8-14 February 2003


Back in January, when we had 9.5" of fluffy snow at Hilton Pond Center, the white stuff piled up on every available surface--including the tops of 20 or so wooden nestboxes (below) scattered around the property. Windblown snow that also accumulated in the entry holes didn't stay long, however, since our local Eastern Bluebirds pushed aside the flakes while continuing to explore for natural and man-made cavities as potential nest sites.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Traditionally, we use Valentine's Day as a reminder for folks to erect new bluebird boxes and to clean out those that accumulated dirt and clutter over the past several months. Boxes hung to attract nesting bluebirds often double as cold-weather roost boxes for nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, and wrens--as well as bluebirds--and all these avifauna tend to leave droppings, feathers, and other detritis that needs to be removed. It's a good idea NOT to remove any nesting material that appears to have been deposited in 2003.

Here in the Carolina Piedmont, Southern Flying Squirrels, Glaucomys volans, also occupy bluebird boxes (right), and the red cedar strips they collect to insulate their nests often get soggy from winter rains. When a squirrel nest has been abandoned, toss out the bedding, but if there's a momma squirrel with a litter leave her alone until the babies are weaned. After all, flying squirrels also need places in which to nest, and natural cavities become increasingly scare for all sorts of creatures as we humans cut down mature trees.

Although some folks like to sanitize bluebird nestboxes with a mild solution of bleach, we suggest you simply use a wire brush to knock loose old bird droppings--and to remove the tubes that Pipeorgan Mud Dauber wasps often build in nestboxes intended for birds. These clay cylinders contain lots of carcasses from spiders that served as food for the developing wasp larvae that likely overwintered in their pupal stage. Unfortunately, an active population of mud daubers can nearly fill a bluebird box with tubes, so there's not much choice than to destroy the insect nests if you have hope for bluebird tenants this year.

In the fields and pastures near Hilton Pond Center, it's common in mid-February to see flocks of 15 or so Eastern Bluebirds--often perched on power lines (left) that border grassy fields that containing winter-active insects. A bluebird watches intently until some subtle movement betrays the position of a ground beetle or other potential prey. Then the bird swoops to the ground, grabs the insect with its bill, gulps it down, and returns to a lookout perch on the aerial wire above.

Winter bluebird flocks may consist of a single large family: two parents and their offspring from up to three successive broods produced the preceding spring and summer. Such a flock obviously consists of birds that live year-round in the Carolina Piedmont, but we also host bluebirds from further north that come down to bask in our milder winter weather prior to their departure later in the spring.

Some year-round resident bluebirds banded at Hilton Pond Center apparently maintain pair bonds and explore potential nest sites from autumn right through the beginning of breeding season in late March. And any day now, second-year birds hatched in 2002 will be getting down to the business of selecting their first mates. All these old and new bluebird pairs will be choosing nestboxes very soon--all the more reason to have your bluebird boxes cleaned and in tenant-ready condition by Valentine's Day or a few days thereafter.

Hilton Pond Center offers on-line suggestions for placing and maintaining boxes for Eastern Bluebirds. We also provide downloadable plans for constructing one type of bluebird nestbox. Bluebird enthusiasts have tried a bewildering variety of nestbox styles, but regardless of which type you choose, the two most important aspects are that the entry hole is exactly 1.5" in diameter and that the box has a movable roof, side, or front to allow it to be cleaned for the next family of occupants. See Research: Maintaining Bluebird Nestboxes.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

If you enjoy "This Week at Hilton Pond," please help Support
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!
You may wish to consult our Index of all nature topics covered since February 2000.

For a free, non-fattening, on-line subscription to "This Week at Hilton Pond," just send an e-mail with "Subscribe" in the subject line to THIS WEEK

8-14 February 2003

American Goldfinch--5
Carolina Chickadee--1*
Northern Cardinal--1
White-throated Sparrow--1

* = New species for 2003

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)
American Goldfinch (1)
02/07/00--5th year female
Northern Cardinal (1)
07/29/02--2nd year female
Tufted Titmouse (1)
04/30/02--after 2nd year unknown
Eastern Towhee (1)
10/26/00--4th year male

A female Rufous Hummingbird was banded on 11 Feb at Simpsonville SC.

4 species
8 individuals

13 species
259 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
42,373 individuals

--Two pairs of Wood Ducks have been displaying all week on Hilton Pond

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week

Up to Top of Page

Back to This Week at
Hilton Pond Center

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

If you found this information useful, click here to help Support
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History


You can also
post questions for
The Piedmont Naturalist

Join the

Nature Study Network

Search Engine for
Hilton Pond Center

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.