Nest Abandonment (Part 1)
Also see Clean Nest or Abandoned?
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 16:41:24 -0400
...For the last month or so there have been many posts written by folks concerned that the completed bluebird nest may have been abandoned. The concern in nearly all of these has been how long should the monitor wait before giving up on the nest attempt and removing the nest.
It seems there is a widespread belief that it is urgent to remove an unused nest if it becomes inactive. Why?
As has been posted recently, Cornell Lab of Ornithology is currently conducting studies to determine whether or not used nests should be removed. As of the date of this writing, I do not believe any conclusion has been drawn. These completed nests that have never been used are much cleaner and bacteria and mite free than nests that were used to fledge birds. Therefore, I don't see what harm it would cause to leave the nest in the nest box for two months or longer after the nest was completed. Why is there such a feeling of urgency to remove them?
One thing for certain, the incorrect evaluation of a nest as abandoned and the subsequent removal of the nest from the nest box is a problem.
As Keith Kridler recently wrote, if a female bluebird is ready to lay eggs and her nest is destroyed, she will lay eggs where she can. She can't delay laying. In this situation she will be forced to lay eggs in less than favorable sites. Sometimes the site is in the nest of another female. This is called dumping and can result in clutches of 9 or more. This puts a lot stress on the adults trying to raise a clutch nearly twice as large as normal.
Egg laying in nest boxes with little or no nest material is another consequence of removing nests prematurely. Others still may be dumped on the ground or in open areas where there is no chance for success.
Because an unused nest in a nest box does not preclude a second nest attempt, and because removing a nest that actually is active will normally result in a nesting failure, it is apparent that patience and leaving the nesting up to the bluebirds is once again key to successful bluebirding.
Meal Worm feeding
If I were new to bluebirding, following the list closely over the last several days would have caused me to conclude that meal worm feeding is a necessary part of successful bluebirding. As most of us know, nothing could be further from the truth.
Mealworm feeding is for the enjoyment of the birder.
More than 99 percent of all successful fledges of bluebirds from nest boxes in the United States and Canada this year will be from nest boxes where the bluebird landlords handed out absolutely NO Mealworms.
At this point, considering how few people are engaged in the practice, I believe feeding meal worms has very little impact in the scheme of things. Therefore, I am not taking a position against feeding meal worms. While many believe problems associated with the bonding of wild birds to humans outweighs any possible advantage of feeding, I believe the experience can result in learning more about the birds and that this knowledge might prove beneficial.
But, I'm certain that if the time, effort, and money were removed from
purchasing and maintaining meal worm feeders and raising and feeding meal
Dean Sheldon describes the excessive involvement by bluebirders in one or a few nest boxes as micromanagement. Many times this excessive involvement reduces the nesting success of even the few boxes being managed.
Reading many posts reminds me of my experience of growing Indian corn when I was a child.
I tilled a couple square feet of soil and buried five or ten corn
kernels and watered the ground. A couple days later I wondered if they
were doing well so I dug them up. I could see they were starting to
germinate. I reburied them again but not until I worried for some time how
So, about 3 days later I figured I better check on them so I dug them up again and now saw that they had roots and a small stem. To help them along I planted them so the top could get some sun light.
Only two corn plants survived the ordeal of my love and curiosity.
When these were about two feet tall I began wondering when the tassel would push up from between the leaves. I started pulling the leaves apart and looking deep into the plant. I didn't tear the plant but I'm sure my probing didn't help. Then, when the tassels started growing, to encourage pollination, I prematurely stripped most of the tassel and dropped it between the leaves.
By some miracle I got an ear of corn on one of the plants. Over the next several weeks I pealed back the husk several times to see how the kernels were progressing.
I ended up with half an ear of corn with about 7 kernels. Boy was I proud.
Think how much less time it would have required, how much less worry would have been involved, and, how much more corn I could have produced if I had tilled three times as much ground, planted 20 seeds and pulled weeds once or twice.
It's an awesome experience to have bluebirds successfully fledge from a nest box. It stimulates our curiosity and captivates our interest. But, instead of micromanaging the way I did with Indian corn, think how many more young bluebirds would fledge from our nest boxes if we put out more nest boxes in good bluebird habitat and spent a fraction of the time worrying and micromanaging each nest box.
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 17:05:57 EDT
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 21:27:41 -0500
Gary wondered why anyone would want to remove nests that appear to be
abandoned. I can of course only speak for this area, but I mentioned
earlier that I suspected that I had some dummy nests where I had put
houses a bit too close together in high bluebird population areas. My
first few bluebird nests are fledging in the last two weeks, and during
this period where I have removed three nests that had no activity after
three weeks, in two of them bluebirds have started new families. This is
consistent with my experience here in the last several years.
Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 11:12:23 -0400
In your post you seem to be writing that removing nest material has resulted in successful nests in two of three nest boxes which you disturbed.
Isn't it possible that what actually happened is that the birds nested in two of the three nest boxes despite your intervention? And, that the third box was abandoned because of it?
Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 22:46:21 -0500
Gary had questions about my experiences in having fresh nesting
activity after removing nests where there had been no activity for three
weeks or more. As KK suggests, I had put straw across the entrance and
when this had not been disturbed when I monitored the trail a week later I
removed the nests. In some cases spider webs have been used as indicators.
When the nesting season is fully underway I believe this is the right
course to take
Date: Mon, 1 May 2000 12:18:13 -0400
I have had EABL raising young in my various yards for the last 16 years. This year I had something happen for the first time. Hoping someone out there can advise. ( I KNOW someone will ) LOL!
