Bluebird nestboxes and May Feeder Survey results

BIRD COLUMN FOR May 29, 2005

By Benjamin P. Burtt

1. A Reader’s question: how can I get more than one family of bluebirds to use nestboxes I have in a field back of my house? This question and the answer also appeared in the Post Standard today, May 29.
2. The results of the Feeder Survey for the first week of May

SECTION 1 : A READER’S QUESTION ABOUT BLUEBIRDS. This material appeared in the Post Standard today.

Mr. Burtt: I have five bluebird nest boxes in a field back of my house and each year we are lucky to have a pair of bluebirds use one of the boxes. Is there a way I can get bluebirds to use some of the other boxes too? W. P. Morrisville, NY

Dear W.P.: It is good to have several boxes available. Even when there is only one pair of bluebirds around, they are choosy and you never know which box they will like the best. It is good to give them a choice. Multiple boxes increase the chances that you will attract at least one pair of bluebirds.

CAPTION: The bluebird can be attracted to nest boxes placed in the correct location. This photograph of the male bluebird was taken by Robert Long of Syracuse.

Now we come to the crucial factor. Bluebirds are territorial and both the male and female will fight vigorously to keep other bluebirds out of the territory where they decide to nest. This territory is huge. A pair that has chosen a box will not allow other bluebirds to nest within 300 feet of their nest!

Tree swallows and house sparrows are attracted to bluebird boxes and are a serious competitor to the bluebird. If there is a quarrel over the box, the bluebird often loses and must go elsewhere.

All these other birds also have a territory that they defend against others of their own kind.

Now that we have learned about these territories and how each bird keeps others OF ITS OWN KIND away, we can use these habits to help the bluebird when we put out the nest boxes.

If you put up single boxes spaced 300 feet apart , tree swallows may take every one and the bluebird often gets left out.

It is better to put up two boxes about 10 to 15 feet apart. Now bluebird families will never occupy both boxes, but If a tree swallow gets one of the boxes first, it will keep other tree swallows away from the 2nd box, but it won’t object to a bluebird using it. This is the way you prevent tree swallows from taking all of the boxes.

Since bluebirds return from the south about March 10 and tree swallows wait until April 1, the bluebird will have a choice of of which of the pair of boxes it wants. Even if there is only one pair of bluebirds around, they are choosy and you never know which one they will like the best. Once they choose one they will keep other bluebirds from using the second box, but they will allow a tree swallow to use it.

If you would like to have more than one pair of bluebirds nesting on your land, put up another pair of boxes, but keep that pair at least 300 feet from the first pair. If you wish to add more boxes, remember a bluebird will not nest within 300 feet of another active bluebird nest. Thus we see that the reason you never before had bluebirds use more than one box was almost certainly that your boxes were too close together.

If you wish to read complete directions for making and placing bluebird nest boxes , Click on Columns in the Table of Contents at the top of this page on the left and then choose the date of June 27, 2004 .

The results of the May Feeder Survey.
There are always more species reported on the feeder survey taken during the first week of May than at any other time during the year. This time 82 species were seen by two or more people.

In addition, 35 observers each recorded an additional species not seen by anyone else. So the total of all reports was 117 species ( we had 110 last year).

What species were people seeing in their yard? The chickadee was listed on every report and the robin on 98% of the reports. Others seen at most feeders were mourning dove, goldfinch, cardinal, blue jay, crow and downy woodpeckers. Next came chipping sparrow, grackle, junco and starling.

The most numerous bird was the goldfinch with the average person reporting 7in sight at once. The goldfinch is not busy with nesting until late summer so it is about the only species where both male and female can still visit a feeder together in May.

White-throated sparrows are present in their largest numbers in May. There were no white-crowned sparrows from January through April, but May is the only month we get them and 38 people listed 88. Both white-throats and white-crowns are on their way to their nesting grounds in northern Canada beyond the trees.

Many more people are now reporting rose breasted grosbeaks than in the past. In the 1970's they were rare birds at a feeder.

