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Bird Behaviors

American Tree Swallow Breeding Behaviors

In early spring, just as the sun starts to warm the land and green sprouts poke through the cold earth, American Tree Swallows migrate north from wintering in the south. Flying many miles during the day, they migrate to northern North America in search of breeding grounds.

Tree Swallow breeding commonly takes place in man-made bird boxes, making them an easy bird to attract to your garden. In fact, this species greatly benefits from bird boxes, as they have to compete with other cavity-nesting birds, such as house sparrows, bluebirds, and woodpeckers.

Tree Swallow in Nest Box
Image by Elm Street Photography via Facebook / Website

The Tree Swallow is a stunningly beautiful bird, as their shining blue-green feathers and crisp white chests are unlike any other, making them a wonderful bird to witness in a bird box. But before we dive into the specific nesting habits of this special bird, let’s get acquainted with who this bird is, including its description and characteristics. That way, you can confidently identify it as a Tree Swallow if you have one visit your bird box.

How to Identify a Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are a small bird in the swallow or Hirundinidae family. They are characterized by their stunning, iridescent blue-green feathers and their particular swooping and diving flight patterns.

Tree Swallow with Juvenile
Image by Heather Rose Assal ©

They are acrobats of the sky, flying gracefully in astounding displays of steep dives and quick turns to catch their unsuspecting prey, which consists mostly of flying insects. Because of this, they prefer open areas near water, such as meadows, rivers, marshes, and lakes, which attract breeding insects.

Their species name, bicolor, denotes the dark blue-green feathers on their back and white feathers below. They can look slightly similar to Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) but are easily distinguished by their chest colors; Tree Swallows have clean white chests and bellies, while Barn Swallows have a more rustic brown color, hence their species name.

Tree Swallow Breeding Habits

Tree Swallows breed throughout most of Canada (up to tree line) and in parts of the United States. Their breeding range in the western United States typically extends from northern California over to Colorado and up to Alaska. They also breed in the upper midwest from North Dakota to Michigan and throughout the Northeast, down to Pennsylvania. It is uncommon for them to breed in the central midwest and southern United States, preferring somewhat cooler climates to raise their young. 

Image by Elm Street Photography via Facebook / Website

Breeding occurs between May and September, and they have one brood per year. Males usually arrive at the breeding area before the females to search out potential nest sites.

As cavity nesters, the male looks for natural cavities in standing dead trees or abandoned Woodpecker nests. They will often nest in man-made bird boxes, building eaves, or even holes in the ground (probably as a last resort if there are no cavities available). Nests are usually chosen in areas near water or open meadows where there is plenty of food to feed the chicks.

Part of their courtship involves the male Tree Swallow showing the female various nesting sites. He will do this by perching near the nest holes or on top of the bird box. He will do flutter flights and bowing displays in front of the female, hoping to impress her with his charm and nest-finding skills.

Typically, one male mates with one female, though they don’t mate for life and will choose new partners each year. Plus, Tree Swallows aren’t always monogamous, and one male may mate with two females, or a female might mate with another male. It is not uncommon for chicks in a single nest to have different fathers.

While they fly in large groups when migrating, Tree Swallows disperse to find their breeding partners and aggressively defend their territory once a nest is selected.

How do Tree Swallows Build Their Nests?

Once the playful courtships have ended and nest sites have been chosen, the female builds the nest with dead grass, moss, rootlets, and other small, fibrous materials. She begins her work with the outer circumference of the nest and uses her feathers to push out the material to shape it into a cup.

The female tree swallow does this repeatedly; as she adds new material, she pushes it out with her wings so that there is an indented cup area for her to lay her eggs. The last layer of the nest is lined with soft feathers. Nest building can take anywhere from a few days to over two weeks.

Once the first layer of feathers is laid, the female will lay her first egg. She lays one egg per day and will lay about 2-8 eggs (5 is average). The eggs are pale pink at first and then turn to pure white within the first few days of being laid. The male and female continue adding feathers to the nest after the female lays the eggs.

Incubation and Nestling

The female Tree Swallow incubates the eggs for about 11-20 days. It is common for the female to periodically leave the nest – sometimes for several hours on warm days. All the eggs hatch within a couple of days, and the mother will take the eggshells out of the nest as the chicks hatch.

