Up Close & Personal with Eastern Bluebirds

You may have read the recent article regarding the winter behaviors of Eastern Bluebirds. Today, I want to tell you about the nifty gift I gave my mom for Christmas.

My parents live on Johns Island just 25 minutes from our home on Seabrook Island. A couple years ago SIB member Carl Voelker was helping his grandson make bluebird nest houses and my mom, Susanne, was thrilled to have Carl install one in her backyard. In each of the past two years, she has watched while three broods of young were raised and fledged!

As the holidays approached, we came up with the perfect gift for her – a camera to watch the birds from the inside of the birdhouse. I searched the internet for possible options, and selected a product made by Green Backyard. This company has a number of different products including houses, feeders, and cameras for birds and other wildlife. The kit I chose included a cedar birdhouse with a 38mm (1.5″) opening along with a waterproof outdoor WiFi camera. I had decided to purchase their box as it is designed with an added “window” to allow for illumination and it is structured to easily install the camera to the “ceiling” of the box.

Before buying this camera, I verified two things:

  1. Strong WiFi signal at the site it would be placed to connect to my parent’s home WiFi router.
  2. Availability of power using the included 10 meter (~32.8 feet) long power cord, which I plugged into an outdoor extension cord, to reach the exterior GFCI outlet .

I ordered the kit directly from Green Backyard and it arrived within about 10 days. The camera and birdhouse were fairly easy to install. I placed the camera inside of the birdhouse as directed, then placed the box on the pole replacing my mom’s original birdhouse. I ran the power cable and extension to the GFCI outlet. Next, I installed the iCSee app on my phone to activate and configure the camera to the home WIFi router. I inserted the memory card (not included) into the SD card slot and sealed it with a sticker (provided).

(Photos: Top Left – equipment for camera installation; Middle Left – left side of birdhouse; Bottom Left – right side of birdhouse showing removable panel (translucent) for illumination; Right – birdhouse after final installation.)

Both video and audio is transmitted wirelessly via WiFi to your router, allowing you to watch live feeds from anywhere using a smartphone, tablet or PC.

I set the option to send each of us a notification when there is movement at the box (see example). This is triggered when a bird enters or even if there is a sudden change of lighting or significant movement with wind. When you open the app, you can view the live feed and take photos or video that are saved on your app and can be downloaded to your device.

The great news for my mom is that her Eastern Bluebirds entered the new box within a day! Almost every morning we are notified and watch a male and female enter and check out the box, just as Bob Mercer described in his article. We can’t wait for when the nest building begins in another 6-8 weeks, followed by the laying of eggs!

Watch and listen to this brief video of both the male and female as they enter and explore the birdhouse.

You can learn more about the product I purchased or buy it by clicking the links below. We are all very happy with it, but I encourage you to do your own research if you are interested to install a camera at your home. (I have no affiliation or relationship with the supplier of this product and did not receive any compensation for my review.)

Ask SIB: Eastern Bluebird Winter Behavior

On January 9, 2021, Andy wrote SIB, “Today we saw maybe half dozen blue birds and one was sitting on the entry hole.  Isn’t it early for them to be nesting?  Has the warm weather put them off schedule?”

Eastern Bluebird – photo by Bob Mercer

The questions are relatively easy to answer. Yes, it is too early for them to be nesting, so they are not “off schedule” due to the weather. As usual, the questions lead to another question; what are the birds doing?

Since Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents in our area, one can watch the full range of behaviors. During the winter months, bluebirds can gather in flocks of up to 20 birds. These flocks consist of one or more family units. In really cold weather, a flock of bluebirds may all cram into a single cavity, presumably for shared body warmth. Pair bonding for bluebirds can happen anytime between November and March.

This photo of an Eastern Bluebird entering the box and the female watching perfectly captures some of the courtship behavior–wing droop tail spread. Photo by Nancy Brown

During the courtship and nesting period, the flocking behavior disappears. Once a pair settles on a territory, they work hard to drive away all competitors including their siblings. 

It is difficult to know exactly what Andy observed, but one can make an educated guess. Since he saw a half dozen birds, he observed a winter flock. The bird sitting at the nesting hole most likely was a male bird checking out the box for its potential. 

Once a male makes a choice, he will then attempt to attract a mate or to solidify his relationship with his current mate. According to the Cornel Lab of Ornithology website Birds of the World, the male goes through a very predictable pattern of behavior. The male institutes a nesting demonstration display where he perches at a hole holding nesting material with his wings drooping and his tail spread wide. He looks around, presumably to make sure his intended is paying attention, and then look in the hole. The next step is to rock back and forth into and out of the hole before going in the cavity. Once in the cavity, he will stick his head out still holding the nesting material. Leaving the material in the cavity, he then hops out near the hole and does a wing waving display. The female entering the box cements the pair bond. 

