Monday, May 25, 2015

Yes, it was a hijack! Bad news, good news ...

Text and photos © 2015 Adele Wilson, author of Bonding with the Barn Swallows

Bluebird, May 10, 2015
Yes, it was a hijack! The Eastern Bluebird, so charming and friendly to humans, can be quite nasty toward other birds. Eastern Bluebirds can fight ferociously to defend a nest – or even to seize a nest from another bird, as they did in my yard on May 10th. (See my previous post, “The Hijacking of the Nest Box – Who will win?”, at

During this past March (2015), I did not observe as many Bluebirds around here as I had during March 2014.  Why?  There could be several reasons.

Bluebird, Nov. 9, 2014
For one, we had unseasonably wintry weather here during November 2014.  It was extraordinarily cold, and we had two snowfalls that month – quite unusual for this area.

During the winter of 2013 to 2014, each month I would observe at least one Bluebird around my yard.  But this past winter was different.  The Bluebird shown on the left that I saw on November 9, 2014, would be the last Bluebird I would see until March 9, 2015.  On March 9th I sighted a pair of Bluebirds, one at a time, on the wire across the road from where I live.  I did not see any Bluebirds near my yard until March 23rd.

Although our local Bluebirds stay around during the winter, they are unaccustomed to extremely cold weather during the month of November.  As winter approaches, Bluebirds look for warm places to roost during frigid nights.  They often roost either inside the nest boxes they used during the past summer or inside building structures where there are entrance ways into attics or crevices that lead to the undersides of roof beams.  These birds can also roost in pre-existing cavities within large tree trunks, places where they have nested during warmer weather.

However, when it came to finding warm winter roosting spots, I don’t think our Bluebirds had much warning last fall with our sudden frigid temperatures and snow storms.  It is said that one of the worst enemies of the Bluebird is “Jack” – Jack Frost, that is.  With “Jack” descending on us so quickly during late 2014, I think it caught the Bluebirds off guard, and some of them may have perished that month.

Our past winter of 2014 to 2015 was extremely cold, but we did not have the record-breaking amount of snowfall that the Northeastern US received.  Nevertheless, Jack Frost may have played a role in diminishing our Bluebirds’ winter survival rate.

An unusual event began taking place around here in mid January 2015 – one that may well have had a negative impact on our local Bluebirds’ survival.

In mid-January, a contractor hired by our local power company began chopping down trees and branches that were threatening to fall on power lines during high winds and heavy snowfall.  The process was noisy and lasted for several weeks.

If any of those trees contained old woodpecker holes in which Bluebirds were roosting at night, the tree-cutting process could have caused some of our Bluebirds to lose their warm, nocturnal sleeping stations, resulting in the demise of those birds.

I did notice that, when the contractor first began cutting trees, a Pileated Woodpecker began appearing at my suet feeders and continued to do so for many weeks thereafter.  I have wondered if the tree-cutting resulted in the removal of dead tree trunks inside which the Pileated Woodpecker had been finding beetle larvae.  Pileated Woodpeckers are able to feed on that type of larvae during the cold months.  The answer is unclear, but it seemed that SOMETHING had brought that Woodpecker out in the open at exactly that time. 

Female Pileated Woodpecker, morning of Jan. 12, 2015

Since we had so few Bluebirds around this past March, I took that as an imperative to put up a Bluebird nest box.  I began talking to my very mechanical next-door neighbor about it.  Perhaps, if we put up a nest box, a pair of Bluebirds would find it and raise some babies in it, resulting in an increased Bluebird population in our neighborhood during the spring of 2016.

By mid-April I had purchased a Bluebird nest box.  I had already purchased one last October at a craft show, but that one was too heavy to be mounted on a thin pole.  The reason for mounting the box on a pole would be to help guard against predators.

My neighbor was studying the specs for mounting the nest box. We began planning the location of the box in accordance with permission from our landlord and the guidelines for mounting Bluebird boxes.

Tree Swallow on wire
On April 17th, my neighbor and I were standing on our porch, discussing plans for the nest box. I pointed to a Tree Swallow that was perching on the nearby wire and told my neighbor, “That’s what we’ll probably get: Tree Swallows.” I said this because it was well past the beginning of the first brooding season for Bluebirds. Bluebirds can build two or three nests per season, but the first nesting season generally begins in March. By April 17th, our local Bluebirds were probably well underway with their first nests of the season.

I then told my neighbor not to be disappointed because “we might not get a Bluebird.” Just as I said the word “Bluebird”, an uncanny event occurred. A Bluebird landed on the wire right above our driveway! See “Did the Bluebird hear me call its name?” at The photo below shows the Bluebird that landed on the wire that moment.
The Bluebird that landed on the wire when I said "Bluebird"
We finally got the nest box mounted on April 24th.  According to my research, we were far too late to have Bluebirds claim the box for their first nest of the season.  

Tree Swallows claim nest box, May 1, 2015
Just as I had suspected on April 17th, when I had pointed to the Tree Swallow on the wire, we did not get Bluebirds claiming the box. On May 1st a pair of Tree Swallows showed up and began building a nest inside the box that very day.

We were so fortunate to get birds claiming the nest box only one week after we had mounted it!  Although they were not Bluebirds, I was overjoyed!  Tree Swallows eat flying insects, acting as a natural form of pest control.  And we would be helping to increase our local population of this species, a species that I had not begun to observe in this neighborhood until April 2013.

But on May 10th, the nest was hijacked!  The poor Tree Swallows!  The female was still in the process of building a nest inside the box that morning, when, not just one, but TWO male Bluebirds appeared and fought over the box.  One Bluebird won, and then started fighting the male Tree Swallow for possession of the box.

Sadly for the Tree Swallows, the Bluebird and his mate won.  They began adding to the nest, building its edges up higher.

The magical part of the story is that yes, the Bluebird DID hear me call its name on April 17th while I was talking to my neighbor on the porch!  Yes, we did get Bluebirds!

Feeling sorry for the Tree Swallows who lost their nest, I convinced my neighbor to put up a second nest box, which he mounted on May 19th. The new nest box was mounted about 75 feet from the first one. It was the best location given the parameters for the mounting of Bluebird boxes and restrictions by my landlord regarding the location of the box.

Immediately, the two Bluebirds who had claimed the first nest box began perching on the second box and investigating it.  Oh no, I thought, will the Bluebirds prevent other birds from using the second box?  The Bluebirds had seized their current box from the Tree Swallows; would they also keep the second box under guard?

Below is a photo, taken May 20th, of the second nest box in the background, with the first nest box in the foreground.  The Bluebirds who were nesting in the first nest box are perching on the fence near the second (more distant) box!  The male Blue bird is on the top fence wire, and the female is on the second fence pole to the right of the second box.  I do not know what type of bird is perching on top of the second box!

So, did any birds end up claiming the second nest box?  And how about the Bluebirds?  Did they continue to use the first box, or did they shift to the second box?  And did any eggs get laid in the first box?  You can follow this blog at the upper right to find out!
I first began having intimate encounters with wild birds when Barn Swallows nested on my porch during 2011 and 2012.  During those encounters, I became convinced that humans and birds can develop meaningful rapports, communicate with each other, and enjoy mutually beneficial relationships.  You can read about how one special Barn Swallow communicated to me in my book Bonding with the Barn Swallows, available at Amazon at:


  1. I am loving this. It's like a birdy little soap opera. Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of "How the Nest Box Turns." Would love to see them all. Delighted for the bluebirds, who around here seem to be bullied around by all the other birds. Your bluebirds seem to have more gumption! Rooting for the tree swallows to find a home. :)

    1. Glad you love it, so do I! Sorry your Bluebirds are bullied so much. I watched a fight between two male Bluebirds the day the nest was stolen from the Tree Swallows. Then the male Tree Swallow and the Bluebird had a fight, and the bluebird won. We need more nest boxes around here!

  2. Fabulous Blog post Adele!
    Great to learn about birds from another Country! :)

    1. Thank you so much, Carl! That's the way I feel about your blog posts about birds in the UK. For the benefit and curiosity of other bird lovers, your blog can be found at . All of your photos are fascinating, but I am particularly fascinated by the unusual and beautiful colors of the Chaffinch and the fabulous job you did on the detail of this bird's plumage!