The mission of the ASC Bluebird Trail group is to promote the conservation of the Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) and other native cavity-nesters through field work, scientific studies and public education. (photo by Nan Moore)
Our work continues in honor of Elsie Eltzroth, who began the program in 1976 by establishing a nest box trail for bluebirds in the Corvallis area. Her observations helped define the social and nesting behavior of the Western Bluebird, which turned out to be quite different from the better-understood Eastern Bluebird. In 2009, Elsie retired from her position as the chairperson of the Audubon Society of Corvallis Bluebird Trail. She remains a valued team member and advisor.
Click HERE to learn more about the remarkable accomplishments of our founder, Elsie Eltzroth.
Volunteers standing from left to right: Marcia Cutler, Mary Boyd, Wendy Novak, Elsie Eltzroth, Diane Kaldahl, Raylene Gordin, Bev Clark, Lori Dodds, Sandy Thixton, Rita Snyder, Jean Nath, Andrea Foster, Norma Booke.
Intervene on behalf of nature! Properties and volunteers are needed for the placement, maintenance and monitoring of nest boxes each year. We also keep records that are passed on to the U.S. Geological Survey bird banding laboratory, the North American Bluebird Society, the Western Bird Banding Association, and other interested organizations. To join, go to “Contact Us.” You are also invited to attend our annual Spring Workshop to gain hands-on information about the Western Bluebird, how to attract it and how to help it succeed. If you prefer just to observe bluebirds, please help us with our survival/longevity study by reporting any banded bluebirds you see between March 1st and June 30th each year (details below in 'Wanted!').
We are here to serve you! Not only do we wish to help bluebirds reach and maintain a healthy population, but we hope that the citizens of the Mid-Willamette Valley (and everywhere in North America) will once again delight in the constant presence of these beautiful and charming creatures. If you have appropriate habitat for bluebirds, but have been unable to attract or maintain bluebirds on your property, we will be happy to help. We are always available to help with such issues as siting and mounting nest boxes, predator control, accommodating other species, monitoring, etc. Call us for a phone consultation or site visit at your convenience. We ask only that you report your nesting bluebirds to us so they may be included in our data. We also appreciate the opportunity to band nestlings at around 12-13 days of age. We have been safely banding bluebird nestlings for 33 years. The incidence of harm to nestlings from this process is EXTREMELY low (or we wouldn’t do it!).
Determine the age of nestlings.**The nestlings shown in these photos were handled with the utmost care by experienced, licensed personnel. We do not advocate handling very small nestlings, and in fact it is not legal to handle bluebirds or their eggs without the necessary state and federal permits. Our program does possess these permits, and they are maintained on a regular basis as required by law.**
February/March: Check boxes for dead bluebirds (some boxes are used as roosts during severe weather) See dead bluebirds below. Clean out any mouse nests, wasps, etc, to make the boxes available for birds.
Mid-June: Remember to remove weather-stripping and make sure the ventilation holes are not plugged by insects or other material.
June/July: Clean out all boxes that other species have finished using. This gives the bluebirds an opportunity to try again if their first brood failed or if the box was usurped by swallows or wrens. A pair of bluebirds that initially nested elsewhere may be looking at your box for their next brood.
July: When young are in the nest box and temperatures are expected to rise above 90 degrees F for 3 or more days, the box should be shaded from late afternoon sun. See 'prevent heat-related nestling deaths' in Nest Boxes above.
Early August: Look for that sweet surprise, a third brood!
September/October: Before the rains begin, check boxes and clean those that were not scraped out earlier.* Plug holes, caulk any splitting panels and put weather-stripping over vents to keep out wind and rain.
*Some people prefer to leave used nests in the boxes until spring. This is largely due to the theoretical benefit of the wasps that parasitize blowfly pupae. When the nests are cleaned out, the pupae are removed and this may result in the removal of any wasps that may be parasitizing them. In our experience, this has not been a helpful strategy, and we regard used nests as potentially harboring other diseases and parasites that could harm roosting bluebirds.
Dead bluebirds: When dead bluebirds are found in nest boxes during late winter and early spring, please be sure to save any bands and report the numbers (and/or colors) to the trail coordinator for your county, then dispose of the bird in a sanitary fashion. If you find a dead adult bluebird on the ground during the nesting process, with no apparent cause of death, please place the bird in a sealed plastic bag and label it with the date, your name, location and any other helpful information, then place it in a freezer. Contact Raylene Gordin or Elsie Eltzroth for a possible necropsy. Alternatively, you may follow the procedure for dead bluebirds found in nest boxes.
Box cleaning:When cleaning the box after each nesting (brood), remove as much nesting material as possible and sweep the floor of the box with a small brush, being careful to avoid inhaling any dust. Look through the nesting material for any dead birds (sometimes tiny skeletons are found) and report any losses accordingly. If any nestlings perished after banding but before fledging, it is very important for us to know the band number(s). Be sure to discard used nests at least 30 feet away from the nest box, so as not to attract predators. If many blowfly pupae or other parasites are present, we suggest sealing the nest material and sweepings in a plastic bag and discarding it with your household waste.
Monitoring: Please use the nesting calendar and monitoring data sheet printed out from "How to Monitor Bluebird Nest Boxes" in How To above. Record the dates and activities as demonstrated in the handout, then send the data sheets to your county coordinator at the end of the nesting season. It is very important to RECORD FAILED NESTING ATTEMPTS this way as well. We appreciate receiving the data before September 30th each year, as we have deadlines to report our data to other entities.
