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Not Too Chilled To Build

Photo © Larry Streib

by Robyn Bailey, NestWatch Project Leader

As frigid temperatures grip the northern states and a nor’easter threatens the east coast, most of us are probably not out checking nest boxes. However, participants in the southern states know that it’s just about the start of the nesting season. From my snow-covered office in upstate New York, I was astonished to see that two NestWatchers have already reported an Eastern Bluebird nest with eggs as of January 27, 2022.

Will They Hatch?

Will They Hatch?

Four Eastern Bluebird eggs appeared in a nest box in a retirement community in Florida.

One of the clutches was initiated some time between January 18–21 in a northeastern Florida retirement community. According to Faith Jones, the Florida Bluebird Society board member who submitted this nest, “These are the earliest eggs in our records.” Faith explained via email that, “We started monitoring in January as we know there was an active nest in Panama City, Florida, in late January 2019. This is the first year we are trying to report with the NestWatch app as we monitor, and [we] are using an endoscopic camera so we do not have to open all the boxes to view activity.” 

Another early nest was reported from Texas with a first egg date of January 22. NestWatcher Larry Streib reports this nest box also hosted an Eastern Bluebird’s nest in January of 2021, but that one failed due to the record-setting winter storm that slammed Texas that winter. Could it be the same female, trying her luck again as an early bird?

Meanwhile In Texas

Meanwhile In Texas

These four Eastern Bluebird eggs were laid in the exact same nest box which hosted a January nest the prior year.

January nests are remarkable because Eastern Bluebirds are one of the most popular species reported to NestWatch, and yet nests with first egg dates in January make up about 0.01–0.02% of all Eastern Bluebird nests with known first egg dates (this range represents some uncertainty around nests which were difficult to verify).

But why would bluebirds, or other year-round songbird species, nest so early when the chances of succeeding are small? Faith hinted at an answer: “We had warm weather in early January, but it has turned cold (by Florida standards).” Birds do use temperature, but also day length, as a cue for when to start breeding. Recall that after the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year)—December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere—the days start gradually getting longer. This subtle increase in the amount of daylight is enough to trigger some birds to respond hormonally. Coupled with unseasonably warm temperatures, we might see some birds behaving as if spring were already here. But for most of us, if we see birds entering our nest boxes this time of year, it is more likely they are roosting in there to conserve heat. Statistically it is very unlikely that they’d be nesting this month. But some January nests do succeed, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for Faith and Larry that their bluebirds’ risk pays off.

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27 responses to “Not Too Chilled To Build”

  1. Alan Biggs says:

    I’ve been monitoring on Hilton Head Island, SC, and have not observed any nest building yet. Several pairs seems to be “staking out” their future locations, though.

  2. Cathy Turner says:

    That’s amazing ! I hope everything goes well.

    I have a friend in Decatur Georgia who had a Blue Bird sighting!

  3. Melissa Welch says:

    I am in the panhandle of Florida (Niceville) and we have a pair (or more) checking out the nestbox daily – sometimes hourly. They have started to clean out the box by removing any wood chips, but haven’t built a nest yet. I caught video on my blink camera yesterday of what appears to be mating occurring inside the box. I was wondering if this could happen this early, and it sounds like it can! Very exciting! The activity in the box is definitely not for warmth at this point.

  4. Gary says:

    I live in Clermont, FL and also have 4 Bluebird eggs in our bird box this January. The 4th egg was laid on January 18th. I have noticed some inconsistencies in incubating of the eggs and was worried the nest would be abandoned. But as of the 27th it has not been abandoned. We had a freezing temperature night last weekend and are expecting another this weekend. Can Bluebird eggs survive these temperatures? We’ll see what happens.

  5. Johnny says:

    I have had two pairs of eastern bluebirds checking out a box I put up intended for chickadees on three consecutive days this week. It’s a bit surprising as I live on a mountainside surrounded by woods in south-central Pennsylvania and have never had bluebirds nest near me.

  6. Merwin says:

    It is January in central New York. I have 5 Eastern Bluebirds that frequent my feeders daily. This is the second year in a row that they have appeared here at this time of year. Prior to 2020 I had never even laid an eye on these beautiful and interesting birds. I hope they can survive this cold and snowy winter.

  7. Monica says:

    I live in Clermont, Florida and have a pair checking out a nest box the last few days. Today they spent several hours going in and out of the box (especially the male). I have had bluebirds nest every year at my house since I put up boxes (3) 8 or 9 years ago but the first clutch has always been the beginning of March. This year a pair started going in and out of boxes January 15 and have increased the amount of time around them since then. Found out about this site from a friend and this is the first year I am inputing data.

  8. Cheryl says:

    We have twelve Bluebirds that have been here in southern New Hampshire all winter. We are feeding live, calcium sprinkled, mealworms. We had 9 fledge successfully last year. Hoping this year is a success too.
    We have not put out our boxes yet, much to chilly.

  9. Lis says:

    I had my resident Carolina Wren pair near Houston nest inside the bowl of my covered bird feeder in late December of 2020. The two nestlings fledged the day before the big February freeze, and I was afraid they wouldn’t make it. However, I put out lots of food and after the weather warmed back up, I saw the adults with both young.

