What I like about the end of the nesting season is watching the juvenile bluebirds grow. After following mom and dad around for about a month after fledging, they now defend for themselves. Still with that speckled feather look, “known to all thrushes” they really do look cute. As the feathers begin to grow and molting begins to take place, the colors of the bluebird begin to show.
Molting is an interesting process. Bluebird nestlings have a complete molt after nesting, molting into their basic plumage. Molting occurs in response to a mixture of hormonal changes brought about by growth and seasonal changes. The entire process is very complex. A feather is a "dead" structure, somewhat like hair or nails in humans. The hardness of a feather is caused by the formation of the protein called ( Keratin. ) Since feathers cannot heal themselves when damaged, they have to be completely replaced. The replacement of all or part of the feathers is called a molt. Molts produce feathers that match the age and sex of the bird, and sometimes the season. Damaged feathers are replaced during a molt. A feather that has been lost completely is replaced immediately.
Watching junior molt and grow gives me great satisfaction, especially knowing once his kind was at the brink of extinction. The gratification comes from being a landlord and experiencing the nesting process of these beautiful birds. Though the bluebird’s nesting season here in Pennsylvania is coming to a close, we landlords still can enjoy the bluebirds in watching Junior grow.
Sipping on a warm hazelnut coffee and enjoying the cool morning air of September, I noticed bluebirds flying into my backyard. More and more were arriving, soon there was a flock of bluebirds flying from tree to tree and darting to the ground forging for insects. They seem to be fighting over the nest box or maybe checking it over for the next nesting season. They acted as if they made claim on my backyard chasing away other birds that was intruding in their air space. Many small crickets and grasshoppers are on the ground this time of the year and the bluebirds were taking advantage of this easy food source. The bluebirds kept coming closer and closer to the patio where I was sitting and seeing so many bluebirds all at the same time was sheer joy. Early fall is when many birds flock together because there is safety in numbers, and the mature birds know how to locate food during the seasonal changes. By flocking together the juvenile bird’s survival increases and they continue to learn what nature has to offer and hopefully learn what skills are needed to survive.
All three species of bluebirds share some similar migration behaviors. They all migrate during the day and many join up with resident flocks of bluebirds to find food, water and roost sites. Fall migration seems to be determined by the shortening of daylight rather than weather. Food is still plentiful and weather conditions are still pleasant when they begin to depart. Weather can influence migration, however birds may linger for longer periods at foraging sites when the weather is mild. When weather turns inclement, it may cause them to move south at a faster pace. Its important to note that not all bluebirds go south for the winter, as long as there is food to be found some stay all winter long.
Seeing so many bluebirds together is an awesome site to behold. I hope you too will experience this migrating habit of bluebirds flocking together.
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How to monitor your bluebird nest box
Monitoring a bluebird nest box can be a quick process and doesn’t need to take longer than a minute or two. It’s imperative that you check on your nest box as least once a week to monitor the progress of your bluebird nest and address any problems. It’s important to remember that bluebirds are very accepting of human interaction and will never abandon a nest because of monitoring. However, it’s usually best to monitor a nest when the adult male and female are not inside. If you’re not sure if a bluebird is not inside the nest box, you can make a whistle or call to alert them to your presence. There are two primary functions of monitoring: checking for problems and hazards and recording the progress of your bluebird nest. For this reason, you’ll want to have a log forms to record things such as when bluebirds arrive, started building a nest, lay their eggs, how many eggs, hatch, how many fledged, predator problems and etc. You can download the necessary forms from the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania's website. These forms are easy to use and are self explanatory. Your recorded information is very useful to the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania. Visit the link on the right side column of this website.
Monitoring in early spring
In the onset of spring, before bluebirds arrive, you want to check and make sure your bluebird nest box is ready for the upcoming breeding season. Look for holes, cracks or other damage. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the size of the entrance hasn't been altered by other birds. Also make sure that wasps haven’t built a nest on the ceiling of your nest box, as their presence will prevent bluebirds from nesting. Lastly, install a predator guard to prevent climbing predators such as raccoons and snakes.
Bluebird courtship and nest building
Male bluebirds will arrive before females to establish territory. Their arrival dates depends on geography, as bluebirds arrive at warmer destinations earlier, but the general range is between mid-February and March in Pennsylvania. Once the male arrives, he will attempt to attract the female through a courtship songs, flight such as wing waving. This will often occur around the nest box. If the female likes the male and the nest box, she will begin building the nest immediately. Nest construction takes on average 4-5 days.