The male bird appeared much earlier this year than ever before, March 6. Often I don't have them until May. .(Nothern Michigan).
Female soon followed and by April 7, she was sitting on 4 eggs. Two weeks to the day later, the nest was abandoned and I have not seen her since, although I do see him several times a day.
I fear that since it was Very cold during the week she was laying that the eggs probably froze before she started incubation. This would afffect their viability (??) and after two weeks of incubating, she knew they would never hatch and left.
I left the eggs for 1 more week, then removed them and checked their contents. Nothing but yolk etc. No sign of embryo.
Question, Can the mother bird feel the live babies getting ready to hatch out as a pregnant woman feels the child inside her? This would account for her leaving before the incubation time was actually done.
Also since I have not seen her I am HOPING nothing happened to her. I do have more boxes but have not looked at them since removing the eggs from the abandoned nest. I didn't want to spook her off from starting another nest. It has been three days since I removed the eggs. I will begin checking my boxes for new activity as soon as the rain (FINALLY!!!) stops.
Date: Mon, 01 May 2000 13:17:33 -0400
To you who have a neat bluebird nest all built but nothing happening, don't give up.
On 8 April, Box 24 had a completed bluebird nest in it but there APPARENTLY wasn't a bluebird anywhere around.
Weekly checks showed no change.
Last Thursday, 27 April, I checked but there was still no change.
This morning, 1 May, there are three blue Eastern Bluebird eggs in the nest. I thought I heard a few notes from the bluebirds but couldn't see them. The eggs are cold indicating the female may not yet have completed her clutch. Of course, I checked the box "just in passing" thru the field not lingering at all as early in the nesting cycle the birds can be easily deterred from continuing.
So, don't give up....
Date: Tue, 16 May 2000 19:11:39 EDT
I don't know if my original Message made it to the list but could you
please resend any previous replies. For some reason I was unsubscribed
from the list and my Messages were coming back. I need help with our
Eastern Bluebird babies -- they are about 12 days old and we found the
mother dead in the nest. The father has been feeding them but today my
husband found two dead babies in the bottom of the nest (they may have
died when the mother did). My husband removed the babies but the father
has not returned all day and we need advice as to what to do with the
babies. We have a wildlife refuge that will raise them but we didn't know
if we should wait another day to see if the father returns. Also, since
they are almost ready to fledge could we give them a mealworm in the
meantime? Any help is appreciated.
Date: Wed, 17 May 2000 00:56:21 -0400
Below is an article that I came across that deals with raising a bird.
WHAT TO DO WITH THAT CHICK YOU FOUND
1- Does the bird have feathers or not? If it does, I would recommend doing nothing, although you may want to put it up on a branch if it allows you to. But do not chase it if it is afraid of you. You might drive him into a more dangerous situation. Many baby birds go directly to the ground when they have fledged, and the parents continue to feed them there. If the bird seems injured, move on to paragraph #7. If the bird does not have feathers, or has very few, small feathers read on.
2- Put him back in the nest. Nobody is more capable of raising the chick than its own mother. It might seem fun, but it is a lot of work, and too many things can go wrong too easily. That being said, maybe you would have done this, but it was not possible for some reason (in my case, we did not have a ladder that went up high enough to reach the nest). Read on.
3- Give him no water whatsoever! Even 1 drop may give him pneumonia, and he will definitely die if this happens. This is probably the most common killer of orphaned birds. Baby birds get enough moisture from their food to maintain their water needs.
4- Keep him warm (around 90 degrees), and no direct heat from a light bulb. If you must use a light bulb as a heat source, place a towel between the bird and the light bulb (but not directly on the bird) to avoid burns or overheating until you can call a local animal shelter or organization that is equipped to deal with these birds. Try to be quick about finding a place, if there is such a place in your community. If you have difficulty, use this link to help you find a rehab. center in your area: http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/instruct/devold/twrid/html/contact.htm If you cannot find an organization immediately, or at all, read on.
5- So you may have to keep the bird. Now what do you do? Find a cardboard box with dimensions of about 1' long x 1 1/2' wide x 1 1/2' high. Place a heating pad on the bottom of the box, turned onto its lowest setting. On this, place a small wicker basket or similar, that is high enough to prevent him crawling over the edge and falling onto the heating pad. The bird will overheat if this happens. Inside the basket, place a folded towel, taking care to insure that the complete bottom of the basket is covered.. The bottom of the basket is too hard for the little guy, as I found out when I let him sleep without a towel one night, and in the morning he was miserable and had a very sore leg, which I'm sure would have gotten worse if I did not immediately return his blanket. Also, try to make it that he cannot get under a fold in the towel as it is quite a bit warmer there. Put a thermometer directly on the area where he will be living, and check the temperature often. A good thick glass thermometer from the pet store will do, but not one of those thin plastic ones that can break too easily. You want to keep the temperature at about 90 degrees. This seems to be the temperature that my bird is happiest with, although it was recommended to me that 85-95 was acceptable. I tend to disagree. 95 seems to hot for him, and 85 not warm enough. In any case if your bird is panting, he is too hot.
Lower the temperature gradually until he is comfortable. Keep a dark towel on top of the box, with just enough of an opening to let a little bit of air in. 1" or so should do, but this affects the temperature in the box, so check it and compensate as necessary. If the temperature goes a little too high, you can also try putting a folded towel between the basket and the heating pad. It will take a few hours to make sure the temperature is stable, so keep checking. Keep their area dim, especially for cavity nesters.
