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Bluebird Ambulance: Part 2

Wednesday, May 26, 2021



In a little meadow next to the Eddy's home, there's a bluebird box that was put up and maintained by my late friend Jeff Warren. It hadn't been on my regular route to check. On this snowy morning, I thought I'd better open it up. Imagine how I felt on finding six day-old bluebirds, just hatched and already cold to the touch, abandoned by their mother. At first, I couldn't imagine why she didn't give it more of a try than that, but I have to guess that she knew she couldn't find the right soft caterpillars to feed them in the snow. Ahh it was awful to see them just born and already dying. I couldn't stand it. I took them in and put them in the Igloo, which had three hot water bottles going full bore inside.

It took a few hours for them to pink up and get happy, but by that afternoon, they were doing a lot better.
Especially look at the huge one at the bottom of the frame here--that's the Ritchie baby, found alone and immobile, that I warmed up in my bracubator. Well, they all took turns in there, all day long. 


The next day, I slipped the Ritchie orphan into the Hendershot box, with four other babies who had never been abandoned by their parents. For obvious reasons, it works better if the disadvantaged baby is a bit older than the host brood. You can see his big ol' head on top of the stack. I fed them all some bug omelet--I'd been feeding the host brood all through the cold snap anyway. I wanted to get the Ritchie baby into the care of bluebirds ASAP, as I was in over my head and it was all I could do to keep all seven of them warm and fed.

The Hendershot nest is made mostly of whitetail deer hair, thanks to a newly occupied hunting cabin right next to it. Carcasses aplenty, strewn here and there. :/
You may have noticed the dearth of deer photos in my blogposts in the past two years. This is not a coincidence. The old gang has been hard-hit, and I mourn them. On the upside, I'm finding more interesting plants in the forest understory than I have in decades. I don't think this is a coincidence either.

Out in my meadow, the five week-old babies I'd been feeding egg food through the cold snap were looking thrifty. By far the oldest on my trail (she had eggs by April 1!), they have a great set of parents who know to look to me for food when things get tough. I wish it were always as easy as leaving bowls of mealworms on the box tops, but you can't do that until the babies are at least 8 days old--they can't digest the chitin on the worms. So I'm stuck with hand-feeding them in their nests until they're older than Day 8. 

Meanwhile, I'd found another of my late friend Jeff Warren's old boxes with a likely host brood in it. I slipped two of my foster babies from the six-chick brood into the Whipple run box. 

This should have worked, but it wound up not succeeding. The next time I checked, the two foster babies were gone, tossed out by the host parents. They weren't nearly as strong as the host babies, and it was still very cold, after all. Ah well. You win some, you lose some. 

On that same afternoon, I drove two more chicks to far-flung boxes in friends' yards. It was a long shot, but I was out of same-age broods. Neither of those took, either. 

Of the seven I took in in the snowstorm, one died right off, and only two of the remaining six wound up being successfully fostered.  But two is better than none, and I learned a lot about caring for newly hatched bluebirds. I learned that it is way beyond my capabilities. They're so much better off with bluebirds! Especially at that tender age. Give me a three or four day old chick, and I'm good. But not Day 1 or 2. 

I wound up putting the two strongest of the babies I'd taken in into the Hendershot box, lined with deer hair. This photo from April 23 evening shows the big-mouthed Ritchie baby and the small Eddy baby (lower) begging, along with four host babies. I didn't want to burden any pair with six in this weather, but I was subsidizing them several times a day, and I had a plan for that small Eddy baby once the weather turned warmer.

I know this is like a novel with lots of confusing characters walking in and out. I'm doing my best to make it all clear. I keep copious and careful notes about where each nestling came from and which box had what age chicks. In the evening, I'd get my notebooks and strategize on where and when I might place orphans. 

When I meet people who have many dozens or maybe even hundreds of bluebird boxes to check and care for, I know that we are doing two very different things, operating at different levels. On one hand, having lots of boxes would give me more choices when it comes to fostering babies. On the other, a snow in late April or freezes in May would be exponentially more disastrous and crushing. I'm trying to strike a balance, knowing myself as I do, and knowing that I will drop everything to save tiny lives. I dream of decent spring weather, of Aprils and Mays when I don't have to live in apprehension and stress. 2022, I'm looking at you.

More to come...


Oh Julie. My friend Bill has hundreds of boxes and I'm like you. This is my first year of having my own boxes and I have 12 and I don't want any more than that for the reasons you outlined. It's a burden and a blessing to have a heart so big. I'm so glad you share all you've learned here, it helps us amateurs so much. Renée xo

I know it sounds lame; but you really are remarkable. Thank you for all you do ❤💙💜

Hi Julie, I referred this lady to you for online help with her bluebirds. Hope you don’t mind.

Hi Julie, word on Blogger is you are a Bluebird expert. First and foremost, thank you for all you do for our feathered friends!!

I have recently had a bluebird dilemma. Please let me know if you have any thoughts to offer:

Thanks either way!

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