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Click to go to Audubon Society of Omaha Home Page Audubon Society of OmahaEastern Bluebird

Welcome to The Bluebird Box since 1995
Best of Bluebird Mailing Lists Classified

Diet (What Bluebirds Eat) (Part 1)

Also see Feeders, Feeding, Feeding Philosophy, Feeding Frequency, Feeding Mealworms, Feeding and Raising Mealworms, Mealworm Suppliers, Feeding Berries, Feeding Seeds, Feeding Prepared, Suet, Feeding Emergency, Feeding Other, Feeding Planting, and Feeding Seasons.


Subj: giant Mosquito/blowflies/feeding frenzy
Date: 5/19/99 8:10:19 AM Central Daylight Time
From: kridler"at"1Starnet.com (Keith & Sandy Kridler)
...

Feeding frenzy: Several people have commented about either how the bluebirds will clean up a 1/4 cup of chopped eggs or a bowl of meal worms in a matter
of minutes. They describe how "Frantic" the adults are over food. This is natural since bluebirds have to compete with hundreds of species of insect eating birds. Many insects hatch by the thousands in a matter of minutes! The adults will gather up dozens of swarming termites and make rapid trips back and forth to a nest during any insect swarm. These short lived swarms make it easy on the birds, even if they look frantic. They are no different than turning loose 1,000 kids in a park with 10,000 Easter eggs! How would you describe this Easter egg hunt to someone who had never seen one? Frantic, frenzy or mayhem would work but to the kids is just fun, easy & enjoyable! Bluebirds have three major feeding times. Early morning, mid to late morning and the last two hours before dark. Birds are like most living creatures when they are hungry they are starved and will overeat. They will be on the verge of exploding with food and their body tells them to keep eating! Bluebirds may take advantage of this fact and stuff their young "frantically" and then loaf for over an hour or 2 before getting "frantic" again. Harry Krueger banded all adults nesting in his boxes for 5 years and checked the bands every nesting attempt. It might take up to 7 hours or over two days to trap both adults at a box and to while away his days he used a digital clock on the dash and recorded the time of every feeding in note books. It was not unusual to have 3 and even 4 hour gaps in the feeding schedule during the day and then a "frenzy" for 15 minutes. KK


Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 12:52:47 -0600
From: "Katherine Alford" katherinealford"at"hotmail.com
Subject: unusual feeding behavior?

About a week ago the bluebirds at my house were feeding on flying insects! I have looked through the books I have and none of them mention bluebirds doing this. I don't know if it really should be considered abnormal since these bluebirds won't touch the suet! I think these are "country" bluebirds and only go for the bugs and berries.

It was quite funny when one male went after a large moth. It snapped at it twice but was unable to take it down. I watched the 5 bluebirds for several minutes. It is very quiet at my house so I was able to hear them when they caught the bug. It was like a snap or click in mid air then the bluebird would return to perch and wait for another bug.

Has anyone else seen bluebirds feeding like this?

Happy Holidays!

Katie Alford
West Central Louisiana


Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 17:14:02 -0500
From: Laurie DeMott demotlj"at"infoblvd.net
Subject: Re: unusual feeding behavior?

I have occasionally seen a bluebird snatch flying bugs out of the sky but it always seemed as if they were doing it because the bug happened to be there not because they were looking for it. My dog often eats flying insects for the same reason!

Laurie DeMott
Alfred, NY (where only chickadees dare to brave the winter)


Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 18:12:07 -0800
From: Linda Violett lviolett"at"earthlink.net
Subject: Re: unusual feeding behavior?

Linda Violett - Yorba Linda, Calif.

I've only seen bluebirds flying after insects a couple of times (very rare). The first time was during a backyard box checkup. The homeowner and I saw the male bluebird flying after an insect and neither of us expected him to be successful. Amazingly, he caught it; we were so impressed that we both gave him an applause.

Another time, a male chased an insect clear across the street and I'm not sure if he caught it. There must have been a lack of insects because over half his nestlings perished.


Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 22:36:56 EST
From: Dinlows"at"aol.com
Subject: Re: unusual feeding behavior?

Hello All,
I didn't even think this was abnormal behavior as I have watched the immatures chase insects in the yard. I was under the impression that they were "in training". I've watched my adult blues going after flying insects and never thought anything of it.

I surely don't have the only bluebirds who enjoy insects for "dessert" maybe?
Linda - Ind.


Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 20:36:17 -0800
From: "Dusty Bleher" dusty"at"fsinc.com
To: "BLUEBIRD List" BLUEBIRD-L"at"cornell.edu
Subject: Re: unusual feeding behavior?

....

FWIW; I've often observed BB's "hawking" insects. Not as often as the various flycatchers, but certainly many times. It's kinda neat. In fact, I watched one chase a moth. He missed it several times. And as he was diving and twisting to get it, it dove straight towards the ground. Almost as if it
"knew" what to do. IIRC; Ms. BB did get it. But she had to fish it out of the grass. It seemed to take quite some time and effort....

...
Dusty Bleher
San Jose, Ca.


Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2001 22:48:52 -0700
From: Linda Violett lviolett"at"earthlink.net
Subject: Re: Seeds in Nestcup

Linda Violett - Yorba Linda, Calif.

Jim, I also find seeds in nestcups at food-stressed sites (single parent / inclement weather).

In some cases, so many berries have been fed to the chicks that their skin/feces turns yellow-orange. When chicks from these distressed nests are fostered to well-fed nests (both parents feeding smaller clutches), skin color returns to the normal color within a day or two.

jim elliot wrote:

On jim elliot jelliot"at"backpacker.com wrote:
Hi all,

When I cleaned the box from the latest fledged EABL I noticed there were no less than two dozen cherry pits in the nest. This is the box that lost the female in the last week before they fledged. Is this something odd or just something I never noticed before? Could the lone parent have relied more on these than normal to suppliment the usual insect diet or is fruit a usual part of the nestlings diet?


Date: Sat, 16 Jun 2001 07:34:37 -0400
From: "Gary Springer" springer"at"alltel.net
Subject: Re: Seeds in Nestcup

Cherry pits are left in nests because the young chicks regurgitate them instead of passing them in the form of feces.

Here in North Georgia, when wild cherries are in abundance, regardless of the weather and availability of other insects, bluebirds feed many of these wild cherries to their young so the pits accumulate in the nest..

Gary Springer


rom: "susan"at"changeswithin.com" changes"at"sunlink.net
Subject: Eschargoe?
Date: Sun, 16 Dec 2001 12:22:50 -0500
 

Do Northeastern (within lower Appalacian Chain) wintering birds eat snails? If yes, who? & "Most importantly (here), do EABL's?"

I just saw more bluebirds here in my "yard" than I ever saw before in all my years!!! (Oh yaay!!)

Thanks (multiplied) ... in advance,

Susan / Freeburg, Central PA / Snyder County BSP ;-)


From: Brucemac1"at"aol.com
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 2002 20:56:48 EDT
Subject: Natural Bluebird food(s)

Bruce Macdonald -- SW Ontario, South of Detroit

I understand that Mealworms are a favorite food of Bluebirds.

However, I'd like to know, specifically, what bluebirds feast on out in the meadows and among the trees. During the breeding season, when they're raising young, what do they look for..?? Of what does their diet consist..?

Bruce


From: "emcooper" emcooper"at"bayou.com
Subject: Re: Natural Bluebird food(s)
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 2002 20:09:58 -0500

I see them with small grasshoppers and crickets. We have an abundance of them. Just as soon as it warms up enough for the insects, they abandon the feeder with the raisins and crunchy peanut butter with oatmeal.

Evelyn Cooper
Delhi. La.


From: "Bruce Burdett" blueburd"at"srnet.com
Subject: Re: Natural Bluebird food(s)
Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2002 08:47:04 -0400

Brucemac, et al,
In my experience here in NH, they catch mostly caterpillars, grasshoppers, and crickets. Bruce Burdett, SW NH


From: "Bill Darnell" bdarnel3"at"bellsouth.net
Subject: Re: feeding maggots, mealworms/natural insects
Date: Fri, 24 May 2002 08:03:22 -0500

Subject: feeding maggots, mealworms/natural insects

Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas wrote
Central Texas is having another impending grasshopper explosion.

...

I don't know what is in store here as far as grasshoppers are concerned, but we are in the last phase of an enormous 13 year locust emergence. The hulls are everywhere, the ground is perforated with 1/2" holes around foundations and tree bases, and the noise is maddening!

I have seen Purple Martins feeding on them, reluctantly, it seems, but have not noticed a Bluebird eating one. The weather has been below normal cool, and not many insects flying high for the last few days for the swallows. Bill Savannah, TN

From: "Charles Burwick" c.r.burwick"at"worldnet.att.net
Subject: How much weight in insects do Bluebirds eat a day?
Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2003 13:45:28 -0600

Does anyone know of a study, or other than anecdotal information, that states how much weight in insects a Bluebird will consume on average on a day? There is a lot of information about what Bluebirds eat, but I have not been able to find how much they may eat in weight. For instance, do they eat one times their body weight on an average day, or any other given number times their body weight? From time to time I have heard anecdotal remarks about this issue, but I have not been able to find any formal study that would substantiate any number.

Charles Burwick
Greater Ozarks Audubon Society
Springfield, Greene Co., Missouri
c.r.burwick"at"att.net


From: Keith & Sandy Kridler, txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net
Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 9:07 AM
Subject: Insects Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas

...Bluebirds and many other birds rely on insects to a certain degree during the summer months or whenever these high protein bugs are available. During the fall we often see the birds switching to a diet of fruits and berries even when the insects are still thick.

From Country World (weekly Texas farm newspaper): "Insect blood freezes well below the freezing point of water 32*F. This is because insect blood contains sodium, potassium and chloride ions which lower its freezing point. This adaptation helps insects survive winter conditions."

I just put plastic on our 1,500 square foot greenhouse Monday. We have had about 10 days so far that the temperature has dropped into the low 20*F range. Within hours of installing the last fasteners in this plastic roof we had thousands of insects frantically trying to escape to the sky from the ridge of this house. We have kept the ground in this greenhouse tilled up as this is where we grow our spring garden so these insects were just the ones trapped in the air and on pretty much bare dirt. I only saw the ones flying to the top to escape in just the first few hours!

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) back in the 1930's went out in the world and basically built a "greenhouse" in fields, pastures and crop lands. They dug in the sides and sealed the top and then went into this "house" and got on their hands and knees and caught EVERY insect large enough to "interest" a bird and scratched down only as deep as birds normally dig. They completely dismantled each plant in this enclosure. By taking the area of this sealed house and multiplying it out they came up with numbers of insects per acre large enough to be eaten by a bird. During the summer months the LEAST number they found per acre in the United States was 2.2 million insects per acre. Most areas averaged around 4 million per acre. In Great Britain they hit a high of over 10 million insects per acre. I believe the grass in Kansas and other prairie states went to over 6 million per acre. They were trying to determine if birds could actually make a dent in the insect population.....By studying stomach contents of birds they determined that most birds actually ate as many insects that were beneficial to man as they ate of insects that were harmful. For example wrens eat a large number of spiders that would have multiplied and eaten their own weight in insects every couple of days. Purple Martin's actually feed on dragonflies when they are available and each of these dragon flies would have devoured "thousands" of mosquito sized insects everyday. They found that a single large dragon fly consumed 40 house flies in a single 12 hours of daylight....