A contributor suggested the following setup: A closed carboard box with
about five airholes no bigger than a pen's circumference. The heating pad
was kept under the box as opposed to inside it, and was set to 'medium'.
If this setup successfully keeps a good temperature range, then it would
be the better bet since it would protect the bird from drafts. In any
case, the temperature should be verified often!
My contributor, says that he fed the bird every 45-60 minutes at the beginning, with the amount of formula estimated at 1 cc. By 1.5 weeks, he was feeding about 1.5 cc's every 2 to 3 hours, and after three weeks, he fed the bird 3 cc's (still every 2-3 hours). He said that the main thing is to make sure the crop always has food in it. Also, the birds apparently stop feeding when their crop is full enough, but that one should watch to make sure they really don't overstuff themselves anyways. Apparently some birds (ie. swallows) do not have crops, and others don't have crops when they are young, so it will be necessary to feed them every 15 minutes or so.
With any bird, as they grow, slowly increase the amount you feed them while decreasing the frequency. I would say to make these changes on a weekly basis, as above. I agree with my contributor that any changes to the frequency and amount of feeding should be done gradually, over the course of a few days if it is a drastic change.
Also, the paste should become thicker. The handrearing formula usually has the details marked on the instructions.
7- Is your bird injured or sick? If he is sick, there is probably not much you can do. Call a vet, rehabilitator, or wait it out otherwise. He may get over it, but most likely not. If he is injured, is it internal (are there any unusual black, blue, or unusually red marks, keeping in mind that these colors might be normal sometimes) or a limb? If it is internal, do not feed the bird. Try to wait until there are signs that the injury is subsiding. Again, he will most likely die if this is the case. If the injury is to a leg or wing, he will probably survive, but he will be lame. He may never be able to return outdoors. Will you keep the bird as a pet in this case, and is it legal where you live? You should find out. If it is not legal, you could probably do a little more research for a shelter or organization that can keep the bird. A sick/injured bird can use a little more heat than normal, maybe up to 95 degrees or a little more. Check for overheating (panting).
8- Growth should be noted every day. The best thing to do is to weigh the bird each day to insure that he is gaining weight. I had no device for this myself, so I cannot be more detailed than that. But you should notice things like bigger feet, eye development, colour changes, feather growth, etc. Sometimes you will only notice one thing, such as when I noticed my bird all of a sudden had these huge feet. He looked otherwise the same to me as the day before. This is apparently normal. As long as something is growing, the bird is doing alright.
9- The bird should also have a good energy level, and should want to eat when you offer him food. If you notice a drop in these, start paying close attention to him. He may have simply had a bad night, but more likely he may be getting sick. If this behaviour lasts more than 2 hours, raise the temperature to 95 degrees, and call a vet, rehabilitator, or wait until the situation passes, one way or the other. Try to observe his surrounding conditions for anything noteworthy, like drafts, noise, fumes, etc.
10- Let the bird get 8 hours uninterrupted sleep. Remember, he is a baby after all. Stay out of his room, and keep all the lights off. However, on the first couple of nights, don't let this stop you from checking the temperature of his box. Simply bring a flashlight with you, and avoid shinning it directly in the box. Take the thermometer out, and read it there, then put it back.
11- Keep his area clean. I remove his stools whenever I notice them, and I change his bedding every 2 days since we got a lot of food all over his little towel.
12- Do not let any other animals near the chick. Even if the animal is friendly, you do not want your bird getting used to that animal since when you release him, you will decrease his chances of survival. Just imagine that your bird has been playing with a friendly cat, and then when you release him he goes to the first cat he sees thinking it is a friend. There goes all your work! I would even go so far as to say that you should not let the bird see you with your animals.
13- No smoking, or spraying of air fresheners, pesticides, cleansers etc., in the bird's room. Keep all chemicals and toxins well away from the bird. It does not take much to make the bird ill(or dead) with these substances.
14- By the second week, my sparrow only had pin feathers coming out of his wings and tail, and they were not very long at all, maybe 1/4", if that. By the third week, he had almost all his feathers, except at the area on his body below the wings, a small patch on his belly, and his leg feathers were only just coming in. On top of that, most of his pin feathers came off so that his feathers are completely open and useable. When feathers are growing, you've got to be very careful not to break them, since the birds can bleed to death. At this stage, the bird may seem quite uncomfortable with the feathers coming out, which I suppose is to be expected. If your bird is tame enough to handle, you might want to pet him in the direction of the growing feathers. This may help relieve him somewhat.
15- You will notice that as the bird continues to grow, he will start becoming more curious about his surroundings. They will also start to walk, talk, and flex their muscles. They are usually pretty clumsy at first, but in a few days they will learn the ropes. Take care that they cannot become injured with their little explorations, or fall out onto the heating pad.
16 Within a month (much earlier for some species), the bird will have fledged, which means not only does it have almost all its feathers, but it will actually fly, or try to. They usually fly pretty weakly at first, but within a week, they should have basically mastered it. I often held my sparrow on my finger and let my hand down repeatedly to get him to exercise his wings.
17- I stopped using my heating pad and immediately set up a cage when my bird had fledged. By this time, the feathers will protect them from heat loss. I still left a towel over 1/2 the cage to make it a little less drafty.
18- Also at this time, you might also want to start putting a bin of seeds in his cage. My bird started taking seeds a few days after he fledged, although only when I was not looking. He still prefered the formula and the attention he got with it. Do not give up the formula entirely. Again, simply extend the time in between the feedings. Some birds still want their parents to feed them weeks after they have fledged and learned about seeds, so depriving them totally is a little heartless. Nonetheless, be assured that after a week, if you cannot be there to feed your bird, he will manage for a day. At this time, also add a water bin. I have not noticed my bird ever using it, but it should be available just in case.