Image by Nest Box Live

Both the male and female feed the hatchlings. The chicks are born helpless with closed eyes and pink skin sparsely covered in downy feathers. For the first few days after they hatch, the female broods them to keep them warm. As the hatchlings mature, the chicks’ downy fuzz thickens into dark black-brown feathers, and the mother starts to spend less and less time with them.

The hatchlings stay in the nest for about 15-25 days, miraculously growing into fledglings able to take their first flight upon leaving the nest. They leave the nest one at a time, with all the fledglings leaving within one to two days.

Image by Nest Box Live

After they leave the nest, both parents will continue to feed the fledglings for a few days. Because they mature quickly, the fledglings will reach adulthood and breed by the following spring.

Watch the full video of the Tree Swallow breeding cycle on Facebook.

How To Encourage Tree Swallow Breeding In Your Garden?

It’s one thing to learn about the fascinating nesting habits of tree swallows, but it’s another thing to see it firsthand – in real time!

With our Nest Box Live – AI-Powered Bird Box, you get the unique and incredible opportunity to witness birds choosing your bird box, building their nest, laying eggs, and raising their young.

While you can’t be certain what species of bird will choose your bird box, chances are high it may be a tree swallow if you live near its ideal breeding habitat. If so, you’ll have a wondrous opportunity to see what was described here in action and become intimately familiar with the spectacular Tree Swallow.

Categories
Social

Most Watched Bird Box Live Camera Videos of 2023

Our first year at Nest Box Live, launching our AI-Powered Bird House and Nest Box Camera system, has generated well over 100 bird-nesting and chick-hatching moments, and we love every one! We take a look back at the most watched bird box camera videos of 2023 from Facebook and YouTube and our thoughts on why these amazing instances of ornithology at its best are so popular.

The Tiny Blue Tit’s Breeding Cycle Phenomenon – 71 Million Views (Most Watched of 2023)

In June 2023, we shared the Nest Box Live capture of the nesting and hatching cycle of one of Britain’s most popular birds – the Blue Tit. 

This video begins with just the bare bird box, found by this tiny bird who first checks out the camera and makes sure she’s safe. Momma Blue Tit then goes to work meticulously, filling the bird box with super-soft moss, animal hair, and plant matter before laying seven tiny eggs. After weeks of sitting, the eggs finally hatch on Day 38, and the feeding process begins before weeks later, the tiny fledglings, one by one, begin to leave.

Birds In Nest Box
Blue Tit (71M Views) – Watch on Facebook

Video Description:

Nest Box Live: Top Nest Box Video – The complete Blue Tit breeding cycle (60 days in a 3-minute film) 

This Nest Box Live video has been so popular, with over 71 million views on Facebook and YouTube. One watcher, Heidi Machete, says:

“That’s bought a tear to my eyes what a wonderful montage of the babies so pleased that you started all this Jamie and nest box it really is some of the best stuff on here!”

There are 10,000 comments on Facebook alone. Rayray Angel says:

“I loved watching this very interesting how much time they put into making their nest, and it looks so comfortable. Thank you for making this video.”

Why are Blue Tits so interesting?

  • They are a tiny bird, at just 9-11g
  • There are an estimated 3.5 million breeding pairs in the UK
  • Blue Tit numbers in the UK are increasing – they love bird boxes!
  • British Blue Tits stay home, rarely moving away from where they are hatched
  • They are the only “blue” British bird!

An Awe-Inspiring Insight into the Life-Cycle of the Common Kestrel – 17m views

In July 2023, we published a rare glimpse into the life cycle of the Common Kestrel captured on a Nest Box Live camera.

Despite severe population decline from the 1970s onwards, likely due to a decrease in prey, agricultural chemicals, and a lack of nest sites, the Common Kestrel is still frequently seen in farming areas. The Common Kestrel is on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern. 