KK


From: Tyler Mann [mailto:t_mann05"at"hotmail.com]
Sent: Saturday, May 15, 2004 3:30 PM
Subject: hello all

I have a question. i live in west central ohio and we are supposed to have cicadas anytime now. when they do come, would it be good to capture them and put them in bluebird feeders for the EABLs to eat or feed to the young. anyone ever see adult EABL eating them at all? just wondering thanks tyler


From: Don / Ruth Edwards [mailto:pinecrestfarm"at"earthlink.net]
Sent: Saturday, May 15, 2004 9:00 PM
Subject: Re: Cicadas

Tyler, the cicadas are much too big for the bluebirds to be interested in them. Ruth Edwards, Westport, MA


From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Tuesday, July 13, 2004 8:34 AM
Subject: Wendell's insects Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas

Did anyone notice that the large fly Wendell caught on film being fed is a giant horsefly? Also the shot of the beak full of queen ants was a real keeper....Moths are often attracted to street lights or lights on lamp posts and are found with thousands of other insects in the morning quietly sleeping through the day near the light. I have people who report that their birds (of many species) will feed exclusively on this smorgasbord of insects every morning until they haul off all of the good tasting, night flying species of insects! Hummingbird moths in the south would be nearly as long as the bluebird's body. A friend watched grackles on Saturday picking off the choice insects off of the bumpers of cars as they pulled into a fast food restaurant near I-35 south of Dallas. One bird also drank from the cold water dripping from the car airconditioners. These birds were teaching their young where to find food and water and what kind of food to eat in a world covered in concrete. Life is uncertain for birds and I do believe it is important for adult bluebirds to teach their young all of the different species of insects they can eat! Humans rely on grocery stores for food but if stranded they can starve in a marsh filled with edible cat tails or a field of the tiny flower called a spring beauty. IF adult bluebirds get separated from their young shortly after they fledge and the young only know to go to the mealworm feeder then they have to learn on their own that a wasp or bee is dangerous or that monarch butterflies are poisonous....The longer the young stay with the adults and the more types of food they learn to eat and the more places they learn that this food can be found the more likely these birds will be to survive to return next year! Birds do not have cook books or books on predators or poisonous plants and insects to read. Will Betty Crocker teach your grand children your families favorite meals? Will you teach your grand children how to build a nestbox or will they have to read about them in The Bluebird Monitor's Guide:-))? KK



From: JoAnn Gossett [mailto:supertiger"at"bellsouth.net]
Sent: Monday, July 19, 2004 10:20 PM
Subject: Blueberries and Bluebirds

What a surprise when I went to check on my babies and I found blueberry residue in the  nest.!  I didn't think that Bluebirds ate berries.  So much for my knowledge! JoAnn Gossett  aka Supertiger

From: John Allinger [mailto:nhojregnilla"at"hotmail.com]
Sent: Monday, July 19, 2004 10:53 PM
Subject: feeding hatchlings berries indicative of problems

I seem to recall that the presence of berry residue in the nest is indicative of a shortage of insects to feed the hatchlings. Is this absolute or just a generality. John Allinger Southwest Washington


From: Bruce Burdett [mailto:blueburd"at"tds.net]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 7:52 AM
Re: Blueberries and Bluebirds

Jo Ann, et al, Bluebirds routinely eat a wide variety of berries, seeds, and even small fruit. When the insects disappear in cold weather, they rely on these foods heavily, though their nutritional value is not as great as that of insects. Even the lowly sumac seeds are resorted to in tough times. Bruce Burdett, dead serious in SW NH


From: JoAnn Gossett [mailto:supertiger"at"bellsouth.net]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 7:58 AM
Re: feeding hatchlings berries indicative of problems

John, I live in the middle of the woods with a large field on one side and there certainly doesn't seem to be a shortage of bugs, I can often see them in midair. I also watch the birds while they are perched on the power lines and often see them swoop down on the bugs. I also feed mealworms at least three times a day. The blueberry bushes are less than 20 feet away from the nestbox. Perhaps the birds don't feel the need to fly too far. JoAnn Gossett aka Supertiger


From: JoAnn Gossett [mailto:supertiger"at"bellsouth.net]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 7:50 AM
Re: feeding hatchlings berries indicative of problems

John, I don't know about there being a shortage of insects here. I'm in the middle of the woods in FL with an open field on one side and can often see various insects on the wing. I also watch the birds on the power lines as they perch up there for a good view. I am also feeding them mealworms at least twice a day. There are 2 good sized blueberry bushes less then 20 feet away. JoAnn Gossett aka Supertiger


From: Evelyn Cooper [mailto:emcooper"at"bayou.com]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 8:20 AM
RE: feeding hatchlings berries indicative of problems

When we were having so much rain and it was raining for hours on end without stopping, the pair in my yard came to the empty feeder looking for food. I put a few raisins out which they took immediately and ate for several days. Now that it has stopped raining so much, they still come back to the feeder but I know for sure there are plenty bugs. I quit putting the raisins in the feeder because I think the young in the nestbox need the insects. Maybe your birds acquired a special taste for the berries. I wondered if the terrible rainy spells could have cause the females to leave the nests longer that they should looking for food and maybe that increased the chances of them not hatching like they should. The infertile count of eggs was high. I had both second and third cycles nesting at the same time and both had high numbers of infertile eggs. I definitely believe the heat can cause the high count of infertile eggs on the second and third cycle, but this year it was for another reason. There may be more than one reason that can cause the high increase of infertile eggs. On the news, they stated it had not rained like that here since in the 50's. Evelyn Cooper Delhi, LA


From: JOHN & BARBARA SIBIO [mailto:jsibio"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 10:14 AM
Subject: Blueberries and Bluebirds

I have never seen any evidence of berry-feeding in any of my bluebird nests. We have available strawberries, blueberries and lots of blackberries in our area. The only fruit I have seen them eat, on their own, is grapes from my grape arbor; and that was after the nesting season was finished, in late summer. They really seemed to enjoy the grapes. Maybe they were rewarding themselves for all the hard work they had done that season! I plan to feed the Bluebird Banquet this fall, for sure.

Barbara in Cloverdale, CA


From: L Colangelo [mailto:lcolangelo"at"verizon.net]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 11:18 AM
Subject: Re: Blueberries and Bluebirds

Our EABLs around here in central Md. will even eat black mulberries, but that seems to be a "last resort" food.


From: Dottie Roseboom [mailto:rosedot"at"mtco.com]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 4:19 PM
Subject: Re: Blueberries and Bluebirds

Once again, I wonder if berry-eating behavior isn't somewhat linked to the bluebird's climate: more northerly blues dine on berries in late winter, when insects are hard to find. So, they might not hesitate to offer berries to nestlings, especially in cold, rainy weather. Perhaps the southern belles, having more insects, year-round, can scoff at berries. Several years ago, we had an extremely cold, wet spring, that was wrecking havoc on all nesting birds. I remember one bluebird female brooding her new hatchings almost constantly, as the male brought all of them food. For 3 days, every time I saw him, he was soaked. He resorted to using mulberries. That spring, I heard many reports of dead nestlings - presumably from hyperthermia & starvation. After the weather returned to normal, both parents began feeding insects. All 5 of these nestlings fledged. I was thankful for those berries! Even though lacking the nourishment found in insects, I believe that they kept the babies alive, until insects began moving again. (This occurred before mealworms were available at every corner store.) Ever since that time, I've tried to observe under what circumstances berries are used. This spring we had a bumper crop of mulberries - most of them fell & rotted on the ground - smelled like a winery. Judging from nestbox stains, only 1 set of parents used any berries this year - probably because the weather has been superb and the insects abundant. We did enjoy seeing the mockingbirds & cedar waxwings in the mulberry tree. Dottie Roseboom Peoria IL (central - zone 5)



From: judymellin [mailto:judymellin"at"netzero.net]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 12:49 PM
Subject: Re: Blueberries and Bluebirds

I checked two of my favorite sources and this is what they say: Paul Ehrlich, The Birders' Handbook:  he shows insects as the first choice (during breeding season) but lists fruit right below that as a secondary food source.  Under diet, he lists earthworms, snails, other inverts; berries and states that the young are primarily feed insects. John Eastman, in Birds of Field and Shore, states that choice foods include ground beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, spiders and snails.  In summer and fall, eastern bluebirds add many fruits to their diets, mainly berries. But no broccoli! Judy Mellin NE IL.

From: charlene anchor [mailto:charleneanchor"at"msn.com]
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2004 9:13 AM
Subject: Bluebirds and mulberries

My trail sits on a FPD prairie area with a limited amount of short grass for bug foraging for the bluebirds. In my limited experience of 1 box last year and 1 box this year, near the end of the nestling time the bluebirds started feeding mulberries heavily. Since insects would normally be their first choice, I wondered if they didn't have to resort to mulberries (there are mulberry trees at the edge of the prairie in certain places) to meet the demands of the large nestlings when they couldn't get enough insects. This year I saw all 4 fledglings with their parents after leaving the box. Hopefully they were being set straight on what the best diet would be. Charlene Anchor, Illinois


From: Snoopy [mailto:snoopy"at"wmis.net]
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2004 10:48 AM
Re: Bluebirds and berries

I wonder if maybe the bluebirds start feeding the babies berries to teach the young that they are good to eat???


From: Paula [mailto:PaulaZ"at"columbus.rr.com]
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2004 4:44 PM
Re: Blueberries and Bluebirds

Just to throw another possibility out there to ponder... I remember in a previous post, Keith was commenting on all the different kinds of insects that EABL eat and how the parents have to teach their young what food sources are out there. Why not the same with berries? I once found cherry pits in a EABL nest. I have also found evidence of mulberries and other small seeded berries. I recently found mulberry residue in a TRES box right after fledging. I thought this very strange, but maybe they were teaching their (almost) fledglings that this is a viable food source in a pinch. There were plenty of insects available as it is mayfly season where the berry mess was in the box. Another possibility - maybe the parent offered the nestlings some berries and they refused them and slung them all over the box - it sure looked that way... Paula Z Powell (Central) Ohio



From: Elizabeth Zimmerman [mailto:ezdz"at"charter.net]
Sent: Thursday, July 22, 2004 11:57 AM
Subject: RE: Blueberries and Bluebirds

I've been working on compiling a validated list of berries that bluebirds will eat (see http://www.sialis.org/plants.htm ) - highbush blueberry is on there.   Any confirmed additions are always welcome. I have about 40 plants that are listed in books/websites as food sources, but that info (esp. on Internet) is not always reliable, so I am looking for eyewitness confirmations of bluebirds consuming their berries. Bet from CT

From: Autumn L. Kruer [mailto:autumnk"at"iglou.com]
Sent: Sunday, August 15, 2004 10:11 PM
Subject: RE: third nesting

I had a third nesting this year, too. Fledged yesterday. First time I’ve had babes in the box this late. Created a whole new problem with predators, though. Usually, my birds start in late March or early April, fledge by second week of May and then sometimes a second nesting afterwards. I seldom see them after late June to mid July.

When we cleaned out this last nest, I noted something new – tons of seeds in it. Walking around the woods yesterday, I realize that the dogwoods are fat with berries. I think that is what the seeds in the nest were. Never had a nestful of seeds before. I’m wondering if the plentiful bounty in the woods has something to do with it. Our land was full of blackberries this year and I noticed yesterday that the persimmons are so full this year that the branches are drooping.