Feeding bluebirds: Providing live mealworms can help bluebirds raise a brood during poor spring weather, increase winter survival, and help a widowed bird raise a brood alone. However, we must approach feeding with caution and with clear objectives that should be re-evaluated as conditions change. Bluebirds, like most creatures, require a varied diet. Copious feeding of mealworms may rob them of nutrients essential to their health and survival. Patterns of feeding movements can be studied by hawks and other predators, resulting in the demise of the very birds you seek to help. (Actually, feeders and feeding locations for ALL species should be moved periodically). Also, a weak bird may be kept alive by supplementary food when the natural course of events would have been for its mate to have the opportunity to find a new mate in time to successfully reproduce. The list of considerations is long. The bottom line is that we must always consider nature’s process of natural selection as well as the law of unintended consequences in everything we do. If you make a careful decision to provide winter food for bluebirds, these recipes may be of interest. (see also www.sialis.org)
We are conducting a study on the survival and longevity of the Western Bluebird in the Mid-Willamette Valley. In order to reach a meaningful conclusion, we need reports of as many sightings as possible. We will focus on adult birds between the months of March and July, and we plan to collect data from 2010 through at least 2018.
Here’s how you can help. If you see an adult bluebird with colored bands on its legs, try to determine which colors are present, on which leg and in which position (this will require the use of binoculars, or better yet, a spotting scope). For example, you may see a bird with right leg – hot pink over (on top of) dark blue, and left leg – light green over the numbered aluminum band (“number, or #”). Please take as much time as possible to be sure of the band combinations. Viewing from different angles is helpful. Every banded bird will have one aluminum band with imprinted numbers issued by the federal bird banding laboratory. In addition, a bird may have from zero to three colored plastic bands. There must be at least one colored band for the sighting to be reportable, or you must be able to read all 9 numbers on the aluminum band.
Band colors may be: B - black; W - white; R - red; O - orange; HP - hot pink; V - violet; DB - dark blue (or medium blue); LB - light blue; DG - dark green (or medium green); LG - light green; and Y – yellow. Rarely, there may be a two-colored or “striped” band.
How to report: Write down the color combinations seen. You may submit a sighting for each banded bluebird, or keep a list of sightings and submit them all at once. The date and location of the sightings is required. You may include whether the bird is male or female. Sightings may be reported by phone, e-mail, or postal mail. You may use a downloadable form from our website
We have a very serious issue with deformities of bird beaks in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest (especially among passerines and raptors). Affected bluebirds are among those documented. Despite much testing, we still do not know the cause. Some species identified as particularly vulnerable in our area are Black-capped Chickadees, Northwestern Crows, Downy Woodpeckers, Steller’s Jays and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Please report any sightings of wild birds with deformed beaks (ranging from subtle to severe) to Colleen Handel, Ph.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please attempt to provide photographs, if possible.
We are happy to participate in educational opportunities at all venues. We have a host of educational aids that can be geared toward the appropriate age groups and time allotments. Although bluebirds are our focus, we can speak to the issues of habitat, ecosystems, and other species. Since many of the factors leading to the decline of bluebirds were and are human-driven, we value the opportunity to educate people, especially children, who are the future stewards of our planet.
Alternatively, you may check into sources of bluebird education for children such as What Bluebirds Do< by Pamela F. Kirby, and Bluebird Rescue by Joan Rattner Heilman. The following internet link provides an excellent children’s workbook that can be downloaded free at: www.mountainbluebirdtrails.com
To make a donation to the ASC Bluebird Trail, please send your check to:
ASC Bluebird Trail
P.O. Box 148
Corvallis, OR 97339.
Be sure to designate "Bluebird Trail" on the memo line of the check, or enclose a note stating that the donation is to be designated for the bluebird trail. Alternatively, you may make a credit card donation by clicking on Donate to ASC, then contacting us by phone (541-752-4313) or email Fred Ramsey to notify us of the donation and its designation to the bluebird trail.
Western Bluebird (Sialia Mexicana): In The Birds of North America. No. 510 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). Guinan, J.A., P.A. Gowaty, and EK Eltzroth. 2000. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and The Academy of Natural Sciences.
Mountain Bluebird Trail Monitoring Guide: Pearman, M.D. 2005. . Red Deer River Naturalists, Red Deer, Alberta.
The Bluebird Monitor’s Guide: Berger, C., K.Kridler and J. Griggs. 2001. Harper Collins, New, New York.
What Bluebirds Do: Kirby, P. 2009. Boyds Mills Press, Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
The Backyard Birdhouse Book: Building Nestboxes and Creating Natural Habitats: Laubach, R. and C. Laubach. 1988. The Backyard Birdhouse Book: Building Nestboxes and Creating Natural Habitats. Storey Books, Pownal, Vermont.
The Bluebird Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting Bluebirds Stokes, D.W. and L.Q. Stokes. 1991. Little, Brown & Co, Boston Massachusetts.
Bluebirds Forever: Toops, C. 1994. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, Minnesota.
Bluebird Discussion Group On-line: You can subscribe free of charge to a bluebird e-mail network, BLUEBIRD-L, a cooperative venture of the North American Bluebird Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. To participate, send an e-mail message to email@example.com containing only the words "SUBSCRIBE BLUEBIRD-L (your name)."