19- Now onto the great outdoors. This is the most painful process, but it must be done. Be aware that the following birds are not protected by the Wildlife Protection Act, and may be kept as pets if desired: European house Sparrow, Starling, Pigeons(Rock Doves), European Tree Sparrows, Cattle Egret, any Parrots or Parakeets, European Goldfinch. In other words, any introduced or non-native bird is not covered by the Protection Act. Nonetheless, I recommend that you call your local authority and have this confirmed, as laws can differ from state to state or province to province. If you do intend to keep the bird, do your research on its requirements, diet, habits, etc.
When your bird has fledged, bring him outside in his cage every day to the same location so that he becomes adjusted to the new environment. Remain with him to increase his confidence. After a few days, open the cage and let him explore. Some species (ie. finches) will take wing immediately. Observe them if you can, and call out to them to give them more reassurance. Watch that nothing obvious is around that could harm the bird. Also look to see if they really want to go or if they would like to come back but are afraid to. Help them if you can. Leave their cage in its usual location for a few days in case they decide to return.
My sparrow on the other hand took about a week of exploring outdoors before he got the urge to fly far away. The first few days he simply hopped on the driveway behind the appartment, and pecked at the ground alot. By the end of the week, he flew strait onto the third balcony of the neighboring building. There was nothing that I could do but watch. I noticed that the other sparrows were coming to him, and that he was responding to their presence, although he never followed them. Luckily (for me), he flew to the top of my building after a couple of hours, so I went up, called him over, and he came to me. I have been told by a rehabilitator that the first 2 weeks of freedom are the hardest as the birds have to learn the ropes, but after that they will live as any other bird would.
20- If you are wondering how much is instinctive, I have noticed the
following behaviours that were not taught by me; flying, exploring,
pecking at the ground, dusting the feathers, eating small rocks(grit),
hunting flies. Seems to me that young birds already have alot of skill for
survival once they have fledged.
21- When I first received the bird, I had been told to give the bird moist catfood. This was a mistake since there is far too much water in it, and this causes diarrhea. By the second day, the bird stopped eating. I figured he was dying because I always heard that it was so hard to raise these chicks. I has stopped feeding him, and after about 5 hours, he was again ravenous for food. By then I found out about egg yolk and moistened dry cat/dog food, and that is what I fed him until I went to the pet store and bought formula. If you have made this mistake, raise the temperature a little bit, and wait until the bird feels better. Don't pester him all the time to see if he is hungry. This is just further stress. Maybe every 2 hours you should gently touch his beak to see if he will feed again. As always, any sickness, even belly-ache, is serious.
22- Just 2 days ago an even more serious thing occured. My bird got chilled. He did not eat in the morning and started shivering, and he got worse in the following couple of hours. I gave up hope. You see, the night before, I was feeding him when the unthinkable happened; a drop of water got in his mouth. I had just started a new batch of formula, and fed him once already with it, so I could not believe that there was a drop of unmixed water in the syringe! So the next morning, when I saw him getting steadily worse, I figured that was it. He's got pneumonia! Emotionally I gave up. Lucky for my bird, my boyfriend did not. At 11:00 I told him what had happened, and he spent the rest of the day until 6:00 p.m. nursing the bird for me. To be honest, the bird was already getting better 1/2 hour after my boyfriend started with him. What really had happened was that, although the thermometer said 92 degrees, the warm air from the box was coming out and being replaced by cooler air from the room. We did not have much of an opening over the box at the time (only an inch along the narrow side of the box), but it was enough. And the room was being heated to 20 degrees (Celsius), which apparently was not sufficient. My boyfriend raised the room temperature to 25 degrees C ( this was in June mind you!), and also raised the temperature directly around the bird to 100 degrees F by covering the bird with a small hand towel. The bird was drained by the experience, but made a good comeback afterwards. By nightfall we allowed the temperature in the box to remain at about 93 degrees F. Moral of the story, keep the room warm too, or do whatever you have to to avoid drafts!
23- Be better than me, and don't give up hope too easily. If not for my boyfriend this last experience would have taken the bird away. If you have a problem that you can't find a proper solution for, use your instincts. Patience, observation, and research are your tools, so use them as best you can.
24- Here's a small piece of first aid that is valuable to know. If a bird breaks a nail or a pin feather to the point of bleeding, you must act fast. The loss of a couple of drops of blood is sometimes all that is needed to kill the bird. Keep a stipdic pencil handy(those sticks you get at the pharmacy that stops bleeding from minor cuts on contact), and use it on the nail or pin feather as you would use it on yourself. You will have to hold the bird gently but firmly while doing this, as it may be painful or unpleasant for him. This can save the bird's life. As usual, after such an event, he may be weak, so give extra care as needed. I am unsure to the appropriateness of using this method for any body cut. There the chemicals from the pencil may be more easily transfered into the body, which may harm him.
25- I thought it might be a good idea to list some of the other things
that can go wrong that I have heard from other NG members. This may help
you to prevent them from happening to you.
