Our Western Bluebird Conservation Outing
A few years ago we attended a Western Bluebird Outing organized by a local conservation group. We made this field trip part of our homeschool science activities.
The purpose of this Western Bluebird Outing was to check on the nests and the nest boxes of a local Western Bluebird population taking up residence in an oak woodland.
This was the perfect opportunity to get outside and do real-life science! We learned so much!
Characteristics of the Western Bluebird
Western Bluebirds are small thrushes. They are anywhere to 6” to 7” in length.
The male Western Bluebird is shiny blue above with a brownish-orange color extending from the breast onto the upper back with a blue throat and whitish lower belly.
Females, on the other hand, are gray-buff color with pale orange on the breast, a whitish lower belly and blue tints on the wings and tail.
Western Bluebirds are highly social and usually feed in flocks during the non-breeding season. Their main diet consists of insects.
You can find the Western Bluebird in open woodlands, which is where our nest box outing took us.
They’re also found in many urban and rural backyards, especially those conducive to their needs.
We've seen Western Bluebirds zipping around the ranch, but had no idea they were struggling until our afternoon with the conservation group.
Western Bluebird Nests
The male Western Bluebird seeks out the nest site, usually in a natural cavity such as the hollow of an oak or pine or an old woodpecker hole.
He’ll sing to both defend his territory and to invite a female to join him.
Because Western Bluebirds are a more docile species, they are often ousted by more aggressive birds such as house sparrows and starlings who claim their nesting cavities and displace the gentler bluebirds, leaving them without suitable nest sites in which to raise their young.
In response to a marked decline in the numbers of Western Bluebirds throughout North America, people began providing houses for them in the hopes of increasing their numbers.
Western Bluebird Nest Boxes
A Western Bluebird nest box is made from cedar, with an entrance hole that is one and one-half inches in diameter. This enables the nest boxes to hold up well to the elements and to appeal to Western Bluebirds and not to other species. They are also made without entrance perches which makes them less desirable to competitive birds.
Each box is affixed with a side door, or front door, that allows the observer to get a full view of the nest and its inhabitants.
This enables the conservation monitors the ability to count the eggs, the live young, and observe the overall health and activity in and around the nest box.
This data is then sent to the NestWatch program administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which collects data on every species of bird that nests in North America.
When the nesting season is complete, each nest box is cleaned and restored to ready it for next seasons nesting activities.
Here are a few nest boxes perfect for Western Bluebirds!
Western Bluebird Observation
The morning of our outing, we had 15 nest boxes to check which took us up and down rolling meadows and swamp land crossed by clear running streams.
Our observations noted that all 15 nest boxes had viable eggs, babies just hatched, or both! It was a very lucky day for us and the Western Bluebirds!
A Western Bluebird clutch consists of 4 to 6 pale blue eggs. Most of the nest boxes we observed had an average of 5 eggs.
This was a super healthy, and viable, breeding season!
Both parents will bring food to the nestlings once hatched. We saw many parents flying in and out of the various nest boxes! They had a lot of mouths to feed!
One of the things we found most interesting is when the female is finished laying her eggs she'll line her nest with some of her own feathers to mark her nest (as you can see in the 3rd photo, above).
She'll only sit on her eggs, to incubate them, once she's finished laying her entire clutch. Fascinating stuff!
What We're Doing to Help
We have many different species of birds inhabiting our ranch, with the Western Bluebird, being one of them!
Having learned so much about our Western Bluebird friends, we were inspired to do our part to help.
So ordered a nest box, perfect for housing Western Bluebirds, and we put it up!
In the past 4 years we've had 2 Western Bluebird nests built in the nest box each season!
How You Can Help Your Local Wild Birds
Learning about your native bird species is a lot of fun! Your kids will love identifying the birds in your yard. We love looking them up in our field guides. These are a few of our favorite bird watcher's field guides:
You can help a native bird species in your area by providing them with a nest box. You can find out more about the various types of nest boxes for wild birds in your area on All about Birdhouses.
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