This video starts with the regal Kestel mom laying five beautiful brown mottled eggs, which she fiercely guards until the chicks emerge. The camera view clearly captures the chick’s first days, then weeks from the side, providing an amazing view of their development until they are almost too large for the bird box. By Day 60, their stunning adult plumage and powerful beaks are clearly developing. A week later, five strong kestrel fledglings pack side by side, ready to emerge into the world and learn to hunt shrews, mice, and voles. 

Kestrel Breeding Cycle
Kestrel (17M Views) – Watch on Facebook

Video Description:

Nest Box Live: Top Nest Box Video – Kestrel chicks awe-inspiring development (60+ days in a 3-minute film) 

Why are Kestrels so interesting?

  • The Common Kestrel can be up to 39cm from head to tail and weigh 250g
  • A Kestrel was once also called a “windhover” for its habit of beating the wind to hover, searching for prey
  • Kestrels can fly at up to 39 mph but reach much greater speeds when diving, some Kestrels can reach 200mph.

The Humble Sparrow’s Captivating Nest Build – 7.6m views 

The town and garden favourite, the humble little sparrow, has also been one of our most popular videos. In March 2023, we shared an industrious pair’s feathery nest build. 

Sparrow Nest Build
House Sparrow (7.6M Views) – Watch on Facebook

Video Description:

Nest Box Live: Top Nest Box Video – A pair of industrious tiny sparrows build a feathery nest

Why are Sparrows so interesting?

  • Third most common UK bird with 5.3 million breeding pairs
  • Sparrows hop on the ground instead of walking, they can even swim underwater
  • Sparrows even live and breed in a Yorkshire coal mine 700ft below ground!

Would you like to watch nesting birds in your own backyard LIVE! and create videos just like this?

Join the Nest Box Live Global Network! 

We launched our AI-powered Bird House and Nest Box Camera this year so backyard bird watchers could encourage birds to nest and then monitor their progress with amazing image quality, sharing their videos with the Nest Box Live network of other birdwatchers around the world. Find out more at www.nestboxlive.com.

Categories
Guides

Cleaning A Bird Box – A Guide 

Bird boxes are an invaluable resource for many bird species, and provide a respite from the harsh weather conditions over the wintering period. 

There are many notable examples of the benefits bird boxes provide. The most famed conservation success story, however, is the use of human intervention via bird boxes to save the plummeting populations of Eastern Bluebirds across North America. 

But, what happens to a  bird box after you’ve installed it? Does it need a bit of tender love and care? Or is it a one-time set up?

This article will explore what and how you should care for your bird box to ensure future populations of birds continue to use these life-saving resources. 

Should you clean out a bird box?

There is often a huge debate about whether it’s best to clear old nesting material from your bird box after the breeding season has finished.

Cleaning a Bird Box
Image by Nest Box Live

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite as simple. Throughout the birding community, there are arguments for and against the cleaning of bird boxes. 

A clean bird box decreases the risk of infectious diseases, which could rapidly decrease bird populations. 

However, some species naturally clean out their living quarters. Interfering with this behavior, may cause significant behavioral changes and may lead to a decrease in breeding the following season.

This article is a guide of my experience with bird boxes. I will attempt to debunk the myths and provide, what I think, is the best advice for ensuring birds get the five-star treatment they deserve.

Benefits Of Artificial Bird Boxes 

Like any other wildlife-friendly resources in your garden, such as feeding stations or water trays, bird boxes should receive special attention because they play a significant role in the local biodiversity landscape. 

Bird boxes provide artificial sites for nesting opportunities and attempt to mimic natural cavities found in trees. 

Bluebird with Nesting Material
Image by Drunken Birder© via Instagram

Many species, such as bluebirds, chickadees and nuthatches, are secondary-cavity nesting birds. They lack physical adaptations that allow them to construct their own cavities. Instead, they rely on other species, such as woodpeckers, to construct cavities for them.

Of course, this tactic relies on a stable population of cavity constructors, or primary-cavity nesting birds. With the current risks facing our bird populations, from habitat loss to climate change, potential nesting sites are becoming few and far between. 

Artificial bird boxes create more opportunities and decrease intraspecific competition. 

Many bird boxes are specifically designed to prohibit the entry of larger, invasive species, such as sparrows. Unlike natural cavities, they also provide better protection from harsh weather events and predators. 