Autumn in Kentucky


From: Lynn Ward [mailto:lWard"at"pmai.org]
Sent: Thursday, August 26, 2004 8:54 AM
Subject: Berries & Bluebirds

While everyone is on the subject of mealworms & a bluebirds' diet, I have a question. I had a lone parent, a male, feeding four nestlings. When I would monitor the box, I noticed berry stains just covering the sides & knew he was feeding them a lot of berries. After they fledged, the bottom of the nest was covered with black cherry pits. My first thought was how did the nestlings keep from choking on these small pits. Does the adult remove the pit first or do the nestlings know to do this? Lynn Ward South Central Michigan


From: JOHN & BARBARA SIBIO [mailto:jsibio"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Thursday, August 26, 2004 10:04 AM
Re: Berries & Bluebirds Berries & Bluebirds

I have seen bluebirds in my garden feeding on grapes in the fall, but it was well after the nesting season and the fledglings were eating them also. I've never seen evidence of chicks being fed berries, although I've read about it on this list. I did have one experience with a pair of robins, the bluebird's "cousin", who nested in my oak tree on a low branch. We could see the entire process from our patio, and we watched the adults feed the chicks until they left. In addition to grubs and worms, they got strawberries from my garden (I use them as a ground cover); later, the female would fly off and return with cherries from my neighbor's trees. By then the chicks were pretty big, but still in the nest. After they fledged my grandson and I put up a ladder and inspected the nest. The construction was amazing, the inside was a perfectly smooth cup of dry mud, filled with cherry pits! I wondered the same thing -- if the chicks ate the whole cherry, were fed pieces of it, or fed from it themselves. Since the pits were completely devoid of fruit I assumed they went through the digestive canal whole. I guess a single parent will do whatever is necessary to get those babies fed. Barbara in Cloverdale, CA


From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Saturday, August 28, 2004 9:12 AM
Re:Berries and Bluebirds Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas

Adult bluebirds will swallow dogwood berries whole and then grind off the meat of the berry in their gizzard. Once the large seed is cleaned the adult will burp up the seed and spit it out. Small seeds like poison ivy, blackberry or raspberry will pass through their digestive tract and be planted all along fence lines and other places the birds spend time. If the seeds are perfectly clean they were probably spit out. If they are white washed then they probably went through the digestive system. Now is a good time to begin looking at your yard or field and identify spots that could use a food producing tree or bush. Our squirrels are attacking the Chinese Chestnuts we planted about 15 years ago, I can't even pick up one of the spiny green burrs filled with the chestnuts let alone try to gather enough to eat!


From: JOHN & BARBARA SIBIO [mailto:jsibio"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Saturday, August 28, 2004 10:16 AM
Subject: Re:Berries and Bluebirds

The bluebirds eat my grapes in little bites, pecking at them until they are small enough to swallow. I wondered how the robin chicks managed to eat the cherries. The cherry seeds were clean, but quite large, and the cherries themselves seemed too large to be swallowed whole. In the empty, mud-lined robin nest, the seeds almost looked like little white eggs!


From: Shawn
Sent: Saturday, August 28, 2004 2:15 PM
Subject: Re: HELP!! Bluebirds flew the coop!

Interesting. Oh, wow! I'm glad "mine" didn't disappear that long. Bird summer vacation, cute! Sounds like it does have merit. Have you tried Bird Grub from Audubon Wokshop (roasted, dried caterpillars)? Not sure I want to raise mealies (my husband thinks I'm birdbrained enough as it is with our birds). I think someone mentioned it a few weeks ago in an email, but I think it accidentally got deleted. It would be great if they will eat it, especially the babies, in case of emergency, but I don't know if they would accept "dead" food. Shawn


From: Dottie Roseboom [mailto:rosedot"at"mtco.com]
Sent: Saturday, August 28, 2004 4:38 PM
Subject: Bluebird foods & ramblings

Shawn, before I answer your "Bird Grub" question, let me ramble a bit on my personal philosophy about "nature". IMO, our personal paradigms influence our daily actions. I basically think that we should pretty much leave "nature" alone. Of course, I justify having a dog, because it "needs" my care. However, I don't dress her up in silly little outfits. (I don't mean to insult people who enjoy this activity, it's just something that I don't do). Likewise, I provide nestboxes for bluebirds, because in our area, massive urban sprawl has decimated natural cavities. However, I also leave every tree snag that is not hanging over our house. I encourage all species of woodpeckers, so that they provide even more natural cavities in the tree snags. Each year, we add many native "wildlife" plants, many of which provide food for many caterpillars, bees, grasshoppers, etc (bluebird food!) We also plant berry-producers - especially one that hold their fruit until late winter, when food is hard to find. We have a natural spring on our property (which was a must when we started looking for property) that provides water except in extremely long, cold spells. So I really prefer a more "natural" food for birds than what mealworms or bird grub SEEMS to be. As far as dead bugs: in the winter, bluebirds will eat dead bugs, frozen mealworms, & the banquet treats. So I guess that they would probably eat Bird Grub too. But why not just plant some dogwoods & hollies, allowing the birds to enjoy the berries? However, this year I started experimenting with mealworms. (Again, justified by urban sprawl & exotic weeds destroying so many of our native plants). One year's data is not enough to draw conclusions, but so far, I haven't seen much difference. (except for the chickadee aggression, which I saw as a HUGE negative) Could be that I was not feeding enough mealworms to see an improvement. I have raised fish for years and definitely believe that mealworms, etc. are very beneficial for them. But tank fish are already in such an artificial environment. I experimented to see why everyone was feeding mealworms. Also, to start training the blues to accept mealworms, just in case we ever have our "normal" winters, where snow sometimes hampers bluebird feeding. In extreme weather, (such as was mentioned in an earlier post, when nestlings were lost), I would probably put out as many mealworms as the parents could feed (hard to watch bluebirds starve to death in your backyard) . However, this may or may not be best for the bluebird POPULATION. We do not know if the genetic make-up of a particular female in our backyard should NOT be added to the gene pool. Perhaps she is not able to brood her babies properly, and the law of nature prevents her babies from living, until we interfere with mealworms.... In my experience, novice monitors can have great success with bluebirds by (1) placing nestboxes with baffles in good habitat. (2) Providing starling & sparrow control (3) Removing the nest once fledging is finished (4) MOST IMPORTANT - sharing the fun of bluebirds with family and friends. Mealworms, bluebird banquet, and Bird Grub are NOT required. And I might add, if monitors are spending money/time on mealworms RATHER than using pole baffles and sparrow control, they might be disappointed. For birders who have excessive time & money, I think that mealies can be great fun. And perhaps sometime, in the future, we will have "proof" that they do help the POPULATION, rather than just the bluebirds that we become attached to. Now, Bruce, that is how to ramble! Dottie Roseboom Peoria IL (central - zone 5) NABS member


From: Paula [mailto:PaulaZ"at"columbus.rr.com]
Sent: Sunday, August 29, 2004 9:18 PM
Re:Berries and Bluebirds

A couple of years ago, I had a bluebird nest that had cherry pits in the nest cup after the birds fledged. They were pretty big pits - about 1/4 inch across (i.e. typical cherry pits). They were not white washed, but looked clean. Could the bluebird fledlings eat these whole and then burp up the pits like Keith said? Would they peck off the fruit? This is the only nest I ever saw the pits in, although I have seen some smaller seeds in other nests. Paula Z Powell (Central) Ohio


From: Lawrence Herbert [mailto:lherbert"at"4state.com]
Sent: Sunday, August 29, 2004 10:26 PM
Subject: DOWO/ poison ivy

The other day I watched a female Downy Woodpecker dining on poison ivy berries. DOWO are fond of them (EABL too) but you'd think she would wait till winter! EABL can eat cherries. They may have been offered to the nestlings when they were getting up there, say Day 15 or more. Good birding, Larry H. Joplin MO.



From: Pamela Ford [mailto:jpford"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Monday, September 13, 2004 12:38 PM
Subject: bluebird comedy and some OT musings

The bluebirds still make the occasional trip back to my yard to hunt but they are not as routine as when I fed mealworms during nesting season or winter.

Although I know it is non-native, I researched and finally planted a small grove of aspen in my backyard to remind me of my time in Denver. Of the seven, bare root 4-foot tall saplings I planted last spring, the rabbits immediately chewed two down to the ground. I then wrapped the trees in cheesecloth bags to protect against 17-year cicada damage to the wood (when the female lays eggs she slits the branch and the part of the tree outside of that slit dies), but the females decided to slit the trunk just below the cheesecloth - two more trees gone. Then the leaves disappeared off 2 of the remaining trees. When I investigated, I found a silk-spinning type of caterpillar. I identified it as a poplar tent-maker. Imagine that the moth knew that my non-native aspens were in the poplar family! Well, I picked all the caterpillars off the poor trees and decided to place them in the mealworm feeder for the blues.

After placing them in the droll yankee Plexiglas dome, I whistled for the bluebirds and they appeared after about 5 minutes. They were all excited and chattering away happily, “It has been quite some time since you had food for us!”. Then three blues left the roof edge and landed on the tray under the dome. As soon as their little feet hit the surface and they looked in the try, they all three jumped back in horror. One even hit his head on the dome and almost fell down into the bushes. They returned to the roof edge and sat there scolding me for 15 minutes! It was so funny! I wonder if they will even come to that feeder again! (Their reaction to the caterpillars would have led me to believe they were harmful, but I handled them with no ill effect.)

Does anyone know why they acted in this manner? ...

Pam in Harford County, Maryland



From: Gail [mailto:thorntog"at"ci.hamilton.oh.us]
Sent: Monday, September 13, 2004 2:25 PM
Subject: RE: bluebird comedy

Pam: So funny about the caterpillars - sounds like the same experience I had with offering tomato hornworms! They acted like they were terrified and wouldn't even land on the bowl. It surprised me since I had successfully fed them Japanese beetle grubs & cicada grubs in the spring & early summer.

Anyway, I threw the hornworms in the pond and the catfish enjoyed them!

Gail
SW Ohio


From: Bet Zimmerman
Date: September 14, 2004
RE: Tent caterpillars

Ah, that must have been quite a sight to see! If the reaction wasn't because tent caterpillars are DISGUSTING, it may have been because of the following:

Tent caterpillars (Malacosoma sp.) feeding on WILD BLACK CHERRY trees (Prunus serotina) were suspected of causing Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome in 2001, when thousands of thoroughbred horse foals in Kentucky were miscarried or stillborn. The hypothesis is that the caterpillars concentrate toxic cyanide compounds from the black cherry foliage (converted from prunasin into cyanide in the caterpillar's digestive tract) , and then their fecal material contaminates the grass which is ingested by grazing horses.

The weather in the spring of 2001 was thought to increase cyanide levels in the leaves. Some veterinary investigators thought that something else was interacting with the caterpillar-cherry complex like fungi.

I've read the twigs and older or dried up leaves are most toxic. Some people now remove the trees, or put muzzles on the horses so they can't eat it. Other control methods: remove small nests by hand or with a broom, early in the morning or late afternoon when most caterpillars are inside and drop into a soap solution or toss on the ground and crush. The bacterial insecticide BTk (Bacillus thuringiensis va. kurstaki) is very effective if sprayed on host vegetation when caterpillars are young (since they need to eat it) so you're supposed to use it before much defoliation has occurred, and in late afternoon on a cloudy day because BT's effects deteriorate when exposed to sunlight.