Date: Tue, 16 May 2000 22:41:40 -0700
To Paul and the Constituency:
I try very hard not to be confrontational when submitting anything to the List at large, but the article above "What to do with that chick you found" was so full of misconceptions and downright misinformation that I wouldn't know where to start! I'm not sure who wrote the article, but I have spent a number of years volunteering at a wildlife rehab center, and helped to raise thousands of nestlings. To anyone who does not have the luxury of a wildlife rehab center if and when they encounter an abandoned baby bird - I'd suggest finding the nearest one and CALLING them!
1. The water issue: True: in nature, nestlings get all the liquid that they need from the food that the parents provide. But an abandoned/orphaned/cat-caught nestling is not your normal scenario. They are usually shocky and in need of immediate rehydration.
2. Hours between feedings? I think not. Have you ever spent any time watching the parent birds flying back and forth to the nest frantically. Baby birds need to be fed every 15 to 20 minutes.
Again, this topic is far too complex and detailed to be dealt with
here. Folks, I'll say it again - if you find a downed nestling, and cannot
return it to the nest, call your nearest rehab center - call one a hundred
miles away if you must - but use their advice. If you truly don't know
what to do
I honestly do not wish to start any type of a confrontation here. If there is a wildlife rehab expert out there that DISAGREES with me, I'd like to hear from them.
Date: Wed, 17 May 2000 17:37:55 EDT
An update on our three babies whose mother we found dead in the nest
and the father stopped feeding: We took them to the AARK (our local
licensed wildlife rehabilitation center) last night. When we called to
check on them today they said they are eating well but still not
definitely out of danger. I do feel better that they are in experienced
hands. We're going to ask and see if we can be there when they release
them (if everything goes well). Next problem: what to do about the
nestboxes. Last night we were ready to take them down. Today we're
considering trying one more time. We could try the monofilament line in
case it was a house sparrow attack and I think most people are past
putting chemicals on their lawns for the next few months. Any other
thoughts on the subject? Thanks again for everyones advice and concern.
I'll let you know the babies' outcome.
Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 17:33:03 -0400
I'm also upset about not seeing any hummingbirds yet this spring. My feeders are up, but no hummers are around. This is the first year in about seven, that I have not had hummingbirds starting in may. I guess this is just not my year for birding. I miss them and my bluebirds so much.
Does anyone have any advice for me? HELP. Chickie Smith
Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 17:53:06 -0700
Wait! Don't do anything. How long have they been there? Mama won't sit on them until she is done laying. See Stokes Bluebird Book page 76. Please be patient. Mama will incubate when she's ready.
Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 18:49:14 -0400
Hi Chickie and all,
You didn't say how long the eggs have been there, so it's hard to say if they're abandoned or not. It would probably be wise to wait a little while. Abandoned or not, putting them in a tree swallow nest would not work. They might possibly hatch, but babies could never survive on the tiny flying insects swallows feed to their young. Even if they miraculously did survive, babies would have no one to teach them how to find insects at ground level, to say nothing of future problems finding a mate of the correct species. I am also in upstate NY in the snowbelt north of Syracuse, and my pair of bluebirds has been here for over two months and still hasn't begun a nest, even though they come often to the boxes. There is a long time left in the nesting season, and about all you can do is be patient. If this particular nesting of yours has gone wrong, birds will no doubt try again. I DO understand your frustration
- all I do is read about everyone else's baby bluebirds, and am about ready to strangle my first-year female who refuses to get down to business. The poor male probably thinks his wings will fall off after more than 2 months of unsuccessful wing-waving! Female has already driven off 2 pairs of tree swallows and removed moss from one box just as fast as the chickadees can carry it in. I too may end up with no birds! At least the nearby trail that I help with has bluebirds. As for hummingbirds, my first one showed up just two days ago, at least 2 weeks later than usual. It's really hard to be patient and not be upset, but there isn't much we can do about any of this except to wait some more.
Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 21:16:55 -0400
Hi all! Yes, we all need to be patient with our beloved bluebirds, especially as we get closer to the North Pole! Also, please don't put the female down, she probably knows the weather better than our Channel 9 weatherman! She knows the right time for her, and she will make a nice nest, eggs and babies... :-)
Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 22:39:01 -0400
Haleya Priest Amherst MA
Chickie, et al - - - careful not to assume the eggs have been abandoned. I made that assumption with a nest earlier this year. The eggs weren't cold, they were freezing. Plus the duct tape I had on the ventilation holes had partially come off and was flapping in the breeze - which must of frightened her from the nest - which is why the eggs were freezing cold. I actually took the nest and eggs out thinking I'd give someone else a fresh start. Between 1.5-2.5 hours I put it back in because I couldn't live with my own thoughts, "What if they come back?". Well, the next morning I checked and sure enough the eggs were WARM AS TOAST!!!!
However, I was sure I had killed the eggs (It was only 40* that day). Happy to say those little eggs all hatched. Did I sure learn a lesson! Check your box to make sure there are no bumblebees in the nest, or wasps on top of the nest, and probably nothing is wrong and everything is right! Eggs are obviously viable for a LONG time. The parents know best. Keep us posted! :-) H
Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 22:20:08 -0700
the first question to answer when wondering if a nest is abandoned is how long since the last egg was laid? You need a time line to judge the situation. In most cases, the hen begins incubating when the last egg is laid, but there are times when a day or two may pass prior to incub. I'd be surprised if more than two, but I'd give it 5-7 days, just to be sure. Then, if no incub., just take out the nest. I suspect that something has happened to one of the pair when eggs are laid but no incub. I also suspect that sometimes young hens might lay eggs but don't quite know what to do with them. If the pair is still alive, they may return to start another nest; if the male is still around, he may return with a different hen.
