Raising Eastern Bluebirds on Seabrook Island

As previously reported in The Seabrooker, October 2019

Most of your drives around our island in the summer will turn up a few Eastern Bluebirds sitting on a fence post or perched atop a nest box. They call out in a short, wavering voice and abruptly drop to the ground after an insect. Marvelous birds to capture in your binoculars or camera lens, male Eastern Bluebirds are a brilliant royal blue on the back and head, and warm red-brown on the breast. Blue tinges in the wings and tail give the grayer females an elegant look.

Early last spring there were people watching for signs that the Eastern Bluebirds were beginning to nest. The moment in March that Melanie Jerome, the director of Seabrook Island’s Bluebird Society, got the word, she alerted her team that it was time to start checking the 74 bluebird boxes on 4 “Bluebird trails” around the island.

Many Seabrook Islanders and guests have noticed nest boxes around the island and especially on the golf course. There are boxes on the front and back nine of the Crooked Oaks course and the front nine of Ocean Winds. The other boxes are around the Lake House. The Seabrook Island Birders Bluebird Society is a sub group of the Seabrook Island Birders. Since 2014 this group has monitored all the boxes once a week from early spring until late summer once nesting begins and until the last baby bird has fledged. Statistics are kept on everything that happens in the bird box. Noted is the species of bird nesting, number of eggs, number of nestlings, and number of birds that fledge. Also noted is any predators, from ants and wasps to snakes and raccoons, that invade the box.

The SI Golf Club staff have been great partners in this endeavor. Not only do they allow the boxes to be on the courses and let the teams borrow golf carts to travel to the boxes that line the fairways, but this year they paid for and installed baffles for all the boxes on the golf course. This dramatically reduced the number of snake predations.

So, armed with a bucket of supplies, map of bird box locations, and a binder with statistics sheets for each box the team goes to every bird box in their area hoping to find activity. This sounds like a mundane task, and it’s not crocodile hunting, but it does have its challenges. You quickly learn to wear boots because many of the houses are near ponds or in high weeds. Once an Eastern Bluebird or Carolina Chickadee flies out of the house and straight for your head there is no chance that you will ever again approach the box any way but from the back or side. And, it is always wise to open the box with a gloved hand in the event there is a snake, mice, or insects in the box. Additionally, a long stick or golf club is nice to have to flush snakes or alligators or shoo away Wild Turkeys. With that being said, no harm has ever come to wildlife or monitors with the exception of wasps and ants.

The monitor teams that go out in early spring have a couple weeks of checking empty boxes, but once the first nest is found activity ramps up. It’s a huge deal for the entire group when the first eggs are found or the first hatchlings get counted. And, once the hatchlings become fluffy with feathers, you know they are ready to fledge and will probably not be there the next week. As a monitor you are only responsible for 8 weeks and, even though this task is time spent out of your week, it is tough to turn in your bucket and binder to relinquish your babies over to another team.

At the end of the summer, Melanie takes all the data from the sheets and compiles it into a report that she shares with the SI Birders, but also forwards to the SI Golf Club, the SI Environmental Committee, and the South Carolina Bluebird Society. This information compelled the group to install the baffles on the poles and could also suggest that boxes might need to be relocated, repaired or replaced. The data also shows population trends.

If you are interested in seeing our statistics for this year, interested in the Seabrook Island Bluebird Society or just birding in general, check out our website at seabrookislandbirders.org. No prior experience is necessary to join either group, just a love of birds and nature.

Cool Facts …

  • The male Eastern Bluebird displays at his nest cavity to attract a female. He brings nesting material to the hole, goes in and out, and waves his wings while perched above. This is pretty much his contribution to nest building.
  • Eastern Bluebirds typically have more than one successful brood per year. Eggs are blue or in rare cases, white. Young produced in early nests leave, but young from later nests winter with their parents.
  • Eastern Bluebirds occur across eastern North America and south as far as Nicaragua. Birds living farther north and in the west of the range tend to lay more eggs than eastern and southern birds.
  • Eastern Bluebirds eat mostly insects, wild fruit and berries. Occasionally they been observed capturing and eating larger prey such as lizards and tree frogs.
  • The oldest recorded Eastern Bluebird was at least 10 years, 6 months old. Banded in New York in May 1989 and was found dead in SC November 1999.

Submitted by Melanie Jerome and Joleen Ardaiolo

 

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