People with bluebird boxes they can view, or who have cameras trained on a box, may be lucky enough to watch this behavioral sequence. 

Nesting on Seabrook Island usually begins around the first of March. The Seabrook Island Birders sponsor a bluebird box monitoring program. Volunteers have a route where they check a series of boxes once a week to monitor if birds use the boxes and nesting success of failure. Anyone interested in helping is encouraged to contact the Seabrook Island Birders.

Be sure to read tomorrow’s article discussing the installation and monitoring of a birdhouse with an outside WIFI camera!

Gowaty, P. A. and J. H. Plissner (2020). Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.easblu.01

Raising Eastern Bluebirds on Seabrook Island

As previously reported in The Seabrooker, October 2019

Most of your drives around our island in the summer will turn up a few Eastern Bluebirds sitting on a fence post or perched atop a nest box. They call out in a short, wavering voice and abruptly drop to the ground after an insect. Marvelous birds to capture in your binoculars or camera lens, male Eastern Bluebirds are a brilliant royal blue on the back and head, and warm red-brown on the breast. Blue tinges in the wings and tail give the grayer females an elegant look.

Early last spring there were people watching for signs that the Eastern Bluebirds were beginning to nest. The moment in March that Melanie Jerome, the director of Seabrook Island’s Bluebird Society, got the word, she alerted her team that it was time to start checking the 74 bluebird boxes on 4 “Bluebird trails” around the island.

Many Seabrook Islanders and guests have noticed nest boxes around the island and especially on the golf course. There are boxes on the front and back nine of the Crooked Oaks course and the front nine of Ocean Winds. The other boxes are around the Lake House. The Seabrook Island Birders Bluebird Society is a sub group of the Seabrook Island Birders. Since 2014 this group has monitored all the boxes once a week from early spring until late summer once nesting begins and until the last baby bird has fledged. Statistics are kept on everything that happens in the bird box. Noted is the species of bird nesting, number of eggs, number of nestlings, and number of birds that fledge. Also noted is any predators, from ants and wasps to snakes and raccoons, that invade the box.

The SI Golf Club staff have been great partners in this endeavor. Not only do they allow the boxes to be on the courses and let the teams borrow golf carts to travel to the boxes that line the fairways, but this year they paid for and installed baffles for all the boxes on the golf course. This dramatically reduced the number of snake predations.

So, armed with a bucket of supplies, map of bird box locations, and a binder with statistics sheets for each box the team goes to every bird box in their area hoping to find activity. This sounds like a mundane task, and it’s not crocodile hunting, but it does have its challenges. You quickly learn to wear boots because many of the houses are near ponds or in high weeds. Once an Eastern Bluebird or Carolina Chickadee flies out of the house and straight for your head there is no chance that you will ever again approach the box any way but from the back or side. And, it is always wise to open the box with a gloved hand in the event there is a snake, mice, or insects in the box. Additionally, a long stick or golf club is nice to have to flush snakes or alligators or shoo away Wild Turkeys. With that being said, no harm has ever come to wildlife or monitors with the exception of wasps and ants.

The monitor teams that go out in early spring have a couple weeks of checking empty boxes, but once the first nest is found activity ramps up. It’s a huge deal for the entire group when the first eggs are found or the first hatchlings get counted. And, once the hatchlings become fluffy with feathers, you know they are ready to fledge and will probably not be there the next week. As a monitor you are only responsible for 8 weeks and, even though this task is time spent out of your week, it is tough to turn in your bucket and binder to relinquish your babies over to another team.

At the end of the summer, Melanie takes all the data from the sheets and compiles it into a report that she shares with the SI Birders, but also forwards to the SI Golf Club, the SI Environmental Committee, and the South Carolina Bluebird Society. This information compelled the group to install the baffles on the poles and could also suggest that boxes might need to be relocated, repaired or replaced. The data also shows population trends.

If you are interested in seeing our statistics for this year, interested in the Seabrook Island Bluebird Society or just birding in general, check out our website at seabrookislandbirders.org. No prior experience is necessary to join either group, just a love of birds and nature.

Cool Facts …

  • The male Eastern Bluebird displays at his nest cavity to attract a female. He brings nesting material to the hole, goes in and out, and waves his wings while perched above. This is pretty much his contribution to nest building.
  • Eastern Bluebirds typically have more than one successful brood per year. Eggs are blue or in rare cases, white. Young produced in early nests leave, but young from later nests winter with their parents.
  • Eastern Bluebirds occur across eastern North America and south as far as Nicaragua. Birds living farther north and in the west of the range tend to lay more eggs than eastern and southern birds.
  • Eastern Bluebirds eat mostly insects, wild fruit and berries. Occasionally they been observed capturing and eating larger prey such as lizards and tree frogs.
  • The oldest recorded Eastern Bluebird was at least 10 years, 6 months old. Banded in New York in May 1989 and was found dead in SC November 1999.