You can't foster bluebirds in a swallow nest because the two species have very dissimilar feeding behaviors at fledge--if the swallows would even raise them that far, which I doubt.
Kevin Putman, Yuba City, CA
Date: Fri, 26 May 2000 05:01:00 -0400
Abandoned Young or Eggs:
It is sometimes hard to tell if eggs have been abandoned, and there is not much you can do about it if they are. During egg laying, which usually takes place over a period of several days, the female does not stay near the nest during the day, so the eggs will be cool and unattended.
Once the female begins incubation, she remains fairly constantly at the box, taking short breaks to get food for herself. If you monitor while she is on a break from incubating, the eggs will usually warm to the touch. Even if they are cool to the touch it does not mean the female has abandoned them. there are times, particularly in cool weather when the female may stay off the nest for a while, that the eggs will cool. If she does not remain off too long, they still will hatch. In cases like this, the incubation period may be longer.
Only the female can incubate the eggs. If she dies, the male cannot take over, so the eggs will die. However, once the young have hatched, if one parent dies the other is perfectly capable of raising the young alone. The young can only be considered abandoned if both parents are known to have died or abandoned the nest.
The only sure way to know that young are abandoned is to watch the nest at least 4 hrs. to make sure that the parents have not visited it. Abandoned young will be weak and maybe cold, but they can survive about 24 hrs. without food.
If you are sure they have been abandoned, call the local or national bluebird society, the Audubon Society, or a bird rehabilitation center. You cannot raise the young birds yourself; it is against the law. They can be raised legally only by someone who is licensed with a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Canadian counterpart.
If you have to care for young bluebirds in an emergency situation while you are getting them to a licensed rehabilitator, here are some tips.
First of all, keep them warm. Warm then in your hands or by putting them nest to your body until you get them home; then keep in warm place in a small box with a nest made out of soft tissues. They should be fed every 20 minutes, dawn to dusk. They can be fed meal worms, ( available in pet stores) earthworms pcs, canned dog food, canned puppy food, small pcs. of ground beef, or scrambled egg or hard-boiled egg yolk. Offer food on blunt tweezers, giving small young tiny bits of food and more developed young larger pcs. Do not try to force-feed young when they are cold; warm them up first.
From: The BlueBird Book By: Donald and Liilian Stokes
Date: Fri, 26 May 2000 07:10:55 EDT
Thank you to all who responded to my empty nest entry. I am not totally convinced that the babies did fledge. The nest was still in a nice bowl shape and was not flattened and there was not a lot of fecal material but then again there never was. I don't know if that is the case because the parents would take it out of the box.
Anyways, I AM new to this but have been trying for several years to get bluebirds in. There is such competion here for nesting sites that I was not wanting to monitor the house much more then I did because it sure seemed that when I went out to check my houses that other birds seemed to flock from one nest box area to the next.
Lastly, I do love the bluebirds tremendously and have done everthing that I have been capable to do for them. I do have a very busy life and am not able to sit and watch or dedicate my entire day to monitoring. The dilema is this, do I just remove all nest boxes and stop trying or continue and hope I am successful?
Thanks again, Molly
Date: Fri, 26 May 2000 07:16:24 -0500
Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas
I second Dean's warning about feeding earth worms! They are a desperation food and last choice for bluebirds. They contain too much water and do create digestive problems for baby bluebirds. Also canned dog food must be fresh and not allowed to go through warm-cold cycles as it may develop bacteria that will lead to botulism killing the young birds. They will die of symptoms called "limber neck".
Cowbirds: I have never seen a bluebird abandon a nest that contained a cowbird egg or ever seen them push it to the side. They accept it as one of their own.
Missing young:Molly you are doing a GREAT job! Just because you do not watch the birds ALL day long does not mean you are not helping! On average I spend less than 2 minutes observing a typical bluebird nest on my trail from nestbuilding to fledging! The birds are lucky to even see me come by! I normally open a box only 3-4 times while they complete a nesting cycle! If you only have 1-2 young in a box they normally do not flatten the whole nest as they are not fighting for food and trampling each other. They also will often fledge a day or two sooner as they can get more food. By tearing apart the nest after the young "disappear" you should find white chips that look very much like (really bad) human dandruff as this is the feather sheaths that protect the pin feathers as they mature. These white tubes break down into small chips as the feathers develop and work their way to the bottom of the nest. Often a nest that had five babies fledge will only have 1 or 2 bird dropping left in it. I have seen some nests with only a couple of birds fledge that were perfectly clean as the adults removed even the last fecal sack.
People who watch the birds ALL day long and feed mealworms to the birds do it for THEIR enjoyment. Placing a nestbox with the best predator guards and using minimal monitoring is for the cavity nesters enjoyment. All of you out there with a nestbox or two are doing a TREMENDOUSLY important part in conserving our native cavity nesters! If these birds are going to prosper it will not be because of a few huge nestbox trails in a small area but scattered boxes over a huge area! Anyway here's "Three Cheers" for all our nestbox owners no matter the number they own! KK
Date: Fri, 26 May 2000 09:29:53 -0400
I don't think things are looking good for my first pair of bluebirds. The last time I saw the female was the 14th. The male continues to check the nest and to enter on occasion. I have 5 eggs. I am beginning to think that this nest should be removed and I should attach the box to a pole as has been recommended by the group. Keep in mind that I just started documenting the nest on May 14. These eggs had been laid I believe the beginning of the month.
And I still do not know what kind of bird has nested in the spider plant. I am not home very much so it has been difficult to monitor. However, the spider plant is looking great!
Thank you for your help and wisdom.