  10. Denise Caldwell says:

    I’m in Southeast Louisiana and have bluebird eggs in a box due to hatch any day. So crazy! They began building the nest just before Christmas when temperatures were unseasonably warm. By January 15, there were four eggs in the nest. We’ve had some unseasonably cold days since then. Hoping and praying for a good outcome. I don’t generally see eggs until the middle of March.

  11. I always thought that in the fall when the birds were heading for warmer climate, they were not necessarily nesting upon arrival. It seems that bluebirds are nesting up north and down south. Any other species nestingtwice in a year?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Georges, Eastern Bluebirds either live in some areas year-round or are medium-distance migrants. Birds nesting in the south right now are likely year-round residents of those areas. Regardless, they usually have around 2-3 broods per year, sometimes more if resources and time provide.

  12. Lisa says:

    Jan 31 2022, SW New Hampshire is about 15 degrees today. I added mealworms to my feeder. The blue birds came!!! I saw another person in my area had some at the feeder. I have never had them before. What a thrill. I’ve not seen them since I was a little girl in Massachusetts at least 50 years ago. I’ll keep them fed and happy for my forever.

  13. Connie says:

    I have had 8 Bluebirds show up almost every day at my cage feeder here in Western PA. I think it is the parents and some of the 14 young they had last year. I feed them dried mealworms and suet I make especially for them. I am looking forward to March to see if they build a nest as early as they did last year.

  14. Lynn Rattray says:

    Last year I had bluebirds building a nest in a box that has been up for many years, unused. A few weeks into it, black snake crawled the post where the house was attached, resulting in a huge fight. The bluebirds are hanging out around the box again already. Any advice about nesting boxes/feeding is appreciated.

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Lynn, Does your nest box have a predator guard? We highly recommend outfitting your box or the pole it’s mounted on with a predator guard. Please read our predator webpage for more information – they can be purchased or you can click the predator guard names at the bottom of the page to open construction plans.

  15. Todd Sonnek says:

    Cleaning out my S and S Birdhouses in western Kentucky. Hoping for my 4 straight year of nesting.

  16. Lorraine Collard says:

    We’ve seen 3 Easter Bluebirds this winter, in the Cleveland (OH) area. We were surprised, as we thought they headed south.

    We’d moved into a new house last year, and put out a box that had been previously occupied by a house wren at our old house. Our timing must’ve been propitious, as the birds quickly took up occupancy. We were surprised by them, because as that section of our yard doesn’t have a lot of trees, neither is it a meadow, which is what I expected of a bluebird. But the funniest thing is they decided to announce their presence. I walked into the kitchen one morning and the male started to fly up to the kitchen window. There’s a screen, and he seemed to flutter there, attaching for a moment. Made quite a commotion. I told him I would come out and add food to the feeder, and started stocking mealworms soon after. He and his mate seemed to enjoy the box, hanging around all summer and hatching at least one brood. They also like the mirrors on the cars in our driveway – they know how pretty they are!

    Glad to see them back. I plan to put up another box in the yard. Anyone have any idea how much space there needs to be between boxes – what will they declare their territory to be? Thanks.

  17. Lisa says:

    My first Blue Bird box and very excited here in Palm Coast, FL. Nest building/gathering started 2-20-22 and today, female still in and out with material. Amazing progress since the start when I peeked last evening. I was worried new house construction behind us would scare the pair away but they continue….

  18. Mag says:

    I am in Western NC. My blue birds laid 3 eggs. Then there was a series of freezing temperatures. After the last frost, I noticed they pushed the eggs way further down into the nest. I waited for a few days. The birds continue to visit. They have piled the nest up high, the top reaching the hole of the birdhouse. And I cannot see the eggs. as they are deep down! I suspect the eggs may not be fertile so they are covering it up. Should I just remove the nest, clean the house, in hopes they will start anew?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Mag, You do not need to do anything with this nest – it’s still technically “active” so it’s better to give the birds space and let them continue. If you don’t see any activity at the nest for 4 weeks (no new eggs, no new nesting material, no adults at all going to the nest in that time frame) then it may be abandoned and you can clean it as you see fit. The 4 weeks gives time for a full incubation period as well as allowing for a delay in incubation. For now though, it’s best to leave it be. If you have more questions, please email us at nestwatch@cornell.edu. These comment sections are not regularly monitored.

      • Mag says:

        Thank you so much for your reply. Will leave them be. As of today, yes they are busy, going in and out of the house. In hopes, everything will be alright! Have a good day!

  19. Linda Post says:

    I have a nesting bluebird pair for first time. She has been in the box all this week so I assume she has eggs. She.often puts her face in the hole to check out what is going on and male talks to her. He has brought her insects. Enjoying watching them and can’t wait to see baby bluebirds.

  20. Linda Post says:

    Update. Bluebirds are busy. Guessing the eggs have hatched.

  21. Linda Post says:

    They fledged one clear afternoon. I believe there were four. Mother would call for them each morning and evening. I missed having them feeding the babies. None were around for over a week then this past Wed., they visited the birdhouse and chattered away. Called for babies and disappeared into the woods. Hope to see them return to raise another family soon.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology