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Taking Care of Bluebirds

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bluebird season is winding down. Here are five baby males--pretty unusual, to find all of the same sex in one nest, but it happens. You can sex baby bluebirds at about 11-12 days of age. You can tell males from females by the amount and quality of blue in the emerging wing feathers. Lots of cobalt blue: male. No blue, or just a bit of dusty turquoise: female. And then you have to leave them alone, because after 12 days they're liable to boot out of the nest when you handle
them, and you don't want that to happen.

Phoebe loves nest changing time, because she gets to cuddle the young birds while I make them a nest out of fresh dry grasses. I take the old nest away as most of them are infested with bluebird blowflies, Protocalliphora sialis. Specific to bluebirds, this bluebottle fly's maggoty larvae suck the nestlings' blood at night, then writhe back down into the nest during the day, where the adults can't find them to pick them out. Heavy infestations can weaken the young significantly, so I change all nests when the young are a week old.
Photo by Bill Thompson III

Here I am, making a new nest. I've put the old one in the bucket to take it away and count the larvae. Some people think you should leave all those larvae in the nest, so parasitic wasps can infest them. I don't like the notion that maybe 50-175 maggots are going to suck my babies' blood every night, and I don't like having them die in the nest from parasite infestations, so I take a more ham-handed approach to managing blowflies. I get the heck rid of them. Same goes for mites; it's been a terrible year for mites, and I've lost a few broods to them. Most nests leave me swarming with them, so I've been busy changing nests and rinsing the boxes with boiling water before replacing the grass and birds. It's the least I can do for them, as they bring me so much joy.
A bluebird thanks Phoebe for her solicitude with a little fecal sac. She says, "Yucccch!" but holds steady. That's my girl.

It was quite a weekend. I'll tell you about it later, when I've had a chance to download some photos. Man. I'm whipped sideways, but in a good way. And completely out of canned posts. Yikes. Not where a blog ant likes to be. Bear with me?


Julie, on campus we watched three healthy broods fledge and now keeping an eye on five eggs. I've cleaned every box and the parents are busy.

So, dish when you can :o) I know your weeked was wild.

Julie, I've come to you via our mutual friend, Tim. I can see why you two are friends. You're both amazing photographers. You've made North Dakota -- a state I don't contemplate much -- look beautiful and fascinating.

Tim and I are going to meet up in Beijing in a few days. It will be the first time I've ever actually laid eyes on a fellow blogger!


My bluebird season is over (pouty face.) I only had two broods this year from my one backyard box. I have seen a couple of fledglings around, but currently the adults are no-shows.

I never seem to get blowfly larva (Thank God!) but I did a nest change yesterday in my last Purple Martin nest that was seriously infested with feather mites. Yuck! (photos on today's post)

Tell Phoebe to hold the babies off to one side as soon as she picks them up. The martin chicks usually poop the second I pick one up, and after that, my hands stay clean.

Can't wait to hear about the party! (No preserved posts? You'll have to grasshopper along with the rest of us! Maybe some instant CB?)


My third brood just left, and I've not seen mom or dad around in the past week. They may just be all tuckered out now and ready to rest for the season. I've never replaced a nest and would be afraid I'd do something wrong. I love seeing/watching you do it though Julie. I do clean the houses out well after they leave though.

All out of 'canned posts'? I've never seen a 'canned post', Julie, and can't imagine one here! You do good work...all your posts are fun, even when they say very little. When you have the time to tell a story; all the better!

“It's the least I can do for them, as they bring me so much joy” -- that kind of says it all.

Of course we will bear with you. At least you know how to spell it -- I have a colleague who is constantly asking us to bare with her.

We foster bluebirds here in NW Florida. Our neighborhood is rife with them. Lucky us! I have worried in the past about the state of their nests after a certain point and relieved to know that we can intervene if necessary. The only thing I'm concerned about is finding the right grass.

Hi Julie,

You said…
”You can sex baby bluebirds at about 11-12 days of age”.

Do you determine the sex of these baby birds by the early showing of blue feathers on their wings and tail feathers?

Nice blog, I raised a Robin from the egg and released him in the conservation wild life park, I gave a tribute to him on my blog, he is still missed.

Kudos to you, to Phoebe, and to all the other bluebird helpers. Very nice pictures and information.

Julie, I had never heard of changing the nests. I'm sure the baby birds are so appreciative. We have been battling English Sparrows this season, so we did not have one successful brood! I think we are winning against the sparrows, so hopefully next year we will do better.

Way to go helping the birds along.

what is the range of the blowfly larvae? are they pretty much everywhere? and how and what does one make the new nest out of?

Dear Mark,

The bluebird blowfly occurs pretty much wherever bluebirds do. They're bad in New England and Ohio, I can tell you that. I make the nest out of dry grass that I gather in March and early April in our meadow--winter grass that's blonde and bleached. I fill a feedbag with it and have it to work with all season. The best is hair grass--super soft and fine. You just wind it around and around your hand until it makes a roll and then you stuff it in the box and pack it down tightly, forming a nest cup with your fingers.

Who knew that the ant ever ran out of stored posts? My world is all a-tilt just thinking about it.

What a beautiful little family those bluebird boys make.

I found your blog while browsing randomly. That nest in the picture is perfect!

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