As of the end of April, we have only 24 bluebird nests with eggs. Even though we added 40 new nestboxes this year, this is the lowest number of nests with eggs as of this date.

Last year was the opposite. We had the 56 nests with eggs by April 30, after a very warm winter. However, we had the worst nest failure rate ever last year because we had an extremely cold spring after the eggs were laid and over half of these early nests failed.

Hopefully the timing is right this year, and our success rate will go back to the normal 80%.

I am still somewhat worried because we had 7 bluebirds found dead in nestboxes at the beginning of the year. This is the most ever. And most  of them did not look like they were attacked by house sparrows. We have 3 of these in freezers, and I’m hoping to get an agency to test them. We had a cold spell this year also, after a warm winter, but it happened in mid March, before any eggs were laid.

First Eggs

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Our first eggs were discovered at Rockefeller State Park. The first egg was laid on April 9 and the eggs just hatched on April 29! So we are also announcing our first babies!

Going digital with NestWatch

Pictured above are Rockefeller SP monitors Bob Buchanan and Jackie Moore, with Steven DiFalco (center), a Rockefeller SP naturalists. Jackie is entering nesting data into the NestWatch app. NestWatch is a “citizen scientist” program run by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It collects nesting data from birders across the world. The data is used to study many thing, not least of which is the effect of climate change on nesting birds.

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We held training sessions and now happily most of our nestbox data is going right into the hands of bird scientists, instead of staying hidden on my computer. It was a big effort to register our 300 plus nestbox sites, with names, type of location, latitude and longitude position, and nestbox specifics. But we are set to record in the field, and we’re doing it!

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First Band

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Another first to report. Captured this female yesterday while on eggs in a nestbox located at Pequenakonck Elementary School in N. Salem. While I don’t bother the incubating moms in the beginning of the egg cycle, I’ve found it’s ok to band her late in the incubation period. She’s committed to that clutch by then.

Next report should be banding our first babies.

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Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | March 26, 2017

Bluebirds here and new homes and location added to our trails

Saw my first bluebirds today in our area. Drove to N. Salem and checked out the nestboxes in Outhouse Orchard, and other locations along Hardscrabble Road. It was frigid and snow still on the ground, but did see a couple pairs of bluebirds. I was happy not to see any nest building yet. Way too cold for this.

Was most thrilled to see this male at Pequenakonck Elementary School sporting one of our bands. Picture isn’t great, but I could make out a band on the right leg.

BB w band - Pequen school

Yesterday we added a new location – The Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center in Ossining, a property of the Dominican Sisters of Hope. All the credit goes to Sr. Bette Ann. She organized families who are involved with the gardens there to spend the morning learning about the bluebird and building nestboxes.

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After much industry, five new homes were ready to install.

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Thanks to these bluebird enthusiasts for their hard work. I added the hardware needed to install them and by noon, the bluebirds had more nest sites!

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A very special thanks to Sr. Bette Ann for her zest to bring the bluebird of happiness to all who stroll the grounds of this quiet retreat center.

 

 

Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | February 11, 2017

Thanks Girl Scouts for nestboxes

Girl Scout Cadette troop #2751 from White Plains spent the morning making nestboxes for our bluebird trails. They used the freshly cut nestbox kits recently made by my friend, Mike Vaughn.

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Bluebirds are early nesters, so they’ll be looking for nest sites soon. Hope to get these boxes up in good bluebird habitat in the White Plains area.

Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | February 1, 2017

Bluebirds thank Mike Vaughn for his latest batch of nestbox kits

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My friend, Mike Vaughn, just completed making us a new batch of 40 nestbox kits. This is the third time he’s done this for us!

His report:
54 roofs; 40 backs; 41 fronts; 82 sides; 44 floors. Drilled 122 holes (not that I was counting).  15 gallons of sawdust (seriously, that’s a real number).”

That’s a lot of sawing, Mike. I zoomed in and read what’s on his shirt: “I’m still standing.” Amazing after all that work.