Bet from CT



From: eindians [mailto:eindians"at"zoominternet.net]
Sent: Monday, September 13, 2004 9:36 PM
Subject: Re: bluebird comedy and some OT musings

pam i had a similar experience this spring.for 2 months we fed the blues mealy`s morning, evening and all day long on days where the temps were 45 or below. when the chicks fledged the parents would put as many mealy`s in thier beak as they could.[the male had as many as eleven in his beak at one time] the problem with this was they were dropping a number of worms while in flight.[there was a pair of warblers that followed them constantly picking up the dropped worms] so i decided to order super worms,which i purchased on line. 1 of these guys is about 10 times bigger than the largest meal worm.[weight wise]

the first time the male flew to the bowl he landed on it as usual and reached down to get a mouth full. EEK!!! he jumped backwards off the bowl with his wings spread as far as they could go.[i thought i was going to fall off of my chair i laughed so hard] he circled the bowl with wings out yaking away. he carried on with this ritual for a full minute. finally he flew into the tree above the bowl mistified at what he had just seen. a few seconds later the female alit on the bowl and promptly snatched up a worm to take to the little ones. once the male saw that it was safe he did the same. had the female not been bold enough to grab the worm it is my belief the male never would have. the question why they react this way i can only fathom a guess. animals are creatures of habit. we are no exception. lets say there is an ice cream stand 20 miles from your home that you have been patronizing for the last year. on the way you are thinking of how good that cone is going to taste[that you have already had a dozen times] only to arrive and find out that they have changed from hard ice cream to soft. if it was me i would definately be very disappointed and somewhat mad at the thought of driving that far when there is a dq right across the street from my house. i tell my wife i think like a bird, and she always says no,you have a bird brain. so if this explanation sounds cookoo hang in there,my better half has to put up with me every day. happy birding evan - 15 miles south of youngstown,ohio


From: Jim Elliot [mailto:j_bird717"at"yahoo.com]
Sent: Tuesday, September 14, 2004 12:34 PM
RE: bluebird comedy/caterpillars as bird food

After reading the various posts concerning caterpillars to birds and a little thought I started researching the subject. Caterpillars and butterflies/moths have developed a number of defense mechanisms. Some use scare tactics such as eye spots or horns. Others have spines, some with toxins, while others emit noxious odors, similar to a skunk on a smaller scale. One of the best known is the Monarch Butterfly which feeds on milkweed making the caterpillar and butterfly unpalatable to birds. A quote from my Peterson's field guide: TOMATO or NIGHTSHADE FAMILY Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers belong to this family. Some species are poisonous. Tomato Hornworms may be unsuitable as birdfood. May be harmful. May just taste bad. Bluebirds and other animals are certainly fascinating creatures, but it's the interaction with various plants and insects that REALLY intrigues me. ===== Jim Elliot


From: Bruce Burdett [mailto:blueburd"at"tds.net]
Sent: Tuesday, September 14, 2004 3:22 PM
Re: bluebird comedy/caterpillars as bird food

Jim Elliot, et al, Another interesting critter is the caterpillar of the common carrot worm, which is the larva of one of the Swallowtails, - I think the Black Swallowtail. At rest it appears to have no horns at all. But when disturbed it projects twin orange fleshy 'feelers' which give off a pretty unpleasant stench, easily detectable by humans like me. If I were something the size of a bird, I'd certainly depart very quickly. Bruce Burdett, SW NH



From: Elizabeth Zimmerman [mailto:ezdz"at"charter.net]
Sent: Wednesday, September 15, 2004 12:42 PM
Subject: FW: bluebird comedy and some OT musings

Ah, that must have been quite a sight to see! If the reaction wasn't because tent caterpillars are DISGUSTING, it may have been because of the following:

Tent caterpillars (Malacosoma sp.) feeding on WILD BLACK CHERRY trees (Prunus serotina) were suspected of causing Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome in 2001, when thousands of thoroughbred horse foals in Kentucky were miscarried or stillborn. The hypothesis is that the caterpillars concentrate toxic cyanide compounds from the black cherry foliage (converted from prunasin into cyanide in the caterpillar's digestive tract) , and then their fecal material contaminates the grass which is ingested by grazing horses.

The weather in the spring of 2001 was thought to increase cyanide levels in the leaves. Some veterinary investigators thought that something else was interacting with the caterpillar-cherry complex like fungi.

I've read the twigs and older or dried up leaves are most toxic. Some people now remove the trees, or put muzzles on the horses so they can't eat it. Other control methods: remove small nests by hand or with a broom, early in the morning or late afternoon when most caterpillars are inside and drop into a soap solution or toss on the ground and crush. The bacterial insecticide BTk (Bacillus thuringiensis va. kurstaki) is very effective if sprayed on host vegetation when caterpillars are young (since they need to eat it) so you're supposed to use it before much defoliation has occurred, and in late afternoon on a cloudy day because BT's effects deteriorate when exposed to sunlight.

Bet from CT


From: JOHN & BARBARA SIBIO [mailto:jsibio"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Thursday, September 30, 2004 3:33 PM
Subject: WEBLs like grapes!

I just watched an adult pair of WEBLs feeding on our table grapes which we planted on the deer fence! The vines are young, so there were just a few small fruit on them this year, but the birds were obviously enjoying the Concord grapes! I had seen bluebirds eat Thompson seedless grapes when I lived in the town of Sonoma, but this is the first time I've seen them eating grapes here in Cloverdale. I always leave some fruit for the birds; strawberries, figs, grapes, oranges, etc. and I'm pleased to see them enjoy it. I guess the insect supply is beginning to dwindle, as that is the only time I see the EBL eat fruit. Definitely a sign of fall. Barbara in Cloverdale, CA


From: John Schuster [mailto:wildwingco"at"earthlink.net]
Sent: Friday, October 01, 2004 11:24 AM
Subject: Re: WEBLs like grapes!

Dear Barbara and friends,

Yes, this is the time of year when Bluebird shift to grapes when insects are not as plentiful, but they will also go to fruit in a vineyard if water is not readily available too.

I've seen Bluebirds hunting and eating insects, then shift to eating a single grape off a vine, then shift back to eating insects again.

I've reported this behavior to many of the vineyard mangers in the area, and most are now supply water in vineyards, not just for the Bluebirds, but to reduce damage to irrigation lines that are chewed up by coyotes seeking water.

... John Schuster


From: Dottie Roseboom [mailto:rosedot"at"mtco.com]
Sent: Friday, October 01, 2004 12:25 PM
Subject: EABL like poke berries too

Hi John et al, Right now, the bluebirds in the Midwest are enjoying poke berries. Makes for beautiful red splotches on the mealworm feeders :-) Guess that they probably also go for our wild grapes, but haven't personally witnessed them eating those. Providing water for squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, etc helps to reduce the damage that they do to grapes, watermelons, & squash.... Dottie Roseboom Peoria IL (central - zone 5)


From: JOHN & BARBARA SIBIO [mailto:jsibio"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Monday, October 11, 2004 3:38 PM
Subject: Bluebird picnic

Yesterday we went with friends to a nearby winery for a fall picnic. The picnic area is very beautiful, surrounded with vineyards, and a view into the valley overlooking a lake. Most of the tables were taken and everyone was having a good time, when I noticed that there were a dozen or so bluebirds feasting on the grapes in the vineyard! They would dive into the vines, then emerge a moment later with a grape and return to the shrubs near the buildings. They were busy the entire time I was there, and it was nice to see them enjoying the fall afternoon! An added bonus. Barbara in Cloverdale, CA


From: judymellin [mailto:judymellin"at"netzero.net]
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 8:01 AM
Subject: Fw: Bluebird snake behavior (no sightings)

This was posted to our local birding listserv and I thought others who have a snake problem might be interested. Judy Mellin NE IL. -

From: <> To:
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 7:48 PM
Subject: IBET: Bluebird snake behavior (no sightings)

Hi All: During the summer I found a Brown Snake in a Bluebird nest after the babies fledged. It was about five inches long and had a diameter of less than a pencil and the head was flattened. My first thought was human vandalism. Some kid killed the snake and pushed it through the entrance hole of the box as a prank. Recently I received "Bluebird", the publication of The North American Bluebird Society. Paul Gunderson from Minnesota told this story: "Yesterday afternoon I was looking out my kitchen window when a male Eastern Bluebird landed in our front yard with a small (four to five-inch) Red-bellied Snake dangling from its bill." " He had the snake by the head and it appeared to be dead." " The bluebird smacked the snake against the ground a couple of times and took off toward an open area beyond our small orchard." " I went outside but was unable to relocate the bird to observe whether or not (or how) the snake was actually eaten." Isn't that something? The possibility of a bird with a tiny throat trying to eat a snake. Maybe it was just defensive behavior. Large snakes eat Bluebird eggs. Richard Hospers


From: Burnham, Barbara [mailto:Barbara.Burnham"at"zzz.zzz]
Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2004 7:30 AM
RE: Bluebird snake behavior (no sightings)

Judy, I have seen bluebirds eat small snakes, once even taking a snake to the nestbox to feed a lone nestling. The bluebird female first killed the snake (probably a young Eastern Hognose), and "tenderized" it. Fascinating to watch, but messy! About 3 weeks ago, I watched a young bluebird fledgling attack and try to eat a snake (which I later identified as Northern Ringneck). First he poked it and then jumped back in fright several times. Not giving up, he poked it some more. After several attempts, he finally ate it, which took a LOT of vigorous gulping. He sat there motionless for a while, and suddenly OUT came the snake! Okaaaay, so then he tries again, fighting this writhing, whipping thing, and finally swallowed it completely again. But after a few minutes, out it came again, lively as could be! Relentless, after half-an-hour of this, he finally has the snake half swallowed, with the tail still hanging out motionless. Then another fledgling decides HE wants it, and they fight over it for a while. But the younger bluebird wins the prize. For 10-15 minutes more, the fledgling just sat there motionless, with the lifeless snake's tail still hanging out of his beak and curled onto the ground. But once again, the snake escaped and crawled away unharmed, like nothing had happened. Barbara Burnham Ellicott City, MD


From: Haleya Priest [mailto:mablue"at"gis.net]
Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2004 8:09 AM
Re: Bluebird snake behavior (no sightings) Haleya Priest Amherst MA

Great story! I've seen the same thing with a youngin' trying to "eat" a very large earthworm. It took a LONG time for it to go down all the way - - out would start to slither the earthworm many times before the job was done. That is hillarious about the other youngin' trying to "usurp" the snake from the other! :-) H


From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Friday, October 22, 2004 6:39 AM
Subject: bluebirds/tent caterpillars/wasps Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas

Evan wrote about the tent caterpillars disappearing in his part of Ohio and that bluebirds never seemed to eat them. Tent caterpillars normally hatch out with first leaf break in spring hitting many different species of trees, bushes and even some vines. They can have several life cycles by mid summer. In fall a similar species, the fall web worm again attacks some of the same species of trees and also affects many other species than the tent caterpillar. Both of these "worms" are really the larva of a plain gray or brown moth. These caterpillars spin a strong, thick web to protect them from members of the wasp and hornet family. The European wasps are competing with the native wasps for the same food but none of the wasp species are very good at thinning out the tent caterpillars since they explode in population before wasp families get to their highest numbers. Wasps don't kill caterpillars for fun but only to feed their young. Humans tend to kill out every nest of hornet or wasp that they find. In addition to the strong webs these are "hairy" bodied caterpillars. They look soft but actually are very similar to fiber glass insulation. Rub a few on a soft part of your skin and you end up with very painful embedded fibers. These caterpillars also eject a very sticky, stinky "tobacco" juice when you grasp them. If you throw them in a pond fish will hit them and immediately spit them back out. Birds have gizzards that grind their food to help with digestion. The Yellow Billed Cuckoo has evolved to eat hairy caterpillars. They occasionally break into the thick webs and eat their fill. Their gizzard grinds up thousands of these caterpillars but over time the lining of their gizzard is a solid mass of embedded spines. Something triggers them to "shed" the whole lining of their gizzard and they burp out this lining and mass of spines and they are "good to go" to eat more spiny caterpillars. Cuckoo's are pretty rare and would also rather eat something easier on their heart burn. If you force fed bluebirds these same caterpillars it would kill them. Tent caterpillars feeding on cherry trees actually concentrate a poison from the early spring growth of cherry trees in their droppings. In early spring female horses eating grass under these tent caterpillar infested cherry trees can eat enough of these poisoned droppings to cause them to abort their colts or have them still born. The REAL question here is WHY are the tent caterpillars gone from your yard? I know that Ohio Department of Agriculture has a program where they receive reports of Gypsy moths and have nursery inspections continuously. When they find the Gypsy moths they (did)schedule the area to be sprayed with BT (Bacterium Thurningenisis) from the air. For years they did not have to announce when and where they were going to spray and I know they sprayed parts of Stark county for three years straight and just south of Alliance Ohio, This is near Youngstown. The BT sprayed for Gypsy moths ONLY affects the larva of moths and butterflies on the plants they are actively feeding on. If you spray cabbage you kill the larva of the yellow cabbage butterfly, Spray passion vines you kill the larva of the Gulf Fritillary, Spray milkweed you kill the larva of the Monarch Butterfly ETC. Ohio is a huge corn growing state and in the late summer/fall when corn pollen is ripe the genetically engineered BT corn pollen and corn parts can kill caterpillars of the corn borer, silk worm moth, corn leaf miner. IF other species of caterpillars eat enough of this BT pollen with their host plant they can also die. Corn pollen is heavy and normally drops straight down on the waiting tassels. Severe winds can blow the pollen out of the fields but normally it then is not concentrated enough to be lethal to nearby non target caterpillars and normally there is only about a week or so of heavy pollen drop per field. Call the Ohio Department of Agriculture and see if they still spray for Gypsy moths and if so how many gallons of BT they used this year and how many acres in the state were sprayed. Find out what the timing for their spraying is as each spraying will affect the availability of caterpillars for food for a couple of weeks for bluebirds and other species of birds. Many states "contract" out the spraying so they have no liability or access to these numbers. You should be able to find out how much the state PAYS or budgets for a year long spray operation. KK


From: JOHN & BARBARA SIBIO [mailto:jsibio"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Sunday, October 24, 2004 4:13 PM
Subject: WEBL and grapes

This morning, early, I heard the BB's in the oaks behind my house, greeting the sunrise. I'm pretty sure they are roosting in the nestbox, as they usually do in the fall. About an hour later, my husband saw three of them eating our Concord grapes again! It's curious, because we have other varieties planted on our deer fence and we've only seen them eating the Concords -- and they're the only ones with seeds! In Sonoma, they ate our Thompson seedless grapes every fall. I've been attempting to plant daffodil bulbs in our rocky, clay soil. It rained a couple times this week, so it's a little easier to dig, but not much; I keep digging up some kind of grub. I never saw these grubs when I lived in Sonoma, about 40 miles away, and I'm thinking of putting a couple of them on the fence and feeder to see if the birds eat them. They're white, of course, and remind me of the Japanese beetle grubs we used to see back in New Jersey. Wish I knew what they were! There are a lot of them, too. It's good to hear some of the birds survived on Phil's trail. They do lift your spirits! Barbara in Cloverdale, CA


From: Ron Kingston [mailto:kingston"at"cstone.net]
Sent: Sunday, October 24, 2004 10:31 PM
Subject: Re: Painted predator baffles?

... Watched three bluebirds check out one of the backyard nest boxes today and go to the bluebird feeder, about 12 feet away.  They eat dogwood berries and mealworms.  The platform feeder was filled with fake "Holiday" holly/berries garland and a glass container (restaurant sugar packet holder) of a few fresh dogwood berries and 30 or so mealworms ...



From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Sunday, October 31, 2004 9:14 AM
Subject: feeding your mealworms/dietary needs of birds, Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas

Since we are on bird diet lets think just a little about the nutrition that these birds need at different times of the year!

During fall molt when the birds are replacing their feathers they need high protein at the same time their hormone producing glands are dormant. Young birds have completed bone, tissue and feather growth too.

Migration for bluebirds is a ho hum affair where they drift south on north winds and feed and stop whenever they get tired or hungry. So the fall is an easy time for them before winter kills off most of the insects and fruit is plentiful.

Winter is where cold and lack of food can stress the old birds, disease spreads faster when birds are in flocks or share limited food and water sources. Young birds might be inexperienced in finding enough food or recognizing predators. The birds never know when a severe storm is going to last a week where they cannot find enough food to fuel their "furnace".
Birds cannot store too much fat or they will get overweight and slow down their flight speed.

Early spring is very hard on bluebirds since their hormones are kicking in and the females need to "tank up" on calcium, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, everything she is going to need for laying eggs. Males need to be at their peak color and strength to migrate or hold territory.

They might shed too much of their winter plumage and then encounter severe cold spells. Did you EVER go on a two week trip and have the right winter/summer clothes with you?

Right after eggs hatch the diet needed by the adults again changes! The majority of food needs to be just right in moisture, size and nutrition for building bones and forming feathers in a brood of young!

In chickens they have learned that vitamins, hormones and various amino acids can increase egg production in a hen to over 300 eggs a year compared to a bluebird that can produce about 25. By improving diet in laying hens they have doubled egg production since the 1940's when they found out that "day length" helped control number of months the birds would lay eggs.

....



From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 8:33 AM
Subject: Seeds in nestboxes used for roosting!

Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant Texas
Gosh there are a LOT of things we all can be doing to answer questions about these birds! I was out replacing boxes and checking a few empty ones the other day and found many nestboxes with a LOT of bird droppings in the boxes. There are several different types of seeds in these droppings. I went around checking many different berries still on the trees and cannot identify some of them.....I noticed in my greenhouse that even though we continue to pull weeds (a good plant growing in the wrong place) out of my tree buckets that within a couple of weeks you can identify a plant grown from a seed.

OK then scrape out those bird droppings containing seeds from those roost boxes into a zip lock baggie seal it and place the nestbox number on the bag using a permanent Sharpie pen. Plant the droppings and all the seeds into STERILE soil in a plastic bucket, keep it moist and warm and see what grows!
Be sure and use that long handled scraper, dust mask and rubber gloves if the droppings are dry and dusty. Label the bucket and date it. Most larger seeds need to be planted 1/4" to 1/2" under the soil...The bigger the seeds the deeper they can push up through soil. Some seeds lay dormant for several years or need to go through a full year of weathering.

I have noticed bluebirds using some trees we planted last year along a 2,000 foot long driveway. The trees are planted in a Bermuda/Bahia grass field and are constantly used as hunting perches. Yesterday while checking and cutting off the trees the buck deer had ruined while rubbing their antlers I started finding seeds in the bird droppings under all of these trees....More seeds to plant and ID.

Just for fun in my greenhouse I started to keep track of a few plants growing in "Sterile" potting soil I stored under a sweetgum tree.... It seems Cedar waxwings (among others) carried the Bradford pear seeds from the front yard to the back yard along with berries of Virginia Creeper from the front to the back.... We have about 6>12 baby sweet gum trees growing in EVERY 6" pot (dropped from the sweetgum balls overhear)! LOTS of species of wild lettuce (milkweeds) picture dandelion seeds blowing in the wind! Every species of crab grass there is and chickweed (under pressure and explode out of the seed pods) and on and on....When you can find 10 different species of plants that sprouted in a single 6" pot after only a couple of weeks in "Sterile" soil left sitting outside for a month, you realize how easy it was for plants and diseases to spread around the world in the hay and food and plants in buckets that the early explorers carried with them.

They carried horses, goats, pigs, birds (falcons & hawks to hunt with), turtles (any animal that could live and be eaten) with them and every island every stop they let the animals graze and cut plants and shrubs and dug up anything that would live to be eaten later on the voyage by humans and animals. Every stop, rats and mice jumped ship with all of the fleas and lice and the parasites in and on the farm animals would be left behind and they would pick up the new local parasites and eat new plant seeds....To be dropped off at the next stop.

The wood ships contained many species of wood boring insects and the diseases that infected these trees when cut....It was the things that the explorers could not see with the naked eye that caused the most damage....Of course they did not even know that a fly caused those white worms in their stores of meat.

Anyway what seeds are in YOUR boxes? What plants are YOUR birds carrying around and spreading in your area! KK



From: Bernie Daniel [mailto:bdaniel"at"cinci.rr.com]
Sent: Saturday, February 12, 2005 10:27 AM
Subject: Prey Items Brought to the nest box

Here as promised are the data on Bluebird prey items.

These are a list of identified prey items brought to the nest boxs of Eastern Bluebirds from a study conducted in Oklahoma during the summers of 1998 & 1999 and published in Bay & McGaha. 2000. Proc. Okla. Acad, Sci. 80:129-132.

This information is extracted from this paper which details a peer-reviewded scientific study conducted under protocol.

Im my opinion these results seem consistent with the idea, often mentioned, that Bluebird parents tend to bring softer prey to the chicks in the first days following hatching. As noted spiders are a big part of the diet -- as are butterflies and grasshoppers. I do not have the paper in front of me now but as I recall they tabulated the first 100 items (approx.) brought the the nests at the various ages -- so the numbers in the table are the totals of these items. ... -- Bernie

Prey Type Nestling Age (days)
0-5 6-10 >10  
Lepidoptera (butterflies & moths 21 14 19
Arachnica (spiders) 29 16 16
Orthoptera (grasshoppers & crickets) 34 47 64
Homoptera (cicadas, leafhoppers, aphids) 4 12 3
Isopoda (sow bugs, pill bugs) 4 3 3
Coleoptera (beetles) 3 1 3
Hymenoptera (bees, ants wasps) 1 1 0


From: Jeff Macdonald [mailto:macfisherman"at"gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, March 11, 2005 10:12 AM
Subject: Fwd: [MASSBIRD] Bluebird Behavior

Has anyone else seen bluebirds eat sunflower? Below is an observation.

***

From: Paul Cozza <pcozza"at"alum.mit.edu>
Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 11:28:57 -0500
Subject: [MASSBIRD] Bluebird Behavior
To: Massbird <Massbird"at"world.std.com>

Birders,

We moved into our current residence in Concord in December 1997. There were
3 Bluebird nesting boxes in our front yard, which we've maintained over the years. We regularly have a pair of Bluebirds nesting in one of the boxes each summer, producing as many as 3 clutches a season. During winter I have seen 2-4 Bluebirds at the boxes occasionally. They seem to appear every 2-3 weeks, check out the boxes, then disappear. In all these years I have only seen Bluebirds at our (numerous) seed feeders 2 or 3 times. That is until this year. Starting around early December 3 Bluebirds (2 males and 1 female) starting coming to my window feeder (it's installed in my 2nd floor office window, at eye-level, about 2 feet from my computer and has a reflective coating to prevent the birds from being disturbed by me - all in all, a fine bird attractor and viewer). They came regularly and ate small pieces of sunflower sees. As this winter has progressed, the Bluebirds have appeared more and more frequently. They seem to come by every hour or so now, and have begun eating whole, shelled sunflower seeds. In fact, as I have been typing this email they have flown in twice, eaten a few seeds and left. They have even begun feeding at a seed station outside in the middle of our lawn.
They perch like finches and gobble down sunflower seed.