Due to this, scientists have concluded that certain areas with bird boxes have a higher concentration of bird populations. Other studies have found that certain bird species, such as house wrens, actively choose artificial nest boxes over natural cavities. 

Why Should I Clean Bird Boxes?

Birds, similar to other wildlife, are not immune to infections and diseases. 

Certain species of bird are more susceptible to certain diseases. For example, waterfowl, nesting in artificial houses, are significantly affected by a plethora of diseases, such as avian botulism, duck plague and Aspergillosis

Passerine species, such as the Eastern Bluebirds, are prone to Trichomoniasis. Otherwise known as Cranker, Trichomoniasis is a parasite that was discovered in 2005. It is most often associated with unsanitary and dirty feeders, and is transferred from bird to bird by infected regurgitated food.

Trichomoniasis causes caseous accumulations in the throat, severely affecting feeding. Starvation, or other complications, are often inevitable. 

By keeping a bird box clean, you significantly decrease the risk of the spread of pathogens, which may otherwise negatively affect the nesting bird itself, her clutch of developing eggs, or even the wider environment. 

An Ecosystem Within A Bird Box

Most birds typically use a mixture of lawn moss, twigs and feathers when building their nests, but it’s not uncommon to find bits of leaves or other foreign objects inside. 

Bird Box Nesting Material
Image by Nest Box Live

To the untrained eye, the nest-building process may seem random and messy. 

This is partly true. 

Messy though it may be, the nest-building process is a thought-out procedure, with many considerations. 

Firstly, the bird creates a soft foundation that forms the base layer. This is maneuvered into place by flapping its wings against the material that pushes it into place. Depending on the species, this can either be the female, male or both. 

Secondly, twigs are added to provide strength. 

Finally, feathers are added to protect the eggs.

All these materials form a mini ecosystem within the bird box, creating a breeding ground for insects. Mites, small spiders and ants are usually the first to move in, and enjoy the warm and dark environment, especially when the cooler nights start setting in. 

These types of invertebrates are great to have in the garden, as they increase biodiversity by attracting larger predators – many people don’t realize that insects make up a large proportion of the diet of many garden bird species. These insects provide essential nutrients, such as protein and calcium, both of which are crucial throughout the year but especially during breeding season.

Whilst it may feel unsettling to have these small creatures inside your nest box, they are usually harmless and don’t affect the birds. 

However, there may be some parasitic mites present. In small numbers, avian mites do not cause any significant harm to birds. However, in a dirty and humid bird box, populations of avian mites can spread like wildfire and cause health risks for birds. 

Avian mites may bite if contact with human skin is made. Although these bites may cause skin irritations, they are not known to transmit any disease. Always use gloves if cleaning bird boxes. 

Should I Provide Nesting Material 

It may seem tempting to provide a little helping hand over the colder months by offering soft material such as cotton or wool. 

Afterall, birds need soft material to nest, right?

Bluebird Eggs
Image by Drunken Birder© via Instagram

Wrong! One of the greatest misconceptions is that birds need soft material inside their nests to roost, or sleep. 

Whilst soft material is often found in nests, it is for insulation purposes – not nesting comfort. Many bird species will forage their own insulating materials, such as fur or feathers, themselves. Any artificial products may cause more harm than good due to the presence of treatment chemicals. 

Birds have the ability to fluff up their feathers, allowing air to be trapped. If more air is being trapped between each feather, then this reduces the amount of cold air reaching their bodies. This behavior, along with any naturally-foraged insulating materials, is more than enough to keep the bird warm. 

It’s important to remember that birds are well-adapted to cope in colder environments and their natural defenses often provide superior protection than a human intervention.

What Should I Use To Clean Out A Bird Box?

This is a simple answer – only boiling water should be used to clean out a bird box. 

Once the nesting material is removed, using gloves of course, you should rinse the box with boiling water and give it a good scrub with a hard bristled brush. It’s often beneficial to do this several times, ensuring that there is no debris left behind. 

You should avoid using any chemicals or cleaning products, as this can leave residue behind which can harm birds. 

