July 19 , 2011

SUBJECT: The Plight of the Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird Chick

In my last journal entry I stated I was out of my mind. Let's correct that. I am way, way, waaaay out of my mind. In case you have been wondering, the Eastern Bluebird chicks survived the heat and their surrogate "dad" survived as well—albeit with a few more gray hairs.

If the heat wasn't enough, then there were the black flies. I'm not sure if it was due to me propping open the roof the of box to help air flow, but for whatever reason the flies became so bad the parents were both in the nest box trying to defend the chicks from the massive number of black flies biting them. The parents were spending all their time defending the chicks and not feeding them.

Surrogate dad to the rescue (again).

Following advice from other Eastern Bluebird aficionados and searching for ideas on the Internet, I took the box apart, pulled out the chicks and placed them in a tub. I then sprayed the chicks with pyrethrins (.06%) being careful to spray their lower bodies and not their head and eyes.

After spraying the chicks, I took out the nesting material and sprayed it. Then I sprayed the entire box, inside and out. I then reassembled everything, put the chicks back in and hoped that both chicks and parents would survive what was a very stressfully ten minutes. It took about an hour, but eventually the chicks started to call for food again. The parents obliged and all was back to "normal" ...whatever that is.

{As a side note, I have found that spraying vanilla extract (even the cheap sudo-vanilla extract) on the exterior of the box keeps black flies away and tends to last longer than spraying with pyrethrins. }

Then on July 13th, the first of the five chicks left the nest at around 5pm. The chick was already a great flyer and immediately flew to the top of a tree. Mom and Dad bluebird immediately began to feed it and all was good.

On the morning of July 14th, I was unable to locate the parents and the first fledgling. They were nowhere to be seen! Two hours went by and no parents. The remaining chicks in the nest box were constantly calling for their parents, but there was no response.

I started to write off a few emails to rehabbers in the area, wondering if the parents and the one chick were attacked during the night by an owl. Argghhh!

Literally, I was dialing a phone number of a rehab facility when I looked out the window and dad bluebird was perched by the nesting box. Whew! He flew over to the box to check on the chicks but he did not feed them. This went on for about 30 minutes or so with only the male showing up at the house and no food was given to the chicks.

Finally, dad bluebird succumbed to the begging of the chicks and fed them, but only once. It appeared as if dad was trying to coax the other four chicks out of the box. Interestingly, mom bluebird came by only to pick up a few mealworms from the feeder to feed the one fledgeling. She paid no attention to the other four in the box.

About another hour passed and by this time, the chicks wanted out of the box. During the span of just a few minutes, another three chicks successfully fledged from the nest box. This left just one chick in the box—the runt of the family.

I had been watching this little guy for days hoping he would get as big as the others, but no such luck. He looked to be about 2 days behind the others.

For the next 5 hours, this poor guy tried his darnedest to get out of the box. For whatever reason, he kept trying to get out of the wrong side! He managed on a few occasions to fly to the top of the box and grab onto the camera. For whatever reason, he could not figure out that the hole was his exit!

By this time, there were 60 viewers on Ustream begging me to do something for this poor bird. Egads! To top off this dilemma, I had to leave town that evening for a scheduled photo shoot for a charity event in the Chicago area.

My options were to leave the bird alone and hope that he/she figures out how to get out of the box and hopefully gets fed by the parents. something to help the chick out of the box.

If I wasn't about to leave on a trip, I would have waited another day to see what was going to happen, but I had visions of a starving, trapped little bluebird chick crying helplessly on Ustream and I decided to take action.

I removed the four screws from the base of the box and gently raised the floor of the box up about 3/4 of an inch. I figured that since I removed/replaced the nesting material, the nest was probably a bit lower than when it was first built.

Ustream viewers and myself waited anxiously for the chick to fly out of the box. It tried and tried and tried, but kept flying to the wrong side of the box. (I can only imagine that the chick saw the sunlight reflecting off of the side of the box and was attracting to it rather than the hole itself.)

So....after consulting with the Ustream viewers, I raised the floor up once more and....presto! It emerged from the house. It waited there on the doorstep for what seemed like hours calling for its parents. Mom stopped by to get a few mealworms to feed the others and paid absolutely no attention to the last chick perched on the foam insulation outside of the box. Wow! I was surprised at her lack of attentiveness to the chick.

Finally, junior decided to take its first flight and made it about 50 feet before landing in the grass. Hmmm.... not too encouraging for its maiden voyage. I now started to wonder if I did the right thing by raising the floor of the box. I should have left well enough alone. Of course, if I had left well enough alone a few weeks ago, I would have nothing to write about. The chicks never would have made it in the first place.

When should humans interfere? When should they not? I pondered.

After deliberating this point for about 5 minutes, I decided that by raising the floor of the box, I might have made things worse by allowing the chick to leave too early from the nest box. So...I chased down the chick in the grass, brought it into the house and put it into a dark, quiet empty tool bag and zipped it up.

I then went back the bluebird box and reset the floor and removed the roof. Back into the house I went and grabbed the chick. (I couldn't believe I was doing this!!!) I then put the chick back in the box, put the roof back on and went back in the house to view the chick using the bluebird box camera.

By this time, both parents were paying full attention to what was going on and not too happy about it. They both visited the box to check on the last chick. They were both raising quite a ruckus.

The chick inside of the box must have been perplexed that it was back in the box again (with the floor at the original height).

So what happened?

As Paul Harvey used to say...and now for the rest of the story...

The chick sat in the box, motionless for about a minute or so, recovering from its encounter with the human. Then it chirped a couple of times and on its first try, it flew out of the box on its own with no help from its human friend. It landed in the grass again, then hopped/flew over to our fenced-in, deer-proof garden and spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden being attended to by both parents.

I don't know who was more perplexed the chick or me.

I packed the car and headed to Chicago.


Plight of the Eastern Bluebird from Alan Stankevitz on Vimeo.

In honor of these Eastern Bluebirds, I have put together a video of their plight.


-- Alan Stankevitz




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All photographs © 2002-2007, Alan Stankevitz

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