All of this appears to be pretty strange behavior for Bluebirds. It seems that these Bluebirds have learned this in the past few months. Is this seed feeding uncommon?

Paul Cozza
Concord, MA

pcozza"at"alum.mit.edu



From: Elizabeth Zimmerman [mailto:ezdz"at"charter.net]
Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2005 10:30 AM
Subject: RE: [MASSBIRD] Bluebird Behavior

Some people have gotten them to eat HULLED sunflower chips/hearts. Also crushed peanut or other nuts. (These are added to suet mixtures - http://www.sialis.org/suet.htm)

I have not heard of them being able to crack the hulls on sunflower seeds that are still in the shell.... Folks say their beaks are not strong enough.

Bet



From: Paula [mailto:PaulaZ"at"columbus.rr.com]
Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2005 12:34 PM
Subject: Re: [MASSBIRD] Bluebird Behavior

Paul,

I, too, have EABL that eat sunflower oiler seeds (shelled). They usually go to the sunflower feeder if they have depleted the Bluebird Banquet suet mix I make. I was surprised by this also, but winter can be slim pickin's I guess, and the sunflower seeds should sustain them. I thought that maybe mine had developed a taste for these because there are shelled sunflower kernels in the Bluebird Banquet, but really don't know.

I have quite a few EABL that remain in my yard for most of the day in the winter. I have had up to 20 at one time, but usually see about 7 to 10 at any given time.

Paula Z
Powell (Central) Ohio



From: JOHN & BARBARA SIBIO [mailto:jsibio"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2005 12:49 PM
Subject: [MASSBIRD] Bluebird Behavior

This is the first season I have had WEBL at my seed feeder. This is also the first season that I have offered Bluebird Banquet, so perhaps there is a connection? I usually feed black oilers, (whole) and also have a thistle seed feeder for the finches.

I feed the Banquet on top of my deer fence, where I see the blues perching.
We had a long, dreary season and about the first of February I bought a bag of seed mix that sunflower seeds, chopped peanuts, and dried cherries because the birds were all getting desperate. I'm still putting some of that out and suspect the blues are eating the peanuts and cherries. We've had unseasonable heat (90+) so there are lots of insects and I can soon stop feeding. The weather is supposed to return to "normal" and today is cool and foggy, but I don't think we'll get any more frost, so the insect supply should be OK.

I saw the pair of WEBL in our garden run off another pair this week, so the season is upon us!

Barbara in Cloverdale CA



From: Snoopy [mailto:snoopy"at"wmis.net]
Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2005 3:23 PM
Subject: Re: [MASSBIRD] Bluebird Behavior

Bet,
I have had them out here eating my black oilers in the shell before...
it freaked me out to see them out there.... I didn't know they did that before, but they have.
=) joy m. in cedar springs, michigan =)



From: Elizabeth Zimmerman [mailto:ezdz"at"charter.net]
Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2005 4:41 PM
Subject: RE: [MASSBIRD] Bluebird Behavior

Is the shell on black oil sunflower seeds easier to break into?

Bet



From: Torrey [mailto:torrey_canyon"at"yahoo.com]
Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2005 10:02 PM
Subject: black-oil sunflower

Yes, black-oil sunflower seeds have thinner shells. That plus the relatively larger size & higher fat content make oilers a prefferred food.

Torrey Moss, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Kalamazoo, MI


Subject: Re: Sunflower: Oil v. Striped
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2005 14:07:59 -0600
From: Dottie Roseboom <rosedot"at"mtco.com>

Chuck, For years, I bought the striped sunflower seed for the Cardinals and
the Black oil seed for the smaller songbirds. One day, it dawned on me that
the Cardinals were eating almost as much of the Black as they were the
striped. So for the last 5 years or so, I've SIMPLIFIED by skipping the
striped sunflower seed. Many days this winter, we had 30 plus Cardinals at
the feeders. I still put out a bit of cracked corn & ear corn too.

Personally, I've never seen Bluebirds eat either seed. But there are reports
& pictures showing that they can learn to eat the Black oil seed.
Goldfinches & Housefinches prefer the smaller, Black oil seed.

Dottie Roseboom
Peoria IL (central - zone 5)


Subject: RE: Sunflower: Oil v. Striped
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2005 16:37:27 -0500
From: Tina Wertz <tinawertz"at"bellsouth.net>

The Grosbeaks are about the only bird that prefers striped sunflower seeds over black oil. Their beaks are strong enough to break open the hull. When the Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks migrate in the spring and fall, I fill my platform feeders full of striped and they devour them in no time. I've read that the Evening Grosbeaks are the same way. But 9 times out of 10 most song birds will chose black oil over striped.

Tina
Woodstock, Ga


Subject: RE: Sunflower: Oil v. Striped (& grosbeaks)
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2005 14:23:16 -0800 (PST)
From: Torrey <torrey_canyon"at"yahoo.com>

To expand on what Tina said about grosbeaks & sunflower seeds... Grosbeaks can crush cherry pits.
Any seed bird enthusiasts put out could be eaten by grosbeaks.

As a banding aside, we get Rose-breasted Grosbeaks during migration, & since they're pretty gregarious during the fall we often get more than one at a time. All of us can attest that grosbeaks have a very muscular bite (i've gotten blood blisters from them). They are also more prone than almost any other bird to *try* to bite. You can see them plotting to grab any finger within reach, & they can stratch their necks pretty far. More power to 'em, for not giving in to us "predators", but i wish they didn't bite *me*.

Torrey Moss, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Kalamazoo, MI



From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 8:14 AM
Subject: organic farmer watches bluebirds

Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas
Monday I visited with an organic farmer who has lots of bluebirds in Pittsburg, Texas. He was a little upset with his bluebirds nesting in my nestbox mounted on the front post of his earthworm building. They are feeding their young now and he watched them from the porch swing about 5 feet from the box and the adults flew just beyond his garden and returned 16 times in a row with large ground hunting wolf spiders to feed their young.

He was upset because wolf spiders feed on caterpillars and grasshoppers which are VERY abundant right now. He claims by the numbers of spiders (predators) the bluebirds are eating that they are HELPING harmful or damaging insects!

I watched an adult Blue Jay chase a large moth and do a complete loop while in hot pursuit of the erratically flying insect. The bird was successful and killed the moth. I grow night blooming birdhouse gourds and they rely on long tongued, night flying moths for pollination.

Bats are cavity users/nesters and they eat a lot of moths and other night flying insects that also pollinate night blooming flowers.

Did you know that Japan and Canada are buying American bumble bees to use in greenhouses to pollinate crops under glass?

It is normal for ANY species to feed on ANY other species that is abundant even if it only lasts until they eat the four or five baby birds from your nestbox! KK



From: Tyler Mann [mailto:t_mann05"at"hotmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 7:01 PM
Subject: HOSP Repeating Traps?

... On another note, that is 0 for 2 in succesful nests. The first EABL nest failed due to the babies eating earthworms and the nest was muddy. they just died at day 14.
The TRES were only 5 days old. The EABL have since renested and are incubating 5 eggs. The TRES will renest right?

thanks again.

Tyler in West Central OH



From: Lana Hunt [mailto:lanahunt"at"kcp.uky.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 8:20 PM
Subject: Re: HOSP Repeating Traps?

Tyler, I am sorry to hear about your experience, I can only imagine how
devastating it must be. I am sure you will get wonderful advise here
regarding acquiring traps. I do have a question. EABL cannot eat
earthworms? This is the first I've heard of this, what does it do if they
eat them? Did their parents feed them to them?

Lana Hunt in Morehead, Kentucky



From: Evelyn Cooper [mailto:emcooper"at"bayou.com]
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 8:26 PM
Subject: RE: HOSP Repeating Traps?

It causes them to have diarrhea and they dehydrate and die. Yes, the parents
will feed them to them when food is hard to find.

Evelyn Cooper
Delhi, LA



From: Bruce Burdett [mailto:blueburd"at"verizon.net]
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 8:41 PM
Subject: Re: Earthworms?

I believe that Bluebirds eat mostly things like crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, caterpillars. I suspect that they'd eat earthworms rather than starve. Their close cousins the Robins eat eartworms almost exclusively.

Bruce Burdett SW NH


From: KCBSP"at"aol.com [mailto:KCBSP"at"aol.com]
Sent: Saturday, July 23, 2005 10:28 PM
Subject: Playful Mr. Blue

Hi all,

I have 5 bluebird nestings out in my front yard. They are very busy feeding the kids you know... BUT Tonite I saw the male bluebird and what I thought from a distance was the female tumbling and swooping. This happened over and over..

When I got close enough what I found out I saw was Mr. Blue either trying to eat or play with a butterfly!

Never saw that before... Have you?

Kathy Clark, New Cumberland, PA



From: Paula [mailto:PaulaZ"at"columbus.rr.com]
Sent: Wednesday, August 17, 2005 1:24 PM
Subject: Chick Food

Here is another question for the list. When I peeked in the nestbox on Monday, there was a 4-inch long, at least 1/2-inch diameter tomato hornworm in there. I am guessing that a parent EABL would not try to shove this monstrosity down a chick's throat, but did they put it in there to teach them how to peck at it and eat it? Just curious - does anyone know?

...

Paula Z
Powell (Central) Ohio



From: Evelyn Cooper [mailto:emcooper"at"bayou.com]
Sent: Wednesday, August 17, 2005 2:03 PM
Subject: RE: Chick Food

Paula, about three years ago, my daughter, Sheryl Bassi and my husband and I went to a bluebird meeting that Tena Taylor with the Misssippi Bluebirds held. Dan McCue from TN was there doing the presentation. He had some very nice slides. One thing I was impressed with was a slide of a Bluebird carrying a tomato worm to the nestlings. I would imagine they break them up.
I have seen them get an earth worm and put it on my side walk and break it into lots of little pieces and then fly up to the tree to feed the baby.

Yes, they will definitely eat tomato worms, is what I learned.

Evelyn Cooper
Delhi, LA


From: Caitlin Stern [mailto:caitlin.stern"at"gmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, November 13, 2005 10:42 PM
Subject: Re: Western bluebird observed catching a western fence lizard-- has this been reported previously?

My name is Caitlin Stern, and I'm a research assistant on Dr. Janis Dickinson's long-term study of western bluebirds at Hastings Reservation, Carmel Valley, California. On October 11, I observed a male WEBL catch a small (5-6 cm) western fence lizard in his bill and kill (or possibly just stun, I couldn't say for sure) it by whacking its head against the fence post upon which he was perched. He then flew off, still holding the lizard in his bill. My co-workers and I had never seen this behavior before, so I'm wondering if anyone else has ever observed or heard reports of western bluebirds catching and/or eating lizards. Thanks for your help!

Sincerely,
Caitlin Stern



From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2005 8:02 AM
Subject: Re:Western bluebird observed catching a western fence lizard-- has this been reported previously?

Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas
Eastern Bluebirds have been known to attempt to feed their young small skinks and blue tailed lizards or the very small copper colored lizards found in mulch or wood debris. On occasion the very small species of snakes have become prey. Most often these dead lizards are found in the nestbox after the young either refuse to eat them or possible regurgitate them. I don't recall if Linda or some of the other Western Bluebird monitors have observed these food items left in nests or not. It is VERY rare to actually witness the bluebird to capture the lizard in the first place!
congratulations for being in the right place at the right time.KK

PS some of the small lizards when grabbed will disconnect their own tail from their body. This tail will begin to wildly thrash around and this grabs the attention of the bird and they drop the body and try to kill the tail before it gets away. I have found more of these tails in nestboxes than the bodies of the lizards. These lizards can and do grow back that portion of their tail that they lost.


From: lviolett [mailto:lviolett"at"earthlink.net]
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2005 9:47 PM
Subject: Re: Western bluebird observed catching a western fence lizard-- has this been reported previously?

Caitlin,

Several years ago I reported on Bluebird-L that I witnessed Bluebird parents taking a small reptile to nestlings. Through binoculars against the sky, it was difficult to identify. It had reptilian legs. My best guess is that it was a small frog because the nestbox hangs near a concrete drainage culvert where tadpoles hatch. The parent entered the box with the limp reptile and left the box without it. Nests are examined fairly carefully after each fledge and no uneaten reptile was found in the box afterwards. Therefore, I assume that the reptile (probably frog) was eaten. If Western Bluebirds eat small frogs, they would probably eat small lizards. However, Western Bluebirds are very frightened of large adult Alligator lizards and will sometimes hover-fly over one of these large lizards while excitedly giving alarm calls.

Linda Violett
Yorba Linda, Calif.



From: JOHN & BARBARA SIBIO [mailto:jsibio"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2005 1:14 PM
Subject: Bluebird diet

Most mornings, very early, I see the Western Bluebirds perched on the railing of my small front porch. I have decorative bird houses attached to the railing (with the entry holes close) and they like to inspect them and chat about it. This morning I went out to sweep off the porch and noticed droppings on the railing (lots of them) so I swept them off and saw that there were the pits of a small fruit in the droppings. It looked like a tiny cherry pit, but of course cherries are long gone here!

We have ornamental weeping cherry trees in the front yard planted by the builder, and they are full of dry fruit, but their fruit has no pit and I've never seen a bird eat it. I see the birds perched on the trees, but not feeding from them. Obviously, the blues are finding fruit in the area. We have been experiencing 80 degree days and there are still lots of insects around, even butterflies, so there is plenty for them to eat. They ate my Concord grapes already, so the pits aren't from them!

Barbara in Cloverdale, CA



From: "Gary Springer" <garyspringer"at"bellsouth.net>
To: "'MJShearer'" <eshearer"at"comcast.net>
Subject: The Bluebird Center this morning

...
>
> As my truck rolled to a stop in the driveway of The Bluebird Center on this
> cold December morning, I noticed two of the several crows that have been
> making a living from the pecan trees, beneath which I had just parked, had
> dared to continue their search for a suitable nut despite my approach.
>
> I'm fortunate to have paused to observe them from inside my truck because
> the next birds that lighted on the low branches of the pecan trees were
> bluebirds.
>
> They assumed their typical pose perched with heads cocked towards one side
> so I fully expected at any moment one would spot an insect on the sun warmed
> but still partially frozen grass, then flutter to the ground to capture a
> meal.
>
> And, in short order, one bluebird did flutter to the ground. But, upon
> landing, it didn't make its normal pecking motions that would have indicated
> pursuit of an insect. Instead, it began hopping about as though it really
> hadn't a target in mind before leaving its perch.
>
> The first bluebird was followed to ground by three others, all within 20
> feet of my truck, and, as the bluebird that preceded them, none of them
> made any motion consistent with capturing an insect. Instead, they hopped
> about like robins in search of shallow earthworms.
>
> It soon became clear that the meal for which these bluebirds searched were
> the bits and pieces of pecans on the ground. Upon finding a suitable piece,
> they would spear it with their bills in a downward thrust or pick it up and
> shake their heads in an effort to break off smaller pieces from the softer
> nuts which had been crushed under human foot.
>
> And, they swallowed quite large pieces, although none seemed to be as large
> as dogwood berries which I've observed them swallowing hole.
>
> Although bluebirds can spot small insects from long distances, it seems they
> are unable to locate even large light colored pieces of pecans against a
> much darker background within five feet of their perch. It therefore
> appears the keenness of sight possessed by these birds must be limited to some
> extent in the detection of motion as is true of the whitetail deer.
>
> As much as I've read about what plants to grow for bluebirds, I don't think
> I recall pecan trees being recommended. Yet, here is a plant that not only
> feeds many types of wild life and humans, potentially makes a hundred pounds
> of food each year, and lasts for a hundred years or more, but also, has the
> advantage of providing summer shade for relaxation and lower electric bills
> if properly situated near your house.
>
> You may live too far north to grow pecan trees. I don't know what is their
> northern limit. But, if north of that latitude, I'd move south. The
> advantages are too many to list as I have been reminded by the recent cold.
>
> Happy holidays! And, be sure to enjoy a piece of pecan pie!
>
> Gary Springer


From: rob barron [mailto:rebel1956"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Monday, March 13, 2006 7:17 PM
Subject: RE: Ca Natives for Western BB's

Do Californians have the “tent caterpillar” problems that we do in the east? While I’m certainly not advocating them, my New York Eastern Bluebirds, and Yellow Billed Cuckoos loved them, which is another plus I don’t remember hearing mentioned for songbirds.
Rob Barron


From: Bet Zimmerman [mailto:ezdz"at"charter.net]
Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 7:40 AM
Subject: RE: Ca Natives for Western BB's

Last year I think someone posted that they tried putting tent caterpillars in a mealworm feeder and the bluebirds freaked out and wouldn’t touch them. It’s possible that’s because they were surprised. Or maybe it was something learned (there is a potential concern about tent caterpillars building up toxins in their bodies from feeding on cherry tree leaves)

Did you actually see EABL’s eating the tent caterpillars?

Bet from CT


From: rob barron [mailto:rebel1956"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 7:49 AM
Subject: RE: Ca Natives for Western BB's

Hi Bet,

I never saw them tear apart a tent caterpillar nest, but by the time the first broods were fledged the tent caterpillars were crawling all over my driveway, decks etc. and the bluebirds would swoop down and grab them. I have some photos somewhere that I’ll see if I can find. They seemed to either be pulling them apart or spending a lot of time pecking them while on the ground before bringing them back to the nest. I did have a lot of cherry trees in my woods but the tent caterpillars didn’t seem very selective. There were just as many on. the elm trees. All very interesting Thanks for the feedback.
Rob Barron


From: Lynn Emerich [mailto:lemerich"at"epix.net]
Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 9:38 AM
Subject: [Fwd: RE: Ca Natives for Western BB's]

Here in the northeast, we have problems with tent caterpillars and gypsy moth caterpillars. Bluebirds will not eat either one. As I understand it, there is only one bird here that will eat them, and I can't remember what it was. I know I have never seen one.

Lynn


From: rob barron [mailto:rebel1956"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 10:06 AM
Subject: RE: [Fwd: RE: Ca Natives for Western BB's]

Not that this matters much, but I Googled “Bluebirds” and “tent caterpillars” and got 242 hits. I spent hours last summer watching and taking pictures of Eastern Bluebirds in Schoharie County, New York eating tent caterpillars. Tent caterpillars are also a preferred food of the Black-billed and Yellow Billed Cuckoo. In years with bad tent caterpillar infestations, their numbers increase.
Rob Barron



From: MJ Shearer [mailto:eshearer"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 11:01 AM
Subject: Re: Ca Natives for Western BB's

Hi Rob, Bet, et al.,

Which "tent caterpillars" were the birds eating, Rob? Eastern, maybe?

I know of 4 different tent caterpillars -- eastern, western, forest, and Sonoran -- plus fall web worms. Then there's the non-native gypsy moth caterpillar, which is not tent caterpillar, although it's sometimes confused with them in discussion. (As a biologist, you would know the difference, of course, but a lot of us may not.)

I know a few birds eat some of these larvae; but since the host plants vary with the species in different areas, I wonder if that could be why we're witnessing different feeding behavior among birds from one section of the country to another. For example (but not exclusively),
eastern tent caterpillars prefer cherry, apple, hawthorne, etc., sometimes
oak;
western tent caterpillars are commonly found in oak, wild plum;
forest tent caterpillars are usually found oak, tupelo gum, black gum,
and sweet gum;
Sonoran tent caterpillars attack oak and other deciduous trees.

I also wonder if that's why my bluebirds to hang out in my oak trees?

Perhaps what we need is an entomologist! :-)

MJ
Mary Jane Shearer; Tucker, GA



From: rob barron [mailto:rebel1956"at"comcast.net]
Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 5:28 PM
Subject: RE: Ca Natives for Western BB's

Hi MJ,

They were eastern tent caterpillars, and the EABL's seemed to spend a lot of time "beating them to death" on stones in the driveway or the deck rails. It worried me how long they were distracted doing this because it put them at risk from the neighborhood barn cat who always seemed to be hiding in the bushes when they were smashing caterpillars or two males were rolling around on the ground fighting over territory. It was actually a charge from the barn cat that made one male fly away and I could run over to where he was and verify that it was an eastern tent caterpillar he was working on. Maybe he was trying to knock some of the spines off of rip some edible parts out from the underside of the caterpillar. It was mid summer and plenty of other insects were available.

Thanks,
Rob Barron


From: lviolett [mailto:lviolett"at"earthlink.net]
Sent: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 12:05 AM
Subject: Re: [Fwd: RE: Ca Natives for Western BB's]

Rob and All,

We probably have different species of tent caterpillars on the West Coast compared to the East. A couple of years ago, there were dozens of what appeared to be tent caterpillars in webby masses on a few Lupines located in a garden planter and crawling across the driveway. No birds were eating them.

From: rob barron [mailto:rebel1956"a"comcast.net]
Sent: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 9:07 AM
To: 'lviolett'; lemerich"a"epix.net; 'Bluebird-L'
Subject: RE: [Fwd: RE: Ca Natives for Western BB's]

Thanks Linda,
From reading Keith’s post on tent caterpillars, it sounds like a good thing your birds weren’t eating what was on your Lupines. Mine must not have made tent caterpillars a large portion of their diet because they fledged a second brood and seemed very healthy. I think this was the first reproductive year for this pair and hopefully it was inexperience and they learned that this isn’t a good food.
Rob Barron



From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"a"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 8:13 AM
Subject: Tent Caterpillars

Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant Texas

Spiny covered caterpillars are protected from most birds because the spines cause discomfort and even digestive problems for the birds in their crop and gizzard. The cuckoo's have the ability to feed on these types of caterpillars but when their gizzard lining gets completely filled with spines they have the ability to shed this lining and replace the inside walls of their gizzard with a fresh lining.

You may very well watch other species of birds feeding their young spiny caterpillars but you will seldom see the adults feed on these for themselves for prolonged periods. Someone might want to do a test and hand feed baby starlings or House Sparrows and see if a problem develops.

This might be an example of a poor parents feeding their young an easy to procure diet that is unhealthy or even downright deadly if continued for long periods.

