Bluebirds face a tough year

Henry Miller
Tales from the Wild

In a previous article, I had mentioned that only a few bluebirds had returned from the south this spring. Ice storms had killed the migrating bluebirds as well as most wildlife in some southern states. In addition, I had given preliminary results of our first monitoring of the birdhouses.

In June, we continued checking the boxes. In the birdhouse trails I monitor, only two pairs of bluebirds nested this year. Four nestlings fledged from one box. In the other box were four eggs, which never hatched. The female had abandoned the nest.

Bob Saunders, who monitors three trails, reported that the only bluebird nest he found was also abandoned. The four eggs in it did not hatch.

Henry VanAel and Ilka Milne found one bluebird nest with four eggs in it. This nest had been previously used by tree swallows before the bluebirds took over. Unfortunately, the bluebirds left leaving four unhatched eggs.

No other bluebird nests were discovered.

What a difference! Last year 37 pairs of bluebirds fledged 160 nestlings.

Tree swallows fared much better. Some arrived in April and began nesting early. Unfortunately a cold spell occurred just as many of the eggs had hatched. On May 5, the temperature was -5 and remained cold until May 11. The nestlings did not survive.

In the following days, unusually warm weather prevailed and more swallows began nesting. By the third week of July, 79 pairs had fledged close to 400 young.

We lost a number of nestlings due to weather (as mentioned above), predation and house wrens. For example, raccoons raided five boxes on a trail that had been “safe” for years.

Throughout the area, wrens had built their dummy nest (filled boxes with twigs) in boxes that had eggs or nestlings, thus killing the young tree swallows in them.

Four pairs of chickadees used the birdhouses. Three successfully fledged their young.

Northern flying squirrels nested in one box.

Bluebird numbers have taken a hit this year, due to ice storms and abandoned nests. But there’s hope for the future. To see the bluebird in full colour, see the front cover of this edition. – Submitted photo

Even though the bluebird population is at an all-time low, there is hope that they will recover. In 2015 very few tree swallows returned from the south. Now there are so many, that they occupy 75 to 80 per cent of the boxes. It’s quite possible that bluebirds will do the same.

Post expires at 11:59pm on Tuesday September 21st, 2021