P.S. I think the neighbor has gotten rid of the cat. However the raccoons are still around and the trap that I received from animal control doesn't work. So they are bringing me out another one.
Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2000 14:38:26 -0400
How come the Eastern Bluebirds at my place have somewhat "abandoned" their nest? They finished it, and when I looked in today, there was nothing but a dead leaf at the bottom. It appears that either the bird(s) threw out the nest, or otherwise The Bluebirds are spending more considerable time away from the nesting site, just coming to perch on the telephone wire above the box a few times daily. Could they have a nest somewhere else and just decided to make a "false" nest here?
I haven't bothered the nesting site, checking the box 3 times a week. Now when I check, I find a disappointment. There are no harmful insects, and the cat is outta' here, but what is happening?
I have been "Bluebirding" for almost 3 years now, and I've never experienced something quite like this. But then again, there's a first for eveything...
Thanks for any helpful information or input,
Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2000 11:52:59 -0700 (PDT)
Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2000 23:13:47 -0400
The good news is that the second batch of titmice began to hatch today, in the same box as before. I saw more parental activity around the box than usual, so went up to check. Sure enough, there were two hatchlings and four eggs. This is a day early according to my calculations, but I also suspect she may have begun incubating before the last egg was laid. I will refrain from checking again for a few days and let the rest of them hatch without interference.
On the negative side (although I know some of you would consider it
good news), I am beginning to wonder if the house wren in the bluebird box
How many days should I wait before I can assume the eggs are abandoned?
I realize that I might have come along when the mother just happened to
On the other hand, HOWR #2, in the hanging ex-'dee box, seems to have resumed nest-building after several days' hiatus. Today I saw what looked like a pair, and one of them was bringing non-twiggy looking stuff to the nest. The nest itself seems to have made progress.
I wonder... could the lady from Driveway North have abandoned her mate
and progeny and gone off with the raggle-taggle gypsy from Driveway
Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2000 23:12:51 -0500
Re: young chick deaths - I lost a family like this last week only a few days after hatching. No unusually hot weather - they were all just dead in the nest. It happens on my line about once a year and all I can ever figure out about it is that something happened to the parents, or at least the female if it has happened early in the year when there is still some cold weather. Bluebird Bob.
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2000 21:04:40 -0700 (PDT)
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2000 09:16:44 -0700
Kelley from Bridgman, Michigan here!
Around the middle of May a pair of bluebirds found one of our boxes and started nesting immediately. I noticed that the female started sitting about a week later. My husband and I checked the box and found 5 beautiful blue eggs and were very excited. We checked the box each week, but after 3 weeks noticed the eggs were still as they appeared the first week. The female continued to sit and the male continued to feed her and "run" off anything that got close to his territory. On June 28 the pair finally abandoned the box. They would fly around and settle on the box and act disturbed that there was something in it. After the female had not been around for 2 days, I cleaned out the box. Why did the eggs not hatch? Is it possible that they were a young pair, perhaps didn't know how to "sit" the eggs, were the eggs not fertilized? We have great conditions for the birds. My hubby built boxes according to internet instructions and did not paint the inside. Outside of box is stained light tan to keep weather away. Our yard opens into an open field/old grape arbor. Did we do something wrong?? Can anyone give us insight?
Date: Sat, 8 Jul 2000 10:26:33 -0400
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2000 10:52:35 -0700
Our local center is listed in the yellow pages under the heading
"Animal Control and Support Centers". If you aren't so lucky, try calling
your local Fish and Game Department. THEY have to take their animals
somewhere. You might also try the local animal control shelter, or even
your local vet.
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 07:15:47 EDT
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 08:29:22 -0400
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 12:33:26 EDT
I wholeheartedly agree. I was caught in the situation whereby feeding
the babies immediately was imperative. Once I forced their beaks open and
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 22:23:45 -0700
Linda Violett - Yorba Linda, Calif.
In So. Calif., Fish & Game heads up the rehab classes/licensing and I've asked if I can take classes. Nope.
I've been told that they will not give classes to someone unless they are willing to take in ALL birds. When I explained I'm trying to better care for my 40-box bluebird trail in emergencies, they said it's not worth their time.
The rehabber in our Orange County area is very busy and I'm hesitant to take any bluebirds to her. Last year I took a goldfinch nestling to her after tree pruners cut the nest. Later, another was found on the ground and I took that to her as well. Left my name and telephone with her.
Since I was not invited into her home either time, I could not view her rehab setup for cleanliness, etc. But I took the opportunity to ask about licensing and rehabbing. She said she spends thousands of dollars each year doing it, etc.
She asked me not to call about the goldfinches anytime soon because she was in the middle of the busy season. She'd give me a call later. So I waited for word on the goldfinches but none came. After the busy nesting season I called for results. She was on vacation per the answering machine. Later I called again and left a Message . . . no response.
I wouldn't feel comfortable taking any bluebirds to the local rehabber so if there is a way to get rehab classes/licensing, without taking in ALL birds and spending "thousands of dollars per year", please let me know how to go about it.
Lynn & Pat Brye wrote:
These are the four bluebird babies that were abondoned last
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 07:58:55 -0400
Hi Linda and all. By contrast, here is what I wrote Pat about our
"Second Chance" place, just two miles down the road from where I live:
Fawzi from MD ...