Once the box has been thoroughly cleaned, allow enough time for it to air dry. A few hours should be sufficient enough.

When Should I Clean My Bird Box?

Timing is important.

Whilst you can clean out the box after the chicks have fledged, it’s often a good idea to wait until September once the breeding season has ended. 

In some parts of the word, including the UK and some jurisdictions in North America, it is illegal to intentionally destroy the nest of any wild bird during the breeding season, or whilst a nest is being built. 

In the absence of a nest box camera, it’s often best to wait until the season has ended before removing any materials. 

How To Clean A Bird Box: A Step-by-step Guide:

1. Put on a pair of garden gloves to protect against any insects or mites that may be present.

2. Disassemble the front plate of the box using a screwdriver.

3. Remove all nesting material (Be aware there may be unhatched eggs present).

4. Use boiling water and rinse the internal chamber several times to remove any mites.

5. Scrub with a hard bristled brush to clear any stubborn stains.

6. Allow several hours to air dry.

7. Reassemble the box and site in the previous location.

So, Should I Clean My Bird Box?

I would suggest cleaning out a bird box after the breeding season, but this is a personal choice. For good hygiene practices, and to minimize disruption and disturbances, I recommend cleaning your bird box in September. 

But, with a lack of substantial research in the area, it comes down to personal preference. However, as with most things in life, don’t underestimate the power of common sense. 

Choosing to clear out a nest box after breeding season will most likely have little to no impact on whether birds choose to use it the following breeding season. 

I have seen many cases where birds have chosen to use nest boxes year after year with the previous year’s nesting material present, which has resulted in successful breeding. 

But equally, the same argument can be applied to nest boxes that have had the nesting material of the season removed. 

It may be as simple as a personal preference of the bird themselves. 

However, one thing is for certain. by having a bird box in your garden you are providing another opportunity for birds to reproduce.

Categories
Bird Behaviors

Nesting Behaviors of Eastern Bluebirds in the USA

Found in North America, there are three known species of bluebird; the Eastern 

Bluebird, the Western Bluebird and the Mountain Bluebird. 

Living up to their name, bluebirds are, well, blue. 

Bluebird Bird Box Top
Image by Lydia Lively©

However, it is not just their striking colouration that makes the bluebird stand out. It is also their interesting approach to nesting. 

Being secondary cavity-nesting birds, they rely on other species to create spaces for them to nest. Once in the vacant cavity, each sex has a defined nesting behavior. Female Eastern Bluebirds build and contrast the nest, whilst the male guards his mate.

This article will aim to explore the nesting behaviors of the Eastern Bluebirds.

What Are Eastern Bluebirds?

Before we delve into the world of Eastern Bluebird nesting, first we need to understand what exactly an Eastern Bluebird is. 

The Eastern bluebird is a small passerine bird species belonging to the thrush family, not too dissimilar from the European robin.

Although the Eastern Bluebird has a strikingly vibrant blue head and wings, their breast is a mix of orange and white plumage.

Bluebird Solo
Image by Drunken Birder© via Instagram

These colors become even more pronounced in males during the breeding season, which occurs throughout the Spring and Summer months – typically between April to July. 

Fractionally larger than their Western cousins, the aptly named Western Bluebird, Eastern Bluebirds can reach lengths of 21 cm and weigh up to 32g. They are omnivorous foragers, feeding on a range of insects and seeds and berries. 

Eastern Bluebirds are a highly social bird species, often observed flocking together in groups of over 100. 

Geographical Distribution of Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern bluebirds have a relatively large range and, as the name suggests, can be found in much of Eastern North America. They typically occur East of the Rocky Mountain range.

There are 8 recognised subspecies of the eastern bluebird. Some can be found as far North as South Canada. Other populations can be found as far South as Nicaragua. 

Eastern Bluebirds living in warmer regions, such as Southwest USA and Central America, will remain year-round. 

Other populations, especially those living in Canada and North USA, are partial migrants. 

This means, during certain unfavorable months, individuals migrate from their breeding sites to new areas with plentiful food and a stable climate. 

Eastern Bluebirds are heavily dependent on weather and the climate. If conditions are too cold, many individuals will perish. 