Monitoring egg laying
Eggs are laid in the morning, between 7:00 a.m. and 9:30 A.M., and you should avoid monitoring around this time. The female will lay an egg a day, sometimes missing a day if it’s cold or rainy. The number of eggs laid varies by bluebird species, but will usually be no more than eight and generally 4-5. The female will spend time away from the nest during the egg laying period, but if you do open the nest box while she is there, simply close the door gently and come back another time. Preferably the afternoon time may be a better time.
The female will not begin incubation until she has laid her last egg, after which the incubation period will last approximately 14 days. During this period, you should allow the female privacy. If it is a rainy season you may want to check the nest to see if it is dry. A wet nest poses danger to the eggs not hatching or the chicks perishing due to hypothermia. Here is when a Monitor comes in handy to replace the grass nest with a dry one. Carefully replace the eggs or nestlings into your dry cup nest and place into the nest box. Congratulations; you just saved bluebirds from perishing.
During the first few days after young birds are hatched, the father brings them food, while the mother continues to remain on top of the nest to keep the nestlings warm; this is called brooding. You may notice the adults departing the nest with a white blob in their bills. These are fecal sacs, which the adults remove from the nest to keep it clean. During the nestling stage, the most important function of monitoring is to ensure that the nestlings aren't attacked by predators. House sparrows, raccoons, cats and even snakes will all prey on newly-born bluebirds.This is why it is so important to make use of predator guards. If you find an injured bluebird, or a bluebird that needs assistance you can take it to the nearest wildlife rehabilitation clinic found on this website's right column. ( A bluebird needs help) After approximately 20 days, the nestlings will become fledglings and leave the nest. If you make it to this stage, you will have successfully raised a new brood of bluebirds! Congratulations!! You are now a successful landlord Monitor to these once threaten species.
A Bluebirds Nesting Timetable
Nest Building - 7 to 10 days grass, rootlets or pine needles or all three items
Egg Laying - One egg a day, mid-morning 5 to 7 days generally 4 to 5 eggs laid.
Incubation - 14 to 17 days depends on weather conditions
Hatch day as follows;
Day 1- Bright coral pink skin, eyes sealed downy feathers on head and body.
Day 2 to 4 - Wings, head, and spine look bluish due to developing feathers emerging under skin.
Day 5 to 7 – Feathers sheaths begin to emerge on wings, eyes still closed.
Day 7 – First feathers burst from tips of sheaths, eyes open as slits, brooding by female stops (cold weather conditions brooding may continue.)
Day 8 to 11 – Eyes fully open, feathers continue to burst out from sheaths.
Day 11 to 12 – Feathers on wings and tail reveal cobalt blue on males, duller gray-blue on females, female eastern bluebirds show white edging on outer tail feathers.
Day 13 – Cut-off date for nest box checks. Fully feathered young become increasingly active and may fledge prematurely if box is opened.
Day 14 to 22 – Fledglings first flight, Empty nest flattened and young remain in cover while parents bring food, being cared for by the parents outside the nest box they are now termed as Fledglings.
Day 28 – Fledglings fly strongly following parents who feed them for 2 to 3 weeks.
Day 30 – Fledglings feed unassisted, now termed as juvenile birds.
After maturing and molting into their true colors they become an adult bird.
Bluebirds can have up to 3 nesting’s a year. Even 4 have been reported.
Harry Schmeider – Ambassador for the Bluebirds
Dealing with nest parasites;
At least 2500 species of mites from 40 families are closely associated with birds, occupying all conceivable habitats in the nests and on the bodies of their hosts. No avian is free from a mite. Bird mites can be divided into those that dwell primarily in, or near, the nest and those that reside mainly on the body of the host. The best studied nest-dwelling mites are blood feeders from the genera Dermanyssus and Ornithonyssus (shown here is a micrograph of a female Ornithonyssus bursa, a common nest parasite of passerines. These mites have short generation times and can rapidly build-up huge populations. For example, half a million northern fowl mites have been extracted from a single nest. Blood-feeding nest mites can reduce the reproductive success of their hosts by slowing development or even killing chicks.
Blowfly Larva is a problem for all cavity nesting species.
Blow fly biology varies among the 1100 species and with environmental conditions so the following information is general.