Thanks so much, Mike!

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Forty new nestbox kits ready for Girl Scouts and other bluebird enthusiasts to hammer together and make new homes for our bluebirds, which will be look for nest sites soon.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | September 18, 2016

Weather Affects Bluebird Nesting Season

Weather always seems to be in the news lately and now it seems to have made a dent in our bluebird population this year.

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Bluebird male fluffed up to stay warm in April

This was our 6th year of banding bluebirds and keeping close track of their nesting activity. Although we made a quantum leap in the number of nest attempts (going from a previous high of 115 to a whopping 137 nest attempts), our success rate crashed, going from an average in previous years of 80% success to a dismal 60%. This means we banded and fledged fewer bluebird babies. One good statistic that shows this is the average number of babies banded per nest attempt. For all previous years, the average was 3.3. The average in 2016 was 2.4.

Here’s what I think happened (though I have no scientific proof). We had an extremely mild winter. I don’t think the bluebirds ever migrated. They were fat and ready to lay eggs by early April. By the end of April, we had 56 nests with eggs (as opposed to an average of 34 in previous years).

However, if you recall, April turned extremely cold, with several days of snow and wind chills of 10 degrees. At the time I wondered how the eggs would survive this, and as time went on I learned. Many of those nests failed. The eggs were abandoned. After we removed the failed nests, the bluebirds built again and laid more eggs. Most of these nests succeeded at the usual 80% rate.

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Nestbox with bluebird eggs, surrounded by snow

But we missed out again when it was time for the second broods. In the cases where the first clutch of eggs failed because of cold weather, the females were then actually laying their third batch of eggs. For many of our bluebirds, this was too much to ask, and they didn’t lay the third clutch of eggs.

 Additionally, we had many nests with abandoned eggs at the end of the season. I surmise the females laid the eggs with normal instincts, but by then it was late in the season and they lost interest along the way.

 As I said, I’m making this all up, but it seems to me the best explanation of our unusual bluebird season. If I am in the least bit right, then we can expect Climate Change to wreak havoc on all our nesting birds. Food supply has to be in sync with the nesting cycle. Almost all baby birds mainly eat insects and there are very few insects around when the temperature dips below freezing. Extreme heat presents other problems. While one fluky-weather nesting season doesn’t constitute Climate Change, it sure shows how unusual weather can affect a whole nesting cycle. Scary.

Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | July 30, 2016

End of the banding season

I banded my last nest of bluebird babies on Tuesday. It was at Pequenakonck Elementary School in N. Salem.

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There had been several nest attempt in this box, but all failed because of the bad ole house sparrow. Finally success. I had captured the female at an earlier visit and was thrilled that I captured the male. He was my official last band of the season.

BB last adult banded 2016

Today I had my last “recapture.” The story isn’t so happy. Last July I banded a female in box 5 at Gate of Heaven. She incubated the eggs for over a month (into August) but they never hatched. This year I recaptured her in the same box in May. She proceeded to have 3 clutches of eggs this year and none hatched. She is presently still incubating her 3rd clutch which sadly won’t hatch. I know for sure because I opened one today and it was just yoke and white – no embryo development. The male is still around lending support, but all for naught. Too bad.

BB female GoH6 - last band - incubating sterile eggs (Medium)Give this female E for Effort. Each time she lays 5 eggs (once 6 eggs) and all are sterile. Not sure if it is her or her male partner who is the blame. But she had had sterile eggs for 2 years in a row.

This is the first year since I started banding in 2011 that I have had no nests to band in August. Overall, it’s been a very unusual bluebird nesting season. We had a quantum leap in the number of nest attempts – up from 112 last year to 137 this year. But the nest failure rate will be about 40%, up from our usual 20% failure rate. I blame a cold snap in spring for some of this, but not all of it. Hope we go back to “normal” next year.