To avoid high chick fatality rates, adult Bluebirds nest in enclosed cavities within trees. Not only does this protect developing eggs and chicks from potential predators, it also provides the young some respite from the elements. 

Where Do Eastern Bluebirds Nest?

Bluebirds are secondary cavity-nesting birds. 

Despite its long-winded, and somewhat complicated, name, secondary cavity-nesting birds really do what they say. Let’s break it down. 

The “cavity-nesting” aspect is derived from where they nest. For Eastern Bluebirds, which are susceptible to cold weather and high predation risks, holes within trees, or cavities, offer increased protection.

However, Eastern Bluebirds lack the necessary adaptations that would allow them to create these cavities themselves – their beaks and feet simply aren’t strong enough to pick away at tree bark. 

Instead, they must rely on other species to construct these initial cavities. Such species, such as woodpeckers, are referred to as primary cavity-nesting birds. These are the species that make the original holes. Fortunately for the Bluebirds, woodpeckers typically use their cavities for just one season, before moving on to create a new hole. 

Vacant holes are prime real estate, and they are free for the taking. So, can you see where the “secondary” aspect comes from?

However, the best sites come at a cost. Before the breeding season, males will compete with one another to gain the best nesting cavity. 

Although Bluebirds can be found across much of North America, they are found in particularly high densities throughout human-modified environments, such as pastures and agricultural land, orchards, parks and gardens.

Typically, when humans alter wild landscapes, it is to the detriment of the species living there. 

For the eastern Bluebird, however, human modification has allowed populations to flourish. Rotting fence posts provide an excellent place to bore. Fruit orchards contain stable food sources. Suburban parks and backyards may have artificial nesting boxes. 

All these factors have allowed the eastern Bluebird to nest successfully in an ever-changing world. But more on that later. 

Copulation In Eastern Bluebirds 

Copulation, otherwise known as sexual intercourse, is the process of transferring sperm from the male, to the eggs of the female. 

This is an incredibly energetically costly investment for the female, so she needs to make an informed decision before mating with just any old mate. 

And the male knows this. 

Bluebird Pair
Image by Drunken Birder© via Instagram

So, in order for the male to secure mating rights with the female, he must impress her. 

Not only does he do this with his brightly coloured plumage (the brighter the feathers, the healthier the male), but also by his erratic displays. 

After selecting a nesting cavity – be it an old woodpecker hole, a rotting fence post, or an artificial nest box – the male Eastern Bluebird sings in front of a potential mate.

If the female is interested, the male will begin bringing nest material to the cavity. Entering in and out of the hole, the male will partially spread his wing and tail feathers. 

If he is successful, the female will initiate copulation. Both facing the same direction, the male Eastern Bluebird will mount the female’s back, attempting to make cloacal contact. This is typically done from a perch, close to the nest cavity. 

The cloaca, present in both males and females, mostly in birds, reptiles and amphibians, is a dual-functioning opening for the digestive, reproductive and urinary tracts. Talk about efficiency. 

In mere seconds, copulation is complete. In most bird species, courtship behaviors often last significantly longer than the main event. 

Now, preparations for nesting can begin. 

Does Sex Affect Nesting Behavior?

Sex plays a significant role in the nesting behaviors of Eastern Bluebirds. 

Most Eastern Bluebirds are monogamous or, in other words, they have just one mate. 

However, this monogamous behavior seems to vary. 

Some eastern Bluebirds show signs of lifelong monogamy, where mates form strong bonds with one another for the duration of their lives. 

Other individuals display seasonal monogamy, whereby partners will mate for the duration of the breeding season, then proceed to find other mates. 

Image by Drunken Birder© via Instagram

Regardless of the type of monogamy displayed, one would expect an equal relationship when it comes to nest building. 

However, in the case of the Eastern Bluebird, it is the females that do most of the work. 

Over the duration of around 10 days, the female lines the cavity with a variety of materials – most of which consists of grass – that is loosely woven together. Some individuals take nest building one step further by adding good insulating materials, such as horse hair or feathers. 

Although he has no input in the construction of the nest, the male remains close by. Ever vigilant, the male guards his mate, warding off any predators or potential male competition. 