Each female blow fly deposits thousands of eggs over her 2- to 8-week life span. Egg masses may consist of 1500 to 2,000 eggs, but the larger masses are usually the result of several females depositing eggs at the same location. Hatching usually occurs in less than 24 hours when conditions are warm and humid.The larvae feed by night and move downward into the nesting material during the day. This fascinating adaptation has, no doubt, evolved over many centuries of a close association of blowflies with cavity nesting birds. The larva avoids being eaten by the adult bird during the day, and feeds only after dark, when the helpless nestlings are easy prey. Blood is usually drawn from the feet or legs, often from between the toes. Depending on the temperature maggots usually complete development in 4 days. At the end of this period, larvae typically burrow in the nesting material and pupate for 5 to 7 days which the adult flies emerge. About a week later, females begin to deposit eggs and the life cycle is repeated. Blow flies usually develop from egg to adult in only 10 to 25 days and complete 4 to 8 generations each year.
Read more about the Blowfly at http://www.no-pest.com/Blowfly.htm
Small infestation will weaken the immune system of the nestlings. Large infestation will result in death of the nestlings shown above. This is another reason landlords should closely monitor their nest boxes. Do not be afraid to handle the nestlings and inspect them weekly especially during hot humid weather. If infested gently remove the larva from the nestlings, if necessary remove the nest and make another nest for the nestlings. Birds will not harm or leave their baby nestlings because you handle them. All song birds have a very poor sense of smell anyways.
There's a product I use to kill parasitic and blowfly larva that is not harmful to you or the nestlings. Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth - Organic Crawling Insect Killer. With all the concerns about pesticides today - you can rest assured that Diatomaceous Earth is safe & effective. Made from the finely ground fossils of prehistoric fresh water diatoms. Diatomaceous Earth (D.E.) kills common household and garden pests like roaches, ants, fleas, beetles and many others. It is a long lasting control — sprinkles easily into cracks and crevices where bugs hide and wipes them out!
When soft-bodied insects come in contact, D.E. causes massive loss of body fluids and death. When the dust is eaten by insects, the D.E. inhibits breathing, digestion and reproduction. Because it kills by mechanical action rather than poison, insects have not developed immunity. Apply the dust lightly in infested areas. You can find this product in most lawn and garden areas in your local stores.
Tip; Use a plastic mustard (pull up cap) bottle and squeeze a small amount of the power (D.E.) into the middle of the nest. It’s an easy way to control parasites and blowfly larva in the nest box. You can purchase this product most anywhere. For as little as $7.00 a 1.5lb box will last you a long time. I like it because its environmentally safe.
I have received many calls concerning the female bluebird found dead while incubating her eggs as a result of toxic wood preservative placed on the outside of nest boxes. When outside temperature increases harmful vapors built up inside the nest box and it will become lethal. You will never get those toxic vapors out of the wood. Song birds have underdevelopment olfactory glands which causes them to have a poor sense of smell, so therefore be careful what you place on your nestboxes. I recommend (Raw) linseed oil on nest boxes(which containing no additives) Find it at your nearest True Value Hardware Store. The raw linseed oil will be a little thick, so try to apply thin coats rubbing it into the wood with a rag on the outside only. Raw Linseed Oil cures very slowly (even weeks) but the end result is your using a non toxic wood preservative. Repeat the treatment periodically until the wood is well saturated. Pine wooden nest boxes treated in this way will last many years. Raw linseed oil reacts slowly with the oxygen in the air to form a tough hard material that does not vaporize and harm birds. The Fall season is a good time to apply this product because the nesting season is over.
Caution - Boiled Linseed - commonly used because it dries faster, but is not a good pollution prevention alternative due to the potential toxicity of the solvents, metals and fungicides that are usually added to make it dry faster. As a result, Bluebirders should be advised to use RAW linseed oil on nest boxes and to avoid Boiled or Thermalized forms. Be very careful when using JUST ANY wood sealers because they can be highly toxic to birds. A box treated with toxic preservatives in the fall will be lethal box in the summer. Raw linseed oil has no additives, and is safe to use. It is a clear to yellowish oil derived from the dried ripe seeds of the flax plant. Just remember not to apply it on real thick, give each coat time to cure then rub it into the wood again during the fall season.
Caution; Linseed Oil on rags, cloth, and paper saturated with drying oils may combust spontaneously due to heat given off during the curing process. This is especially the case where oil-soaked materials are folded, bunched, compressed, or piled together, which allows the heat to accumulate and even accelerate the reaction. Precautions include: wetting the rags with water and spreading them to dry in a safe place away from direct sunlight.
