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First Blog Post

Hi to everyone. My name is Bill Read president of the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society. The winter so far has been mild allowing bluebirds to have an easier time finding food. But a Polar Vortex is on its way. Their favourite winter food is the fruit of the sumac, this is supplemented by winter active insects.  On a sunny windless day in winter you can find sheltered areas where it goes above freezing. This is where the bluebirds find things like little black spiders etc which gives them some protein to go along with their more vegetarian winter diet. I have included a picture at the top of this post of a Mountain Bluebird taken by Tom Thomas just south of Guelph in January, 2012. This is an uncommon winter bird that shows up in Ontario every 2-3 years. It nests further west starting in Manitoba all the way to British Columbia.  What is most interesting is that it is eating a cutworm like the ones you find in your garden during the warmer months. This was in the middle of January on a day that was not that warm and proves the point that different species of insects can be active during the winter months for the bluebirds to take advantage of. 

It wont be long now until we start seeing bluebirds arriving from their winter migration. But did they even leave? The latest Christmas Bird Count ( CBC ) results in 2019 recorded 827 Eastern Bluebirds. The previous year 2018, a total of 1124 were counted.  Most were counted in the Carolinian areas along the north shores of lakes Erie and Ontario. There were even bluebirds in the Peterborough area during last years count. Every year since about 1987
( when 80 were recorded ) the numbers have increased on CBCs. 

It is always an exciting day when you record your first bluebird of the year. Hard to tell today if it is a migrant or one that spent the winter here. Most bluebirds do migrate further south to areas in Georgia and North and South Carolina. They have two options 1. take a chance and overwinter hoping it won’t be to cold and they can find enough food or 2. Migrate further south where it is warm and more food is available. Both have perils associated with them.  

What to do during these winter days ?  The lack of snow cover makes it easier to do some winter checking of your nest boxes. One thing I do is make sure there are no Deer Mice over wintering in your boxes.  Their urine will ruin the box and the smell is difficult to get out. If they have overwintered they will use the box in spring and summer to raise more deer mice. Exactly what we don’t want. If bluebirds or Tree Swallows attempt to nest they will disrupt the nest. Deer Mice will eat newly hatched Tree Swallow young. Yes I have observed this. They also can be carriers of hanavirus which can be deadly. Always wear a mask when cleaning out Deer Mouse nests and other debris. If they persist I recommend putting a cover over the entrance hole that can be removed in early spring. ( see picture ).  

Deer Mouse Cover           

This is also a time for repairing nest boxes and building new ones. I have a membership to the Durwood seniors wood shop in Galt Cambridge, unfortunately it is not open because of the covid epidemic. It is a great place to be able to go in the winter to work on wood projects like nest boxes. Anyone over 50 can join and they have every tool imaginable. Most urban areas have these seniors centers with access to their wood shop.  Wishing everyone an early spring and a successful nest box season. I will write this blog every two weeks with updates over the summer on bluebird management. Have a look at our nest box video under nest boxes on our website. 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. We spotted two pairs in our yard this week, checking out our nesting boxes (Beverley township, Flamborough). One male was brightly coloured, the other not as bright. Wonder if that indicates a migrating BB vs. an over wintering one.

  2. Hi Bill, I went around the Alderville Black Oak Savanna nest boxes last Tuesday, March 30. Many of the boxes had staghorn sumac seeds in them, so had been used as winter roosts. I haven’t seen so many seeds here in past years (since 2007).

  3. I have a wasp problem in the boxes. Tried rubbing soap bar on the inside walls and ceiling.
    Any better suggestions?
    Sparrows have been aggressive last year so I provided nesting gourds in another part of the garden for them and than I remove the eggs. Any other suggestions?
    I also need a good source of mealworms.
    Many thanks, Bill.
    Laura in Niagara on the Lake

    1. Hi Laura The European or native Paper Wasps that sometimes get in the boxes can be removed and very seldom sting. I have only been stung twice because I accidentally put my hand over the top of them. Wait for a cold night and then remove them. The bluebird society recommends removing adult sparrows and humanely dispatching them. World population of House Sparrows set at 1.4 Billion, See the front of our website for a supplier of meal worms.

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