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 10:46:13 -0400
Read your Message about Calif. Fish and Game. I'm from Calif. and a licensed master falconer and when I asked Fish and Game for a permit, they wanted to know what kind of birds. Seems they have rehabers for song birds, raptors, etc. They also told me 'no'. No reason and when I asked why, I got all sorts of excuses from, 'we don't want falconers rehabbing' to, 'if you rescue the little haouse sparrows etc. then you're taking away some other animals dinner'. I also asked if I could have some sort of permit for taking in birds and hold them untill I could get them to a rehabber. I managed a pet shop and people always brought me birds. The allmighty Dept. of Fish and Game said 'You better not!. Yet I ran into licensed rehabbers that shouldn't have had a pet bird let alone a rehab license. So I did my thing anyway. I figured what they didn't know wouldn't hurt me and I got quite a few birds returned to the out of doors. I wouldn't tell anyone to do anything illegal but, as far as I'm concerned, CA Fish and Game doesn't have a clue!!
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 09:34:39 -0700
I have an answer to the Fish & Game issue Wings mentioned below. I hold an Oregon state and a Federal permit to rehab. Unfortunately, the permitting rules in California are different so when I moved here I was no longer allowed to rehab under my own permit. Needless to say I was really upset and have tried numerous times to change their minds.
Apparently Fish & Game feels that they can monitor activities better by allowing regional permits. I guess in some areas there are some individuals but that's unusual. For instance in our area (Monterey) the permit is issued to the SPCA Wildlife Center. In the next county (Santa Cruz) it's also issued to an entity. It seems to depend what region in California you're located. I know in Southern California there are people who hold their own permits.
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 09:53:57 -0700
What your local rehabber said was true, you do spend alot of money rehabbing. Most rehabbers are volunteers so even if you hold a license, you still foot the bill for food, supplies (including medical supplies), caging, etc. It's very costly and VERY time consuming.
What she was referring to was "baby season". To give you an example, I took in 60 ducklings (my specialty is waterfowl) over the course of about 8 weeks time. My total for the 3 month baby season was 80 ducklings. This didn't include the 13 quail, 1 turkey, 2 bobwhite, 1 grebe and three cages full of rehabbed passerines that I "hacked out" or readied for release. This was a pretty easy year. Typically, the shelters will have hundreds of birds come through each summer.
However, I always let the people know who brought the animals to me
what the outcome was. I would often ask them along on the release. It only
takes a few minutes and I think it's only fair to the kind people who
rescue the animals in the first place. Her behavior toward you, in my
The reason the Fish & Game Dept has to restrict the license to people
who take all birds has to do with the permit itself. The permits are
issued to cover all birds and/or all mammals (except marine which require
an additional permit), and/or all reptiles, you get the idea. It's
separated into categories. For instance, my permit allows me to
handle/hold all birds except raptors and all mammals except marine
mammals. I didn't choose to
I wouldn't worry about the state of her facility (in this case her
home) because Fish & Game can visit at any moment, without warning to
What you can do is take the classes, be willing to accept all comers,
but specialize in bluebirds. You may have to take a few Starlings or
To anyone who's interested, there are three organizations on the web
where you can get information. http://www.iwrc-online.org is the primary
Hope this helps a bit.
Date: Sat, 22 Jul 2000 20:29:43 -0400
I have two boxes where the female has abandoned eggs and stopped laying after only two eggs were laid. In one case I had to work at the box about twenty minutes to replace the post which was too short (I suspected a cat had jumped to the box and caught the female (lots of fine blue feathers at the base of the post). A second female had started late, on July 18, in that box but abandoned 2 eggs after I had changed the post. In the other case I had picked the female out of the nest when she stayed there upon openeing the box. I released her from my hand. Would that cause her to quit laying? Is there any evidence to show that females abandon eggs simply because it is late in the season?
Charlie in southeast PA
Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas thunder and lightning last night but no rain.
Anytime you suspect a nest of baby birds has been abandoned in one of your boxes wedge a piece of grass stem in the entrance hole so that the next trip an adult makes they will knock it out and you know that they have been there if you cannot watch non-stop. Remember that baby birds can go all night without food without "starving" to death. Especially in high heat or during cold spells it is harder for adults to find insects which are hiding from the heat or not moving due to cold. In these instances the young birds "act" like they are starving when they are really in no danger. I remember Shawn would have "starved to death" waiting for a bottle of milk to get warm if we had not had a microwave.....
This is why I like to check on yard boxes everyday up until they fledge. You actually can find some who are starving and as Don is doing now, a quick walk by and peek in the entrance hole during the day will not cause them to prematurely fledge. I would not reach into a box and try to touch the young after about day 14.
Harry Krueger carried a few pine needle straws in his shirt pocket and placed a broken off piece in an entrance hole every time he checked a box that contained eggs. The next trip to the box (he checked his boxes every day) he would know if a bird had entered the nest without feeling the eggs. He could tell right away if the female had disappeared and not have to wait weeks sometimes for the eggs to hatch or before he realized he had a problem. KK
Date: Sun, 3 Sep 2000 08:59:29 -0700
I am surprised that the Blues were raising young this late in the season. Could it be possible that the parents realized it's September and abandoned the nest?
To: the Constituency:
I'll rephrase my 9/2 post in question form: "Why did four very small Bluebird chicks (5 day-old, maybe) simply die in the nest, with no nest disturbance, no injuries, no signs of predation, nothing that would suggest why they died?" What causes of death come most readily to your minds? Remember that I'm in NH, - not exactly in the nation's Heat Belt, - not far from Dartmouth, a famous north-country SKI-school, and site of the renowned Cold Climates Lab.
Bruce Burdett, NH Bluebird Conspiracy, Sunapee NH
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