551 S PIKE RD 239 GROVE CITY RD.
Sarver, Pa. 16055 Slippery Rock Pa. 16057
Remember to use RAW Linseed Oil on Nestboxes
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A fledgling is a bird that is out of the nest but still dependent on its parents for food and care. Once the fledgling bluebird can gather food on their own, they are termed juvenile birds. When juvenile birds molt into their adult plumage in the fall, they are then called adults.
Nestling bluebirds know when to leave the nest box. They become restless at the end of the nesting stage, moving about and stretching their wings. At times parents stop feeding and calling to them as to encouraging them to leave the nest box. Adult bluebirds do not have to teach the young to fly. Their first flight will carry them 100 to 400 feet to the nearest perch and sometimes to the ground. This is why it is helpful that a tree or a shrub is nearby so that the fledglings can make as safe landing. Usually all the young leave the nest within an hour or two on the same day. The fledglings will call to their parents and they in turn try to get the siblings to stay together. The parents will lead the young to a safe spot away from the nesting site to care for their needs. This is why it might be difficult for the landlord to locate the family of bluebirds once they have fledged. Both parents will care for the fledgling’s needs for the first few days but after that the male will see to their every need while the female starts building another nest and starting the nesting process all over again. Bluebirds can have up to three nesting cycles a year. By the second week the fledglings begin to follow the parents around to get fed more often. After three weeks the fledglings begin to gather some food on their own. After the forth week, the fledglings begin to learn the behaviors of their parents of forging for insects from a perching position and the parents stop feeding the young going into the fifth week. Finally during the sixth week the fledgling becomes a juvenile bird. Juvenile birds often remain with their parents or in the general area throughout summer and into fall. Some juvenile birds are noted for helping feed other broods born later in the season.
Experiencing the nestling’s fledging is what the landlord is striving for. And having a successful fledging experience will also be beneficial for the bluebirds as well, because they too remember their experience and will return to rebuild year after year.
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There are many Predators of the night that prey on our Nestlings while we are comfortable in our homes and sound asleep. As Landlords we offered a home for our bluebirds to nest and raise a family and doing so we should at least make it as safe as we can. There are some very simple steps that can be taken to help deter climbing predators of the night. Baffles made of stove pipe or Cone shape baffles, metal or plastic, installed on a pole will deter climbing and save many cavity nesting birds and assist the Landlord with a successful fledgling experience.
Below are some interesting Predators of The Night!
The average Common Raccoon is about 32 inches long including the tail and weighs 11 to 18 pounds. Some have weighed as much as 33 lbs. and the largest specimen ever recorded was over 60 pounds! The life span of wild raccoon is estimated at seven to eight years. In captivity they may live twice as long. Raccoon's are omnivores and their diet includes frogs, crayfish, fish, birds, eggs, fruits, nuts, grains, small mammals and insects. Although raccoon's are primarily active after nightfall, they have been known to have periods of activity during the day as well. Raccoons prefer to make their dens in hollow standing trees but have also been known to use underground burrows. Raccoons mate in mid-winter and kits (sometimes called "cubs") are born in early spring. During the first weeks of their lives the young stay in the den with their mother. At about eight weeks of age young raccoons begin to accompany their mother and she teaches them how and where to find food, climb trees and avoid danger. Summer is a time of great activity for raccoons with the kits playing, getting into mischief and discovering their world. A raccoon's primary activity is searching for food and water and if you have inadvertently made these available, the problem may be solved by simply restricting access to them. Being great climbers they can easily climb metal poles where your nest box is on. I cannot stress enough the importance of predator guards on your nest box poles to deter these night crawlers. For raccoon's an 8 to10 in. PVC pipe or stove pipe baffle works well. It works best installed so it wobbles back and forth so the raccoon has a hard time climbing it.
