pairs have 3 or 4 clutches, when a well-ventilated nestbox is placed in the shade to allow for successful hot weather nestings. Fall and winter are also great times to install a nestbox. As bluebirds move around in groups during these months they will see potential nesting spots.

 

What are the chances of attracting a pair of EB installing a nestbox in my suburban area yard?

We have board members in Highland Village and Keller with bluebirds nesting in their small suburban backyards. To a great extent, bluebird populations are limited by the lack of cavities that are necessary for them to raise their young. You can provide for that need, and attract bluebirds, with a nestbox. Go ahead and get it installed now. The birds will see it in the winter and may use it for roosting on cold winter nights. By next month they will begin claiming nestboxes. The bluebirds that nested in my front yard nestbox last year "chose" the nestbox on January 1st. There are plans for an appropriate-for-Texas nestbox on our website. Also, we have some of these "TB-series" nestboxes available in some areas for a membership / nestbox exchange. If available, with a $15 family membership you'd get a free nestbox. There are other native cavity nesting birds that may use the "bluebird" nestbox, including wrens, titmice and chickadees.

Will the noise and racket of a mowers affect the nesting mother or any fledglings?

The value of the mowed grass (making it easy for bluebirds to see insects on the ground) will far outweigh any disadvantage of the noise and racket. Take precaution so that the nestboxes are not bumped with the mower. I use a weedeater to trim close to my nestboxes. Bluebirds are quite tolerant of noise and activity, and some have noticed them following along behind a mower to catch the insects that are stirred up.