COVID and shutdown – or no COVID and no shutdown – what happens when the vaccines take effect, the masks come off and the party gets underway? Who are the diehard bluebird aficionados and who are the lightweights? Take the test below to see how you measure up.
True Blue Bird Test
♦ You cleaned out your bluebird boxes late winter/early spring for the upcoming nesting season and/or you installed a new bluebird nestbox in your yard this year.
♦ You made sure your nestbox was mounted on a thin metal pole and not on a fencepost or tree trunk.
♦ You made sure your bluebird nestbox was equipped with a stovepipe baffle.
♦ You made sure your nestbox was positioned in an open space, away from fences and brushy areas that attract predators.
♦ You have opened your nestbox and looked inside at least once a week since the nesting season began.
♦ You have found blue eggs and/or bluebird babies in your nestbox at least once when you checked it.
♦ If you had bluebirds nesting in your nestbox, you made sure to clean it out after the babies left so the parents could start a second brood.
♦ You keep your bluebirds and their babies well fed, giving them easy access to insects by keeping your yard/lawn cut.
♦ You keep a birdbath filled with fresh water so that your bluebirds have plenty for drinking and bathing.
♦ Watching the bluebirds nesting in your yard has contributed to your sanity during the COVID shutdown and keeping your friends updated on your bluebirds’ progress makes you a fascinating conversationalist in an otherwise COVID monotone exchange.
Scoring: Give yourself one point for every statement you answered “yes.”
If you scored:
♦ 8-10: Congratulations! You are a true bluebird aficionado and a magnificent contributor to the bluebird population. The world is a happier place because of your efforts!
♦ 5-7: Oh yay. You get the Participation Trophy, but you may have commitment issues.
♦ Less than 5: Maybe a fish in a bowl would be a more suitable project.
Statements 1 and 7: It is important to clean your bluebird box out at the beginning of the nesting season, but because bluebirds may have as many as 3 nests in one season, it is equally important to clean the box after each brood fully fledges. (You change the sheets in your guest room between visitors, right?) Once the babies have left the nest, they do not come back. They remain in the trees nearby and the parents continue to feed them for about 3 weeks. But the parents may start building a new nest within a week or 10 days. If the nest box is clean, that is. Otherwise, they may have to start looking for a new, less-desirable location. And then what kind of bluebird landlord does that make you?
Statements 2,3 and 4: Mounting nestboxes on tree trunks and fenceposts is akin to rolling out the red carpet to an all-you-can-eat buffet, with little tender bluebird babies for the main course. It is like a fast-food drive-thru for snakes, cats, raccoons and the like. Some will say they have never had a problem with their nestbox on a tree. I say it is just a matter of time and you probably already have and just didn’t know it. Half-inch electrical conduit, or a similar metal post is much safer because climbing that size pole is difficult to impossible for most predators. Adding a wobbling, 8 in x 4 ft stovepipe baffle is about as predator-proof as you can get. There are easy-to-make DYI plans on the internet.
Statements 5 and 6: There is a door on your bluebird nestbox for a reason! Use it! That is your job as a bluebird landlord. It does not overly bother the bluebirds and checking your nestbox every 3 or 4 days will not drive the bluebirds away. They do not have a sense of smell so human scent is not an issue – even in the hot summer! Bluebirds coexist very well with humans and almost seem to know we are here to help them. If something has gone wrong in the nest, you can help – but only if you are checking it regularly. Mostly, knowing how your nestlings are progressing will help you to determine when to clean out the box for the next go-round.
Statements 8, 9 and 10: Because bluebirds are insect eaters, they do not come to bird feeders that offer seed. They can become accustomed to come to a platform feeder that provides mealworms, but live mealworms (which they love) are hard to come by (best to order online) and many bluebirds take a while to like the dried mealworms. Either variety are not especially nutritional, they are calcium-depleting and should only be fed in small quantities. The best nutrition, however, is right underfoot – in your grass. Keeping your lawn cut short allows the bluebirds to see the insects and get to them easily. I have literally had bluebirds follow me around the yard as I mowed – swooping in for a quick snack as I pass. Water may even be more important than a finely trimmed lawn. A birdbath of fresh water makes all the difference and significantly contributes to bird health. Our outdoor plants can go a while between rains before we must provide water – but not our wildlife. Water can get scarce quickly, and birds can spend a lot of time and energy staying hydrated. If you do not have a birdbath and don’t want to invest in one, find another way to provide a water source that your bluebirds can depend on.
And finally, many folks have told me how great it has been having a beautiful and worthwhile distraction during the pandemic. Having bluebirds around their property has been a joy and tending to the nestlings, following their progress, has helped make everything else bearable. Well, of course – it is the bluebird of happiness, after all. COVID or no COVID – there’s no stopping Mother Nature or abiding in her gifts.