Over 70 million years ago dinosaurs roamed the Earth. While they are now extinct, one animal who shared the same land with the dinosaurs still exists today... the opossum. Despite appearance, the opossum is not related to the rat. In fact, the opossum is a marsupial, or "pouched" mammal, and is therefore related to other marsupials such as the kangaroo and the koala. The opossum holds the distinction of being North America’s only marsupial Like kangaroos and koalas, infant opossums stay inside the mother's pouch to nurse and develop.. Opossums are born after an 11-13 day gestation period. The pink, embryonic-looking infants are so small at birth that 20 could fit on a teaspoon. The infants continue to develop inside the pouch. As they grow and the pouch becomes full, the juveniles then ride on the mother's back until they are old enough to go out on their own. The opossum has an average lifespan of 1 to 2 years. This short lifespan is due in part to the presence of many predators including dogs, cats and people. Sometimes the opossum is able to escape death by "playing 'possum and in so doing the predator may lose interest in the apparently dead animal and not eat it. The opossum has many interesting features. It has 50 teeth, more than any North American land mammal. Its hairless tail is prehensile and is used for grasping branches, balancing and carrying nesting material. The opossum does not hang upside down by the tail, a common misconception. The opossum also has thumbs on its hind feet for holding onto branches. Whether rural, residential or in the wilderness, opossums are a benefit to any area they inhabit. Their diet includes all types of bugs and insects including cockroaches, crickets and beetles. They love snails. They also eat mice and rats and birds, especially nestlings. They are great climbers and can be a great threat to your nest box. The nocturnal opossum is attracted to our neighborhoods by the availability of water, pet food left out at night and overripe, rotting fruit that has fallen from trees. The opossum in turn helps keep our neighborhoods clean and free of unwanted, harmful garden pests and rodents, which may carry diseases. The opossum has earned the title of "Nature's Little Sanitation Engineer." Please do no harm to them. Again PVC or Stove pipe baffle works great to prevent climbing.
A female rat can have up to 84 young in her life span, which averages about a year in the wild. They can burrow long distances from nest to food sources, reducing their exposure to predators. There are two primary species of rats present in North America: The Norway rat and the roof rat. The Norway rat is both larger and heavier than the roof rat. It has a wider distribution and is usually more common, although the roof rat may be abundant in some localities, usually near coastal areas. Norway rats build their nests in burrows under buildings, low shrubs or ground cover, wood piles, yard accumulations of junk, and garbage dumps. The roof rat, on the other hand, is a better climber than the Norway rat and is more likely to build its nest in walls, attics, vines or trees. Norway rat - is 13-18 1/2 inches total length, with its tail being shorter than its head and body combined. An adult Norway rat weighs about 3/4 to 1-1/4 pounds. It is mostly brown, with a lighter colored stomach. The tail is semi-naked and darker above than below, giving it a two-toned effect. Roof rat - is also 13-18 1/2 inches total length, with its tail being longer than its head and body combined. An adult roof rat weighs about 3/4 to 2/3 pound. It is mostly black with some gray below, although there are some variations. The tail is also semi-naked, but of one color.
Mice; we also have two species of mice that cause problems in the Pacific Northwest (The House Mouse and the Deer Mouse). The house mouse looks somewhat like a young roof rat, but smaller. It is approximately 5-1/2 to 7-1/2 inches total length. Like the roof rat, its tail is as long as or longer than the head and body combined. However, mice have proportionately smaller heads and feet than those of a roof rat. The color of the house mouse depends upon its habitat; if it lives indoors it will usually be dark gray with a light gray stomach; outdoors it will usually be a sandy brown color. House mice do not pose as serious a problem to the householder as rats, but they can be quite a nuisance. They also eat and contaminate food with their urine and droppings; may gnaw on wiring creating a fire hazard, and they can transmit some diseases. Spread of diseases by mice, however, is not considered a serious health hazard in our area. The Deer Mouse is wide-spread, native rodent is another medium-size mouse, averaging 7 inches total length. The tail is longer than the head and body combined. Upper body is varying shades of brown with white sides and under parts (including chin and throat). Tail is strongly bi-colored. Deer mice have been identified as occasional vectors of Lyme Disease and Hanta Virus and should be controlled around human habitation where these diseases are prevalent. Rats and mice are curious. They eat a variety of foods, including grain and seed, nuts, meat, candy and processed cereal. Mice like peanut butter, bacon or anything tasty with a strong odor. They have poor eyesight but excellent senses of smell, taste and touch. They are mainly active at night. And can climb easily into your nest box and consume the eggs and kill your new born nestlings. Another reason to use predator guards with hardware cloth inside your baffle.
Ants have been living on the Earth for more than 100 million years and can be found almost anywhere on the planet. It is estimated that there are about 20,000 different species of ants. For this reason ants have been called Earth's most successful species. Ants are excellent crawlers. If you watch ants for any length of time you will see that they really do communicate with each other and very effectively too. Ants communicate by touching each other with their antennae. Ants also use chemicals called pheromones to leave scent trails for other ants to follow where the food was found. Some ants will attack anything and eat their prey dead or alive. To protect your nestlings against these predators, I use Diatomaceous Earth Insect Killer inside the nest box. Can be found at Lowes or any Garden Center.(Do not use diatomaceous earth for swimming pools which has a burning effect.) D.E. insect killer kills by dehydration not by poison and is safe for the nestling. Its great indoors too, sprinkle some around your stove and refrigerator it will kill the scouter ant or insect before it returns to the colony. It kills cockroaches, silverfish and earwigs.