Sowbugs are another insect that bluebirds will feed on if they are available. I believe they are very high in calcium but this insect is a carrier of several parasites that can attack the bluebirds from the inside out causing weakness or even death in some instances. If the young die being fed an improper diet then evolution will stop this ignorant parent feeding from being passed on to the next generation. Keith Kridler



From: Bruce Burdett [mailto:blueburd"a"verizon.net]
Sent: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 1:51 PM
Subject: Gypsy Moths/Fall Webworm/Tent Caterpillars

I suggest that folks look up the three items in the Subject line
above.
All three are distinctly different from one another, yet their
names are often used loosely, interchangeably, and incorrectly.

Keith: Could you straighten us out?
Thanks.
Bruce Burdett



From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Thursday, March 16, 2006 8:24 AM
Subject: Re: Gypsy Moths/Fall Webworm/Tent Caterpillars

Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas
Butterflies and moths lay eggs that hatch into caterpillars. Some depending on what they feed on can have disagreeable odor or eject foul smelling and tasting tobacco juice/plant juices to fend off attacks from birds and predators. There are MANY different species of wooly or spiny caterpillars and birds probably learn which ones are better eating after experimenting.

There are some interesting articles about the moths in the British Isles right now online news showing the decline of these species as a whole. These caterpillars make up a HUGE food base for many, many species of birds and other animals and insects.

There are more and more species of plants being engineered with BT (bacterium thuringenisis) strains in them for many different types of pest insects. New Zealand is releasing BT pine trees that will kill the many types of tip moths and other pine needle eating moths and they also have developed a BT strain about to be released that will kill all known bark beetles and long horn beetles that attack and kill weakened pine trees. This is GREAT news if you are a pine tree plantation owner and scary news if you are a woodpecker that feeds on these beetles!

One of the largest predators of caterpillars are native wasps and hornets!
They often kill and chew up spiny caterpillars and will even tear into web nests to eat them.

Gypsy moths were brought into the USA to breed with the imported silk worms.
Both feed on a variety of trees with a favorite of the silk worm being mulberry leaves. You could write books on these topics and there is lots of info on the net for those interested.

People who want to attract birds to a natural food source need to plant things that will attract moths and butterflies. DO NOT spray to control insects and you will have more birds. Junco's are attracted to my patch of turnips. The only thing to eat for them is the large number of aphids.
Turnips, radishes, broccoli, cabbage and kale are great food and nectar sources for many moths and butterflies. KK



From: lviolett [mailto:lviolett"at"earthlink.net]
Sent: Thursday, July 13, 2006 5:30 PM
Subject: Re: Japanese Beetle Larvae

Western Bluebirds will eat the larvae of Japanese Beetles.
Linda Violett
Yorba Linda, Calif.


From: Bluebyrder"at"aol.com [mailto:Bluebyrder"at"aol.com]
Sent: Thursday, July 13, 2006 1:38 PM
Subject: Re: Japanese Beetle Control

In a message dated 7/13/2006 12:24:48 PM Eastern Daylight Time, yumyumkatts"at"voyager.net writes:
I've never seen any bird eat Japanese beetles.
For the very first time this afternoon, I witnessed a male Cowbird outside my kitchen window eat a Japanese Beetle on the bush planted below the window.

I was shocked, because I too have never seen a bird eat one before. My movement caused him to fly away before he had a chance to eat any more, so I don't know if it was a fluke or not. Seeing him eat a Japanese beetle did cause me to reconsider my feelings about that particular species. After a short reflection, my opinion didn't change:-)

As far a dealing with Japanese beetles, I recruit my three children to help me pull Japanese beetles off our plants and throw them into a bucket or coffee can that contains water and a shot of dishwashing liquid.

We were very productive yesterday:-)

Diane Barbin
Mechanicsburg, PA



From: Robert Barron [mailto:rebarron"at"gmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, July 30, 2006 7:11 PM
Subject: Re: Good mealworm setups?

I don't have a nest cam, yet. It would be an interesting project for someone who isn't feeding mealworms and has a nestcam to try to capture a series of frames and have an entomologist identify what insects are the primary source of natural BB food being brought back to nest boxes to feed their babies. I'm sure it varies all over the country. Birds have an incredibly fast digestive system and any insect they swallow is pretty much unidentifiable once it reaches their proventriculus/gizzard. Seeds can sometimes be identified in droppings, but not always.

I mention this because Keith Kridler mentioned catching insects in a bucket under an outside lamp at night, which is an excellent idea, but nocturnal insects are different than diurnal insects. Most beetle larvae hide and feed in dead trees and forest floor detritus. I can't imagine that they make up much of a Bluebird's natural diet.

The more we learn, the more we realize how little we really know. It keeps things fascinating anyway.

Rob Barron



From: Bet Zimmerman [mailto:ezdz"at"charter.net]
Sent: Sunday, July 30, 2006 8:30 PM
Subject: RE: Good mealworm setups?

Actually the old ornithologists used to dissect birds to find out what was in their stomachs, but I
assume they usually looked at adults. This is from AC Bent's Life Histories of Familiar North
American Birds http://home.bluemarble.net/~pqn/ch21-30/bluebird.html (a wonderful resource available online, beautifully written)

In his analysis of 855 stomachs, taken every month in the year, Professor Beal (1915a) found that the food consisted of 68 percent animal and 32 percent vegetable matter. He says: Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets and katydids) furnish the largest item of animal food, amounting to a good percentage in every month, and in August and September aggregating 52.68 and 53.47 percent, respectively. The month of least consumption is January, when they amount to 5.98 percent, and the average for the whole year is 22.01 percent. . . . Beetles constitute the second largest item of animal food, and for the year average 20.92 percent of the diet. Of these, 9.61 percent are useful species, mostly predaceous ground beetles (Carabidae). Few birds exceed this record of destruction of useful beetles. . . . This destruction of useful beetles has been considered by some writers a blot upon the fair name of the bluebird." Various other beetles of a more or less harmful nature, such as May beetles, dung beetles, weevils and others, are eaten in lesser amounts.

Ants amount to 3.48 percent, and other Hymenoptera (wasps and bees) to only 1.62 percent of the bluebird's food. Only one worker honey bee was found in one stomach. Hemiptera (bugs) average 2.75 percent for the year; stink bugs predominated, and remains of chinch bugs were found in one stomach.
Lepidoptera, in the form of caterpillars and a few moths, form an important and regular article of food, averaging 10.48 percent for the year, the third largest item of animal food. Other insects, spiders, myriapods, sowbugs, snails, and angle-worms, with a few bones of lizards and tree frogs, made up the remainder of the animal food.

Beal's analysis showed that "the vegetable portion of the eastern bluebird's food is largely fruit and mostly wild species. Practically all of the domestic fruit taken was in June and July. Cherries and raspberries or blackberries were the only fruits really identified, though some pulp may have been of cultivated fruit. The most important vegetable food of the bluebird is wild fruit. The maximum quantity is eaten in December, when it amounts to 57.64 percent. January comes next, but after that month the amount decreases rather abruptly to zero in May. . . . The average for the year is 21.85 percent. At least 38 species of wild fruits were identified and probably more were present but not recognizable." Seeds are eaten sparingly, and grain was found in only two stomachs.
Miscellaneous matter includes seeds of sumac, both the harmless and the poisonous kinds, poison ivy and bayberry, amounting to 7.84 percent for the year. Beal includes long lists of insects and vegetable matter eaten.



From: Robert Barron [mailto:rebarron"at"gmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, July 30, 2006 9:56 PM
Subject: Re: Good mealworm setups?

Hey Bet,

Great article, but I wonder. I'm an old ornithologist and I've dissected a lot of birds and believe me, you can feed a bird a kill it
5 minutes later and unless it ate something with a shell, it's mush.
Orthoptera and Coleoptera have the thickest exoskelotons and are always left after the Odonata, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera and Diptera etc are pulverized to mush. I've put ground beetles in an empty meal worm feeder and on a board below my nest boxes and the are always ignored.

We obviously don't know enough about what insects Bluebirds eat, which is pretty amazing. I photographed and witnessed Bluebirds eating tent caterpillars and everyone here said I was crazy, but they beat them on stones in the driveway, ripped the guts out from the bottom and loved them. Sometimes when I see them hop down to the ground from a branch I run up to see what they were eating. Usually it's a young cricket soft from shedding its skin, or a moth or small butterfly just emerging.

I'm not trying to make an argument against feeding meal worms, but beetle larvae don't crawl around on the ground in the full sun, so I doubt that they are a large part of a Bluebird's natural diet. They would never show up on dissection unless they were still in a BB's crop.

Just my opinion.

Rob Barron


From: David Gwin [mailto:David.Gwin"at"cityofcarrollton.com]
Sent: Sunday, July 30, 2006 11:16 PM
Subject: Food Sources and Their Quality

Hey, Rob:

Hmmmm ... this sounds like a great Masters thesis topic! I am also curious as to whether or not anyone has ever analyzed the type/quality of the food and its impact on the chicks' overall rate and intensity of development.

It is fairly obvious that more food will support more successful attempts to fledge new young ... but what about the quality of that food? What if soft-bodied insects allow for quicker growth rates ... or if the hard-parts of Coleoptera or Orthoptera naturally slow development because of the additional digestive time required to process (FYI ... I agree that the exoskeleton of adult Orthoptera and /or Coleoptera probably make them less than ideal as a quickly processed food source).

Does anyone know if there has been any serious research along these lines?

On a related note ... I have a rather isolated section of one of my Trails that is prime grasshopper habitat this time of year ... and I do mean PRIME! Further, I never have a HOSP problem on this section of the trail ... that is, until the grasshoppers (i.e. mostly the larger Lubbers) reach critical mass about this time of year. The problem is short lived and in 6 to 7 weeks the HOSP are gone.

On several occassions, I have observed HOSP hunting the Lubbers in small groups and I wonder if they are just really good generalists after a particularly abundant seasonal food stuff ... or have the HOSP figured out that this food source is NOW worth leaving the relative ease of their purely urban environment for this very "rural" grasshopper explosion? Like I said ... I don't see them or have a problem in this area at any other point during the year ... and there is a good population of Orthoptera in this area for most of the year.

Hmmm ... yet another question prompted by the amazing wonder of our natural world!

Take care,
David


From: Keith & Sandy Kridler [mailto:txbluebirder"at"sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Monday, July 31, 2006 8:52 AM
Subject: Re: Food Sources and Their Quality

Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas
In British Columbia this year a college student is actually testing the food value of insects that are fed to baby bluebirds. Then a blood sample is drawn from the bluebirds to study what and how much of the different vitamins and minerals are picked up by the digestive system of the bluebirds and ends up getting into their blood stream. She is also testing the food value of the baby bird poop to see what and how much the digestive system of the bluebird misses. Remember that adult bluebirds often eat the fecal sacks from newly hatched bluebirds. Maybe this will be released in a year or two.

This type testing is routinely done with chickens and other valuable livestock. The same laying hens in each huge house are subjected to blood sample collecting and weighing regularly so that a feed ration can be adjusted as to vitamins and minerals all during these hens egg laying career.

I am not sure but I would believe it to be an advantage for bluebirds to feed some hard shelled beetles to their young as the hard bodies that are not digested would tend to scrape out intestinal parasites in the gut of the bird. Hard insect shells in the birds gizzard would even help grind up other foods that they are fed. Earthworms are nearly all digestible except for the dirt in the worms gut but a steady diet of angle worms or earth worms is really hard on baby bluebirds.

Lizard bones would be a source of calcium. There are WebPages that show the food value of various insects that people commonly eat around the world. It is surprising the amount of calcium contained in some of these insects. I seemed to recall that crickets were high in calcium. KK


Continued in Part 2


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