Once the female has constructed her nest, she will lay up to 7 teal-colored eggs. She will incubate the eggs for around 2 weeks, and then an additional week after her chicks have hatched. During this nesting period. The female will rely on her male partner to bring her food. 

Like many bird species, baby Eastern bluebirds are altricial. They are born blind and featherless, and must rely on their parents until they become nutritionally independent.

Older Sibling Nesting Behaviors 

The world can be a scary place, especially for an Eastern Bluebird. 

For some individuals, it pays to stay close to the nest. This is especially true of those who hatch towards the end of the hatching season. 

Once fledged, these juveniles may stay in the territory of their parents. 

Occasionally, these young birds may help their parents raise the brood of the following season. 

But why? 

Image by Heather Rose Assal ©

Well, it is speculated that the young birds stick around for selfish behaviors. They feed their siblings to gain knowledge on nesting behaviors that may inadvertently increase their own nesting successes when they breed. 

This behavior is defined as alloparental care, whereby care is given to non-descendent young. 

Although there are some costs for the caregivers, such as delayed personal reproduction, the benefits outweigh these costs. Chicks have a higher likelihood of survival with the additional support, and the caregivers receive knowledge that will increase their chances of a successful brood. 

Another theory suggests that, by helping to raise sibling chicks, it ensures at least some of the genes of the helper are passed on. 

How Humans Can Help

By the turn of the 20th century, Eastern Bluebird populations had plummeted by nearly 90%.

Owing to habitat loss, competition with introduced species, pesticide use, and climate change, just 18,500 bluebirds were recorded. 

However, in a remarkable display of human cooperativity, artificial nest boxes were erected nationwide. 

Juvenile Bluebird Bird Box
Image by Drunken Birder© via Instagram

With the additional space, Eastern Bluebirds were able to recognize areas once deemed unsuitable due to habitat loss. 

These new nesting boxes were designed with the size of the eastern Bluebird in mind. The entrance hole was big enough for the Bluebird, but too small for the introduced and invasive starling, eliminating interspecific competition for nesting sites. 

Today, the Eastern Bluebird is one of the most numerous bird species in North America, with populations estimated to be close to 23 million individuals. A truce conservation success story. 

Final Thoughts

In today’s modern world, conservation success stories are few and far between. 

With a range of threats facing the natural world, it is hard for wildlife to thrive. 

However, with the help of humans, Eastern Bluebirds are thriving. 

Owing to the installation of nest boxes, these secondary-cavity nesters were able to successfully raise chicks without the risk of competition, habitat loss and extreme weather. 

Juvenile Bluebirds
Image by Drunken Birder© via Instagram
Categories
Garden & Outdoors

Top 5 Plants To Attract Wild Birds To Your Garden

We all love to see winged visitors in our garden. Their joyful song and cheerful character make our gardens a more relaxing place. Many of us put out bird seed and bird boxes, but we can also choose plants that act as a natural source of food. The best plants or flowers will feature edible fruit or seeds and nest-building materials to attract birds.

Plants that attract wild birds to your garden

You don’t need acres of land to attract birds to your garden. You can help nature in any size of outdoor space by growing a few plants in pots on a balcony.

With bird population numbers declining all over the world due to environmental stress, there’s no better time to start thinking of our singing garden friends. Winter is the perfect time of year to start planning your Spring garden.

In 2024, why not specifically choose some bird-loving plants to help increase your garden’s population? We’ve put together a list of the best plants to attract wild birds to your garden.

How To Choose Plants To Attract Wild Birds To Your Garden

When reading our list, keep in mind your own outdoor space and conditions. Look around and notice how much of your garden is in full sun or shade.

Think about the size of your outdoor space, if you have acres of land you can easily plant flower beds and fast-spreading shrubs. But, if your space is a balcony or patio, take note of the pot-loving and compact plants.

Lastly, do some research on the local birds in your area and choose native plants. The bird-attracting plants featured on this list can be grown in most areas of the world, but native plants will attract the most winged friends to your garden – even in the bleak of winter.

Our Nest Box Live will help you discover the local birds in your area so you can tailor your plants even more!