Submitted by: Melanie Jerome and Joleen Ardaiolo

Bluebird Statistics YTD

Hello fellow Bluebirders,

Our Eastern Bluebird season is not over yet. We have until Aug 9th, but I thought I would send y’all some stats so far. I will report full stats at the end of the year. I also give these stats to the Environmental committee, the Seabrook Island Club, SIB  and South Carolina Bluebird Society.

This is just the Bluebirds, but as you know we have had many Carolina Chickadee nests as well. So far:

  • 62 Nest attempts
  • 273 eggs
  • 207 hatched
  • 135 fledged

We have had some nest attempts that no eggs were laid. We have had some eggs not hatch and unfortunately some predation .We have had 6 nests/babies attacked by predators, three of them were snakes for sure. (Poor Jo and Jim Eisenhauer got all three) But this is much better from last year, when 16 boxes had predators. I do believe our baffles are working for the most part. 

Thanks everyone, again for all your help!!!

Melanie Jerome
Seabrook Island Bluebird Society
SeabrookBluebirds@gmail.com

Volunteers Needed for the SI Bluebird Society

To all Seabrook Island Birders – The Seabrook Island Bluebird Society is looking for volunteers to assist with the inventory of Bluebird Nesting Boxes for the 2019 Season.  Please read the note below from coordinator Melanie Jerome and contact her if you are interested to support this initiative. There are still four team spots available.


Blue Birds-1 Moore
Eastern Bluebirds – Charley Moore

Dear Bluebirders,

A new season is about to begin for the Seabrook Island Bluebird Society. There are lots of Eastern Bluebirds flying around beginning to look for mates and nesting sites right now.

I had mentioned in prior emails, that I was working on getting baffles to deter our predators, and that is going along very well. I have attached a picture of #7 at the Lake house, I hope you can open it.

The Seabrook Island Birders agreed to help pay expenses for this project at the Lake House. And, the Seabrook Island Club has agreed to pay for all the baffles at the two golf courses. The Lake House is almost done. We are moving two of them to see if the Bluebirds might like it better and make a nest this year. The rest all will have baffles. The golf courses are being done by the Maintenance crew at the club. The last update from my contact, was that all the parts were ordered and they would have them on by March 1st. This will be close, because our bluebirds will be checking out their nest sites and moving in really soon in the month of March.

March 8th is the official start of bluebird box monitoring this year. It will end Aug 9.

(MARCH 8-AUGUST 9)

Team Slots are :

  • March 8- April 26- need 4 teams for Ocean Winds, Crooked 1, Crooked 2, and Lakehouse
  • May 3-June 21 Need 4 teams for Ocean Winds, Crooked 1, Crooked 2 and Lakehouse
  • June 28-August 09 4 teams for Ocean Winds, Crooked 1, Crooked 2 and Lakehouse

I am sending this email to official start our volunteers monitor spots schedule. There are 12 team spots. Are you coming back this year to help out? Let me know via email as soon as possible.

It will be first come first pick. 2 spots are already filled by Rob and I and  the Aisenhauers. I will try my best to get everyone where they want and the time they want.

Just a refresher:

  • commitment is once a week to check your route rain or shine. Try to stay on the same day, give or take a day.
  • document everything you see at the boxes, for example egg colors are important and predation, etc.
  • fill free to take pictures of issues you see when you’re reporting.
  • contact me with any issues via text  614-570-3951
  • Once the schedule is set, I will have buckets ready for monitoring. My front porch pickup and drop off worked really good last year for me.

Thanks everyone!

Melanie Jerome
Seabrook Island Bluebird Society
SeabrookBluebirds@gmail.com
614-570-3951

2018 Eastern Bluebird Trails Summary

The Seabrook Island Bluebird Society was started on Seabrook Island to help the Eastern Bluebird (see our “Bird of the Week” blog from 2016 to learn more about the Eastern Bluebird). The 2018 nesting season has come to an end.

If you didn’t know, the Eastern Bluebird is a small member of the thrush family that inhabit fields and clearings. Although pesticides and competition from house sparrows in the early and mid-20th century negatively impacted bluebirds, they have recovered well in recent years and are stable or increasing both as breeding birds and wintering birds. Much of this recovery is thanks to concerned citizens who put up bluebird boxes in their fields for these birds to nest in.