Now I’ll be busy entering my banding data into the government banding database, plus entering all the nesting activity in all 270 nestboxes we monitored this year. Couldn’t do it without the help of over 30 monitors and untold number of other people who help with our bluebird project. Thanks to all!

 

 

Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | July 19, 2016

Proof there can be incest in the bluebird world

A nesting pair in a box at St. Andrews Golf Club are at the same time, husband and wife and brother and sister!

I managed to capture both the male and female and was amazed to discover that both were from the same brood born in another nestbox at St. Andrews last year. Their band numbers were only 2 digits apart.

In the six years that I have banded – over 2000 bluebirds – this is the first time I’ve proven that there can be incest among bluebirds. I’ve always wondered how they could tell a sibling from a non-sibling. Apparently, they can’t.

This couple is on their second brood. The first was successful and the second looks like it will be too. The nestlings show no abnormalities.

My recaptures have shown that bluebirds do not disperse far from their natal nest site. The farthest any has traveled is under 4 miles. So it would make sense that the available mates might be relatives.

Always interesting things to discover along the bluebird trail.

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Female who mated with her brother.

 

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Male who nested with his sister

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | May 8, 2016

We’ll have lots of busy Bluebird Moms

We now have 56 bluebird nests with eggs, and Moms will be busy – as they always are.

Opened this nestbox, just as the 5th egg was hatching.

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This nest has 6 eggs. Best present for this Mom is not flowers, but lots of insects.

You can help by planting Native Plants – which our native insects require.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard working Moms!

 

Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | May 4, 2016

1st Bluebird babies! 1st Tree Swallow Eggs

1st bluebird nestlings have been born in our area, which is Westchester County, NY. Banded our first nestlings on May 2. They were born on April 26.

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Out of curiosity, I decided to check the date of when the first nestlings were born in our area since I started this banding project in 2011:

2011   April 27
2012  April 20 (after very warm winter)
2013   May 4
2014   May 7
2015    May 1
2016   April 26 (warm winter but cool spring)

I’ve heard from readers in the south. Their bluebirds are a month ahead of us here in the northeast. I also think they get 3 broods, which is highly uncommon here. Lucky them!

Someone said “go” among the Tree Swallows, and they’ve started laying this week. The earliest date of first egg was April 28th. I expect a lot of reports of Tree Swallow eggs this week.

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I expect more eggs to be laid in this typical Tree Swallow nest lined with feathers

We don’t get many Black-capped Chickadee nests, because we locate our boxes in areas that are more open than the chickadee usually likes. However, we occasionally do get one. I’m enjoying this chickadee nest at Harts Brook Park, which is near my house in Hartsdale.

Chickadee nest

The first egg just arrived in this chickadee nest when I checked on May 2nd. Hopefully the competing tree swallows and house wrens leave it alone. The bluebird has often nested in this box, but it chose another this year.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Sandy Morrissey | April 29, 2016

Zero to 45 in 10 days!

We now have 45 bluebird nests with eggs. All happened in the past 10 days.

We have 3 nests with 6 eggs. So looks like my prediction of a higher than normal number of nests with 6 eggs will come true.

We have three nests of white eggs.

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Two are in nestboxes in Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Most interesting is I captured the female in one of the nests and she wasn’t banded. I was sure she would be either one of two females that produced white eggs in the past two years. Or, I though she might be an offspring of one of these females. That would have contributed to the theory that producing white eggs is a genetically passed on trait.

I  have banded all of the offspring of the two females laying white eggs at Gate of Heaven. So I was most surprised when I captured the female in one of this year’s nest of white eggs. She wasn’t banded!

Here’s my first band of the year:

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I will report back when I capture the other female with white eggs at Gate of Heaven. Since less than 5% of females lay white eggs, it will be most amazing if she isn’t one we’ve captured before – or an offspring.

At the French-American School of NY, there is another interesting nest of white eggs. One of the eggs appears tinged with blue. I believe the blueish egg is from another female. A case of “egg-dumping.”

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There’s always interesting sights along our bluebird trails!

 

 

 

 

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