Almost all the tree sparrows, juncos and redpolls that were at our feeders during the winter have returned to their breeding grounds in the north. We won’t be seeing them again until next winter.

The Long ListsWhat is the largest number of species that any one person might be expected to find in their yard in early May? Certainly no one would get all the 117 species on the combined lists this time. The longest single list this year had 62 and was turned in by Ken Smith of Freeville. Jeanne Ryan of Cazenovia had 57. Dorothy and Steve Hanzlik tallied 51 near Whitney Point. David Pardee had 49 at Bremerton and so did Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo.

The shortest list had 5 and this was the 4th grade glass at New Haven Elementary school. This was their best month yet and the species were goldfinch, mourning doves, chipping sparrows, crows and one turkey vulture was spotted overhead. Their classroom faces a courtyard and it is hard for birds to discover the foods. Good job!

The typical report had 22 just as it did last year.

Here is the complete list of species. The first figure is the number of birds spotted per 100 reports and the number in parentheses is the number of reports that listed the species. For example just below you will see turkey vulture 81 (38). That means that for a sample of 100 reports a total of 81 vultures were tallied. It also means that in the 100 reports only 38 listed this species.

Loon 2 (1); American bittern 2 (1);great blue heron 23 (18); green heron 7 (6); turkey vulture 81 (38); snow goose (1) (1); Canada goose 264 (52).

Ducks: wood 20 (10); mallard 97 (32);green-winged teal 3 (1); bufflehead 5 (1); hooded merganser 8 (1); common merganser 4 (2).

Hawks: osprey 8 (4); bald eagle 1 (1); harrier 8 (6); sharp-shinned 7 (7); Cooper’s 9 (8); broad-winged hawk 3 (3); red-tailed 23 (20); kestrel 10 (8); merlin 1 (1).

Pheasant 1 (1); ruffed grouse 7 (4); turkey 56 (22); killdeer 10 (7); woodcock 12 (7).

Gulls: ring-billed 158 (9); herring 47 (3); common tern 2 (1); rock dove 98 (19); mourning dove 366 (96); horned owl 3 (3).
Chimney swift 6 (1); hummingbird 8 (5).

Woodpeckers: red-headed 1 (1); red-bellied 55 (40); yellow-bellied sapsucker 7 (6); downy 187 (85); hairy 88 (53); flicker 48 (37); pileated 16 (13).

Least flycatcher 2 (2); Phoebe 38 (26); Blue jay 264 (90); crow 389 (88); raven 6 (3).

Purple martin 8 (2); tree swallow 155 (38); barn swallow 25 (10);

Chickadee 316 (100); titmouse 124 (60); red-breasted nuthatch 25 (18); white-breasted nuthatch 89 (64); gnatcatcher 1 (1); creeper 1 (1);

Carolina wren 1 (1); house wren 26 (17); winter wren 1 (1); golden-crowned kinglet 1 (1); ruby-crowned kinglet 22 (10).

Thrushes: bluebird 40 (20); veery 2 (2); hermit thrush 4 (2); wood thrush 5 (5); robin 286 (98); catbird 7 (6).

Mockingbird 4 (3); brown thrasher 10 (10); starling 440 (76); cedar waxwing 24 ( 4).

Warblers: blue-winged 1 (1); Nashville 4 (3); yellow 14 (13); magnolia 2 (1); yellow-rumped 12 (5); black-throated green 1 (1); palm 1 (1); black and white 1 (1); redstart 1 (1); common yellow-throat 2 (2); towhee 20 (17)

Sparrows: tree 34 (13); chipping 221 (80); field 14 (10); savannah 1 (1); fox 14 (6); song 120 (55); swamp 6 (3); white-throated 260 (62); white-crowned 88 (38); junco 269 (79).

Cardinal 209 (92); red-winged blackbird 404 (70); meadowlark 2 (1); rusty blackbird 3 (3); grackle 408 (80); cowbird 270 (67); orchard oriole 1 (1); Baltimore oriole 19 (13); purple finch 164 (54); house finch 153 (58); redpoll 1 (1); pine siskin 8 (3); goldfinch 706 (96); house sparrow 264 (55).