Seventy-three bluebird boxes were installed and are located along Crooked Oaks and Ocean Winds golf courses, the Lake House and Sunset Pier. Melanie Jerome took over the leadership of the Bluebird Society in 2018 from Dean Morr. The  main focus is to monitor nesting of bluebirds and any other bird species using the boxes. This is done from March through August by a group of 13 hard working volunteers. They check the boxes once a week, keeping track of activity of all birds documenting by box the number of eggs laid, hatched and fledged. Once fledged, the boxes are cleaned of all nesting material so they available for another brood of birds.

The 2018 statistics for our Seabrook Island Eastern Bluebirds are:

  • 99 nests built
  • 389 eggs laid
  • 246 eggs hatched
  • 226 fledged

This is a 58% fledge success. We also have had 21 nests from Carolina Chickadees, with 74 eggs laid, and 55 fledged. We had a predation problem from snakes and raccoons this year and the 2019 goal is to obtain baffle guards on some of the poles to prevent the predation issue.

To compare to results from previous years, see the chart below:

Trail Name Bluebird Carolina Chickadee
2018 RESULTS # Boxes No Activity Nest
Attempts
Eggs Hatched Fledged Nest
Attempts
Eggs Hatched Fledged
2018 Totals 73 6 99 389 246 226 21 74 55 55
2017 Totals 73 5 89 318 183 175 26 98 82 82
2016 Totals 73 3 99 386 360 359 28 126 106 106
2015 Totals 73 7 76 318 259 259 39 136 104 102
2014 Totals 67 10 63 252 219 203 28 113 85 83

I would like to thank all of our volunteers for their help, we couldn’t do it without you. If you are interested in helping with the bluebirds, please contact Melanie at seabrookbluebirds@gmail.com.

Article submitted by:  Melanie Jerome
Photos provided by:  Nancy Brown

2017 Bluebird Trail Monitoring Results

Following is the 2017 Data from the Bluebird Trail Monitoring efforts.

Bluebirds:

  •   Nest Attempts: 89 (vs 99 in 2016)
  •   Eggs: 318 (vs 386 in 2016)
  •   Hatched: 183 (vs 360 in 2016)
  •   Fledged: 175 (vs 359 in 2016)

Carolina Chickadees:

  •   Nest Attempts: 26 (vs 28 in 2016)
  •   Eggs: 98 (vs 126 in 2016)
  •   Hatched: 82 (vs 106 in 2016)
  •   Fledged: 82 (vs 106 in 2016)

This year, predators (snakes and raccoons) destroyed 34 nests (nest building, eggs, young or parents) which although we had good numbers of nest attempts compared to prior years, would account for most of the drop in the number of eggs, hatched and fledged from 2014 thru 2016. There is no inexpensive solution to keeping predators out of our 73 monitored boxes, but it is being researched further.

There were 6 boxes with no activity this year (compared to 3 in 2016 and 7 in 2015). All boxes with no activity this year had activity last year.

Thank you to the 49 volunteers on the roster and especially to the 21 volunteers for their monitoring efforts and continued support of the Seabrook Island Bluebird Society. We look forward to a successful 2018 Season.

If you would like to learn more about the Seabrook Island Bluebird Society, please check out the information on our website.

Dean Morr
Seabrook Island Bluebird Society
SeabrookBluebirds@gmail.com

2016 Bluebird Monitoring Results

Eastern Bluebirds - Charley Moore
Eastern Bluebirds – Charley Moore

Attached are the final results of the 2016 Eastern Bluebird Monitoring Session. You will note I have added lines for overall comparison with 2015 and 2014.

Fledged Eastern Bluebirds were up 100 over the 2015 monitoring session and Carolina Chickadees up 2 while boxes with no activity were down to 3, one of which was temporarily removed behind the Lake House. It will be reset in 2017.

 If you are interested to learn more about the Seabrook Island Bluebird Society or even join the group, please check out the information on our website: SIB / SI Bluebird Society

Submitted by Dean Morr
Photo by Charles Moore

2016-bluebird-monitoring-summary-stats

2016 Bluebird Society Kick-off Meeting

SIBS Logo

The kick-off meeting for the 2016 monitoring season of bluebird boxes will be February 24th at 4:00pm in Osprey 2 at the Lake House.

We will again be monitoring the 3 trails on the golf courses plus the Lake House trail. Monitoring will be divided into 3 sessions of about 8 weeks starting March 20th and concluding August 31st. A sign-up sheet will be available at this meeting if you are interested in a monitoring session of one of the trails this year.

Last year we monitored 75 boxes that produced 259 bluebird and 102 chickadee hatchlings.

We look forward to seeing you on the 24th.

Dean Morr, Seabrook Island Bluebird Society

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