What Features Attract Birds To Plants?

  • Nesting and Habitats – birds need somewhere to shelter all year round. If you have the space, pick at least one bushy plant that will protect birds from the elements. Birds also use plants to hide from predators.
  • Attract Insects – plants that encourage insects such as ants, spiders, beetles and caterpillars will, in turn, encourage birds.
  • Seeds and Fruit – plants that provide a natural food source will attract birds to your garden. High-energy foods such as sunflower hearts will help birds in the winter.

What Plants Attract Wild Birds To Your Garden?

Sunflowers

These sun-loving flowers are available in lots of different varieties so they can be grown in small pots or large fields! Not only do they attract birds, but they also look stunning in your garden.

Sunflower Bunch

Sunflowers are easy to grow and make the ideal project plant for teaching kids about garden. Be wary of slugs and protect the seedlings from a young age with copper tape or wool pellets. 

As the name suggests, Sunflowers prefer full sun. But, the tall-growing varieties such as ‘Russian Giant’ and ‘Titan’ will tower above all other plants and reach the sun even if they’re shaded initially by other plants. Some great varieties for smaller spaces are ‘Teddy’ and ‘Dwarf Yellow Spray’.

Sunflowers will bring birds into your garden by attracting insects which are a diet staple for birds such as Bluebirds, Swallows, Robins and Sparrows. After your sunflowers have finished flowering, cut off the heads and place them around your garden for the birds to peck out the seeds.

Why not Grow Your Own Sunflowers with this sustainable kit?

Coneflower/ Echinacea

This punchy-coloured perennial will welcome birds into your garden year after year. They’re easy to grow from seed or readily available as plants from the garden centre. Coneflowers are a late-flowering plant so they provide shelter and insects for birds when most other plants are past their best.

Coneflowers grow best in an area of full sun and well-draining soil. They have no problem being grown in pots or containers for a balcony or patio display.

Their seeds attract finches and their long stems and big flower heads provide shelter for birds searching for insects in the soil below.

Roses

A cottage garden favourite for its beauty and longevity, roses are also a favourite amongst birds. After a Rose has flowered, think again before deadheading. If left alone, a ‘Rosehip’ forms which are seed-filled bulbs.

Rosehips are a rich source of vitamins and antioxidants for overwintering birds. Thrushes, Blackbirds, Redwing, Fieldfare and Waxwings will devour these buds in the Winter.

Many roses can thrive in a partial shade garden. There are thousands of variants available, some tailored to pots and others thriving in raised beds.

Not only are they a great food source, Rosehips add a bust of colour to an otherwise dull Winter garden.

Crab Apple

The Crab Apple tree is a stunning classic in British gardens. Providing fruit to make jelly and jam for us, and providing shelter and food for birds.

Crab Apples are hardy trees and are well suited to a position in full sun or partial shade. They also grow well in pots.

Their long-lasting fruit provides food for bird species such as Cardinals, Cedar Waxwings, and Robins. However, avoid the following varieties of Crab: Apple Adams, Donald Wyman, Firebird and Red Jewel.

Remember to plant two or more Apple trees so they can cross-pollinate and produce fruit.

Holly Bush

An iconic winter evergreen, the Holly bush provides tasty berries throughout the winter and makes a great decoration for Christmas wreaths!

You will often see characterful Robins perches on Holly branches in the winter. They provide tasty berries for several species and Many birds nest in holly, using its leaves for protection. It’s a favourite amongst Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Redwings and Thrushes.

You can grow holly in containers or plant in the ground. They prefer a position in full sun but can thrive in part shade.

What Else You Can Do To Attract Wild Birds To Your Garden?

Other bird-attracting plants include the Rowan Tree, Blackthorn Tree, Honeysuckle, Elderberry and Calicarpa. As well as planning your plants, you should avoid using pesticides and chemicals in your garden.

Opt for organic and wildlife-friendly sprays and try to use homemade compost where possible. You may not think you’re directly harming birds, however, the insects killed by the chemicals are then eaten by birds.

Also, check your garden bird baths daily in the winter. Birds need fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. Providing a water source increases your chance of seeing birds in your garden.