There are about 162 different species of owls alive today, inhabiting a huge variety of ecological niches around the world. The smallest owl in the world is the Elf Owl which is about 6.1 inches long, has a wingspan of 15 inches and weighs about 1.5 ounces. The largest is the Great Horned Owls which are about 25 inches long, have a wingspan of about 5 feet and weigh about 4 pounds. Owls have a large head and large eyes that face forwards (unlike other birds, whose eyes are on the sides of their head). This eye placement gives them binocular vision and very precise depth perception. Also, there are circles of radiating feathers surrounding each eye, giving them a wide-eyed, alert look. Owls cannot move their eyes within their sockets like we can. In order to look around, they have to move their entire head, which has a range of movement of about 270°. Owls are carnivores (meat-eaters). Most are nocturnal and hunt at night. They use a keen sense of sight to find prey in the dark (owls see mostly in black and white). They have an acute sense of hearing which also helps in finding meals. Owls are stealth hunters; they can easily sneak up on their prey since their fluffy feathers give them almost silent flight. Owls hunt and eat rodents, insects, frogs, and birds. The owl is at the top of the food web; because it has no major predators. This Predator is very difficult to manage. Though it’s difficult for the owl to raid your nest box but once the fledglings leave the nest box the Owl is certainly a threat. The Owl will find them and wait with great patients. Also the Owl will pick off the adult bluebirds in the evening, forging for food while on the ground.
Black Rat Snake
Most of the world's 3,000 snake species are constrictors—squeezing their prey to death. But about 450 species are venomous. There are 126 different kinds of snakes in the United States and of those only 19 are harmful to people.
Let’s look at the Bluebird’s worst nightmare the Rat snake. All Rat snakes are powerful constrictors and can be quite long. These snakes are designed to suffocate their prey with strong, unyielding constrictions. They bite then coil around their victim and each time the prey exhales, the coil is tightened. Eventually the prey is suffocated and then swallowed, usually head first. Though their name implies "rat" hunter, these snakes are formidable hunters of both cavity and non-cavity nesting birds. Rat snakes raid numerous bluebird nest boxes each year. These snakes often hunt at night and this significantly reduces the chances that a bluebird landlord would see one crawling near his/her nest box. Unfortunately the vast majority of bluebird nest boxes and poles offer no protection from these predators. Many landlords do not believe that these snakes are living in well-maintained yards, or that they can climb metal poles. All bluebird landlords need to beware of the "belly crawlers" and how these formidable predators find and raid nest boxes. They don’t need sight nor do they need sound. (Snakes cannot hear anyways) They don’t need great speed. They don’t need a "hunter’s moon" in the dead of night and they can find their way in total darkness. The rat snake has a "secret" biological weapon that would rival the most sophisticated radar tracking system known to mankind. All they need is a few molecules of warm-blooded "scent" and that will be enough. Their prey can be as little as five feet off the ground, or 30 feet high-up in a tree in an open bird’s nest. The concentration of available prey fills the air with its "scent" that disburses widely into nearby thickets, overgrown lawns, and trees - places where a rat snake may be crawling or hiding and "sniffing" the air. Once these snakes detect the "scent" of a possible meal, the hunt begins and their sensors guide them to their victim(s). They are relentless in their silent pursuit and follow the "scent" like a wolf on the trail of a deer. If you have experienced losing your nestlings and or the female bluebird and the nest was undisturbed, consider the Rat Snake as the predator. I found a metal movable stove pipe guard mounted on the pole (larger the better) works fine. Or a movable 8 to 10 inch PVC pipe over the pole works well also. Keep in mind that when it comes to rat snakes climbing, nothing is 100% effective. If you did not have a snake guard on your pole this year, be sure to start planning to add one for the next bluebird season. It will only be a "matter of time" before a "belly crawler" finds your nest box. Think about that rat snake entering your bluebird’s nest box during the dead of night. If you do find a rat snake in your nest box or on the box, please do not harm it. Do not harm any snakes because they are very helpful for the environment. The small ones eat harmful bugs and insects. The larger ones eat rats, mice, gophers, and animals that destroy crops. Farmers and gardeners know how helpful most snakes are and are happy to have them around. All snakes should be kept safe from harm. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to safe guard his/her nest box by using predator guards.
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