May All Your Birds be Blues (Bluebirds)
Our February 8, 2020 program on Bluebirds was well attended, attesting the popularity of bluebirds with their striking color, musical voices, and gentle habits.
Faith Jones from the Florida Bluebird Society gave an interesting presentation full of facts, pictures, and sounds. She started the presentation by talking about how birds of all kinds are in decline despite an increasing interest in birds and birdwatching (now the second most popular hobby after gardening).
Birds need four things to survive and thrive: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young. Threats to birds include
- Predators – other birds, raccoons, fire ants,snakes, and cats ( cats kill 3.9 million birds per year)
- Insecticides – biggest threat, may not kill birds outright, but will affect their health and reproduction as well as depleting their food supply
- Habitat destruction - trees, native plant food sources, and shelter are disappearing
Bluebirds eat berries, but they are primarily insect eaters. Faith explained that native plants attract 96% more insects than non-native plants, providing bluebirds with the food they and their young need. A list of native plants for bluebirds was distributed and can be downloaded from Passionflower.FNPSchapters.org/resources.
Using a display nest box, Faith explained how bluebirds are cavity nesters, but they cannot excavate a cavity. They therefore have to rely on cavities in tree snags abandoned by other species such as woodpeckers. Nest boxes, if properly designed and installed, provide an alternative. The preferred design Includes:
- 1 ½” opening with metal rim or 2nd piece of wood to deter woodpeckers from enlarging the opening (a program attendee suggested a piece of sheet metal between the two wood pieces which Faith thought was a great idea)
- Ventilation and drainage holes
- Predator guard on mounting post (stovepipe and hardware cloth design is effective and inexpensive) to prevent raccoons and snakes from getting to the box
- Box that is 5-7 inches deep
- Must open for monitoring (once a week during nesting season except once eggs have hatched and chick’s eyes have opened) and cleaning (remove old nests after nesting season in fall)
- Roof large enough for weather and predator protection and shade
- Located in open area 100 yards apart (bluebirds are territorial – if boxes are too close neither will be used)
Faith also showed pictures of the nests of birds (including bluebirds, chickadees and titmice) that will use bluebird nestboxes and went through the timeline for nest building, incubating, and fledging. More info on box design and bluebirds can be found at https://floridabluebirdsociety.org/bluebird_nestbox/