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Walt Carnahan: Now’s the time to prepare bird boxes

An early-morning call from Kate Horton reminded me that the time to put up bluebird nest boxes is near. Kate is an old hand at monitoring and maintaining bluebird nest boxes, having monitored the nest boxes along Jones Bar Road for several years, as well as a couple in her yard.

If you have some bluebird nest boxes on your property, you should remove the old nest and clean out any wasps in preparation for this spring’s nesting season.

If you want a nest box or two for your pasture or open space, they can be obtained from Jan Blake at the Rural Conservation District 113 Presley Way in Grass Valley. She requests a donation of $20 for bluebird boxes. Jim Groeser Sierra Foothills Audubon Society’s education chair has built some of them and also boxes for larger cavity nesters like barn and screech Owls, American kestrels and wood ducks. Jim’s boxes are built for easy maintenance with the opening correctly sized.



The beautiful Western bluebirds like to forage for beetle larvae or mealy bugs, their favorite food, and worms in pastures, grasslands and gardens. They also appreciate a vantage point nearby their nest box where they can roost. A nearby wire fence or small bush helps attract them.

The best method of mounting the boxes is to screw them into a 5-foot-high piece of conduit rammed into the ground. Other mountings sites may provide easy access to predators like raccoons or snakes, who will invade the nest box to feast.




Western bluebirds are very territorial and will contest with other Western bluebirds within a distance of 100 yards. They do not mind the presence of other species and coexist with other small cavity nesters. Some people mount two nest boxes on each pole expecting that one will be used by bluebirds and the other by tree swallows, nuthatches, chickadees, ash-throated flycatchers or house sparrows.

Kate knows the most exciting part of the process is monitoring the nest box throughout the spring. Once a week, she would go down Jones Bar Road, opening each nest box to look for signs of a nest, noting in her data sheet its presence, then looking for eggs and counting them. She hoped for the emergence of nestlings with their mouths wide open begging for food. In a few weeks, the nestlings mature and leave the nest. They will remain in the area awhile to feed and gain strength.

There is a myth that touching the nest, eggs or nestlings will discourage the family by leaving an odor. This is untrue. Most birds do not have a sense of smell and do not mind a short visit by a monitor. Care should be taken to avoid a nestlings’ premature exit.

Good weather and an abundance of food can lead to a second, even third nesting in the same box. After fledging, the old nest should be removed from the box because of the presence of blowfly parasites in the bird feces.

Walt Carnahan past president of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society searches far and wide for beautiful birds to photograph.


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