Atop the Nestbox
The 2010 nesting season began with unusually cold and wet weather, causing many broods to fail. In fact, it was so severe that some adult birds perished, mainly hens who had the added physical stress of laying and incubating. As a result, we had a record high number of ailing and orphaned nestlings to care for. This phenomenon affected the entire Willamette Valley.
In late July, I received a call from Patrick Gallagher of the Salem Audubon bluebird group. One of the landowners on his trail had three orphaned nestlings about 12 days old. They were healthy and only needed a pair of foster parents, which Patrick could not provide. As it turned out, I had the perfect situation. There was a pair of bluebirds on my trail that had been unable to produce offspring for the last two years. Being altruistic, this pair had just finished raising three orphaned nestlings from elsewhere on my trail. I quickly met with Pat’s landowner and she handed over the new orphans.
Mr. and Mrs. Altruism were delighted to receive more foster children. The following day I returned to band the new nestlings and was delighted to see that one of the previous orphans was helping feed them. Talk about paying it forward! The Salem orphans fledged uneventfully and the adult pair remained on or near their territory with all of their foster children throughout the fall and winter.
At the end of the 2010 nesting season, having worked us hard, Mother Nature gave us a precious gift. Pat’s landowner, having several nesting pairs, notified me of her last brood of the season in the hope that I would band them. Prepared to band her four nestlings, I met with her at the site. As I reached into the nest, I noticed that one of the chicks was rather pale. We examined it more closely while banding, and concluded that it was leucistic (partial albino). With decades of combined bluebirding experience, this was a first for both of us, and we were honored and humbled by the gift that nature had bestowed on us. After the brood fledged, the landowner described the leucistic fledgling as looking like a pale cloud as it flew. We referred to it as “Ghost Blue.”
An Audubon Society of Corvallis member sent this
message to me.
“I planted germinating white oak acorns
to help restore oak savannah habitat and placed blue plastic conical
tubes over them to protect the seedlings and used netting provided
by the manufacturer over the tops.
“We see these used often for nursery trees, grapes and other
plants. To my shock I discovered banded dead Western Bluebirds inside
several of the tubes where the netting was missing! According to
Elsie Eltzroth they may have seen insects inside and dropped down
but couldn’t climb or fly out. Apparently this is not an uncommon
“Perhaps we can alert people who use these 3-5” tubes
to be aware of this problem. It can be corrected and the manufacturers
should be warned of this problem.”
In trying to help our environment, many hazards
have been unwittingly added to the habitat used by small birds.
Though other birds may be attracted to green or yellow tubes where
insects may be found, the color blue is especially attractive to
bluebirds since it is “their” color.
We should remind you that Western Bluebirds inspect
nest boxes, open vents from a house or shed, stove pipes and chimneys
that lack a perforated cover, and all other likely looking holes
in which to roost in winter.
—Bill Pearcy & Elsie Eltzroth
Excerpt from Science News, October
30, 2004, Vol. 166
Among male Eastern Bluebirds, their blues, along with bird-visible
ultraviolet colors in their plumage, give a pretty good indication
of which males make the toughest competitors, according to a study
of nesting birds by Lynn Siefferman and Geoffrey Hill of Auburn University
In some birds, the feather pigments signal the health
of a mate. The bluebird blue, however, poses new questions because
it doesn’t come from a pigment. Instead, the color is a trick
of the light bouncing off intricate structures on feathers. Researchers
have wondered whether such structure-based color could also signal
the fitness of a male.
The researchers set out birdhouses and watched to
see which males triumphed in competitions to take up residence there.
Feathers plucked from the winners turned out to have more-intense
structural coloring than the losers’ did. The more colorful
males also successfully raised more offspring. Thus, the color could
be an indicator of which bird to wager on in male-male competitions,
the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of Animal Behavior.
Thanks to Andrea Foster for submitting this article
Granted it's been raining for days on end,
but the bluebirds haven't let it stop them. Several calls have come
in to remind us that the season is close at hand. Carole Steckly's
friend, Alma Davis, who lives off of Rt. 34 across the Willamette,
has had bluebirds inspecting her nest box three years in a row, but
the swallows and accipiters have discouraged them from nesting. Three
males were seen last week, another this week. These are probably migrant
birds headed to Washington and British Columbia. This is the time
of year when I get these calls.
Earlier on the Christmas Bird Count fifteen were
seen in the oaks on the "Thompson" Greenbelt property. The
CBC total of 146 was a reasonable tally. More recently Don Boucher
saw 9 flying overhead while at of Jackson-Frazier Wetland. Vi and
Clarence Omoto see four from the last brood of 2003 hanging around
near their feeder in a NW Corvallis neighborhood. Kristy Kingery feeds
nine or more at her feeders and tells me that the one flock (and their
friends, the finches) chased off another brood trying to muscle in
on the good deal. She can't believe that the pair trying to copulate
is really in earnest! Too soon to practice with April and May months
However, my message should be loud and clear. When
the weather blesses you with blue skies and sunshine, please go out
to check all of your boxes including the ones other birds nested in.
After very cold temperatures and heavy snow such as we had a month
ago, birds that have sought shelter in the nest boxes may have perished
there. If you find any, banded or unbanded, please bring them to me.
Go prepared with something to clean out the box (don't reach in bare
handed because queen yellow jackets like these boxes too), plastic
baggies, a few tools and a new box "just in case." Close
all cracks and crannies with weather stripping knowing that it may
rain through May when eggs or chicks are in the boxes. NW weather
is deadly for early breeding birds.
I have a few new boxes you are welcome to have.
We also have four already mounted on pipe that can be placed over
a long piece of rebar which has been pounded into the ground.
I plan to carry on with banding and checking some
boxes; I'm always available to answer questions and make suggestions.
I would appreciate it very much if you could enlist others in you
neighborhood to get interested in our Blue Bird Trail. We can always
use more volunteers.
Nest box monitors, please check Reminders.
I'm anxious to hear from all of you!
Recently we learned that Audubon Society
of Corvallis Bluebird Trail was honored by one of our dedicated and
hard working volunteers. Members of Consumer Power Incorporated (CPI)
were asked to submit squares for a celebratory quilt to recognize
the cooperative's 50th Anniversary. Rita Snyder submitted
a square depicting a pair of bluebirds on a typical nest box. Her
square was one of 50 accepted for inclusion for the quilt. A picture
of the CPI celebratory quilt was in the October 2003 newsletter, the
Ruralite. Click to see a larger view of
The handiwork of the quilters was to "create blocks depicting
their rural heritage, rural electrification, local landmarks or scenes"
that were significant in their lives. Rita choose the return of the
Western Bluebird. Rita and her husband, Bill Snyder, have been hosting
pairs of Western Bluebirds in boxes on their Crescent Valley Drive
property since 1988.
Volunteers, who had monitored boxes nearby for several years, had
seen bluebirds foraging in Snyder's pastures and ancient oaks. They
mentioned to Rita and Bill that these birds were frequenting their
The Snyder's nest boxes, now numbering eight, have fledged 269 young
bluebirds. Their contribution has made a tremendous difference in
the local population of bluebirds which have returned to the Willamette
Valley year after year.