Bluebirds, Raccoons, and Champagne Corks

A male bluebird feeds its mate a caterpillar, a process known as courtship feeding.

This spring I decided to make an effort to better protect our bluebird houses from depredation, mostly by raccoons but also from snakes. My first step to bluebird security was to get rid of the 4 x 4 posts I had been using which made it downright easy for predators to access the houses, especially at night while we were sleeping. I felt not only sad for the bluebirds when they lost their eggs or nestlings but also guilty for attracting them to an unsecured nest box when they probably would have been safer in a tree cavity somewhere.

An internet search led me to the Michigan Bluebird Society which is loaded with great information on how to protect your little blue friends. They also have a store where you can buy the equipment you need if you are not inclined to do it yourself.

The recommended support post at several bluebird links, including the aforementioned site, was 1/2″ electrical metal tubing (EMT) which is just electrical conduit. It sounded kind of flimsy, especially compared to a 4 x 4 wooden post, but I learned that it was rigid enough to support the house while being small enough in diameter to give predators fits. The tubing comes in 10-foot sections and I bought mine for $4.99 at the local hardware supply. I also purchased 1/2″ conduit straps in the same aisle for mounting the houses.

My first step was to replace the 4 x 4 posts with the EMT. Although there are different ways to put the conduit in the ground, such as using rebar below grade and then attaching the conduit, I took my friend Bill’s advice and simply drove mine into the ground (about 30 inches) with a post driver. Note: Before driving the conduit, I hacksawed off about 1.5 feet of the 10-foot section so the final height would be correct. Be careful when driving the conduit because it can bend if you strike it too hard. I just tapped it lightly with the post driver until it eventually found its way down to the 30″ mark I had made on the pipe.

Once I had the conduit in the ground, standing nice and true with the help of a level as I was driving it, I was ready to install the house. I had about six feet of conduit left above ground which allowed me to attach the house and leave a bit of pipe extending past the top as a perch for the male to guard the house during the day.

Next I attached the straps loosely to the back of the house (don’t use long wood screws that will extend into the house) and simply slid the house down to about eye level. As you can see from the image below, I added some dense packing foam behind each strap before tightening so the strap would really grip the conduit. For added security, I drilled a hole right through one of the straps and into the conduit and inserted a metal screw to make sure the house would never slip.

As a final touch, I shaved the neck down on a champagne cork and inserted it in the top of the 1/2″ pipe so the bluebirds would have a dandy perch to land on.

Detail of attachment of the box to the metal conduit. Note: Predator baffle attached already (see discussion below.)

When I made the transfer, the bluebirds already had eggs in their house but it only took a few minutes for them to return to the new setup after I cleared the area. When I converted the second house, down at Virginia’s yard, I actually removed the nest and put it in a nicer house before completing the transfer. The mama bluebird didn’t seem to mind as we watched her go right back into the new house with her nest and sit on the eggs. I also relocated the second house to a nearby site which the bluebirds didn’t seem to mind either.

It’s been a few weeks since I made the upgrade so I’ve had a chance to watch the houses in a couple of storms. Although the metal post has some flex to it, I was surprised at how little it moves in high winds. I found myself thinking that the mama bluebird enjoys the slight rocking motion of her home during storms. I was a little worried at first that the posts might not stay upright and true but I haven’t had to adjust or bend one yet. I think it helped that I went 30 inches down when installing the pipes.

As added protection, which I think is absolutely necessary, I purchased a couple of predator baffles from the Michigan Bluebird Society. You can make them yourself from stove pipe but I’m a little lazy and impatient about such things so I didn’t mind spending a few bucks to avoid frustration. Basically, a predator baffle is a hollow tube, about 6″ diameter, that is open on bottom and closed on top. It fits over the pipe and hangs from its only connection point at the top. It is designed to wobble a bit to make life hard for predators that try to make their way past it. Snakes simply slither up the post and into the tube where they become blocked at the top and have to retreat back to the ground.

The baffles I purchased from Michigan Bluebird Society are designed for 1/2″ EMT so they are sealed perfectly at the top so well that I don’t even think an ant could get through, much less a snake. By the way, did you know that ants often invade bluebird houses and kill the nestlings? I learned this during my research.

The final product, predator baffle and all. The baffle slips over the top of the post so it’s best to install before the house if you plan to use one. Notice the piece of foam pipe insulation at the bottom of the baffle, a simple way to keep the baffle from clattering against the conduit during high winds.

So, I’ve done all I can to help my bluebirds raise their families safely. Is this design 100% predator safe? Absolutely not! One should never think he can beat a raccoon at its own game. The same can be said about a rat snake, especially one that is as long as the post is tall. Also, if you have feral cats around your place, all bets are off because unlike raccoons, cats can easily jump six feet straight up and on to the top of your bluebird house. It’s easy pickings from there.

A champagne cork makes a nice touch. Doesn’t mama look happy?

Time will tell if my new system will help my bluebirds bring their nestlings to fledglings. Right now both boxes are full of beautiful blue eggs. Soon I hope to see goofy, speckled bluebirds on all of the tree branches around our yard. I can’t wait!

Disclaimer:  I have no association with the Michigan Bluebird Society. I just found them on the internet when looking for ideas on how to protect bluebirds from predators. Also, please don’t consider my process instructional; I’ve just shared what I did in an attempt to protect my bluebirds. I’m sure there are other, better ways. I’ll keep you posted on what worked and didn’t work.

Happy Naturing,

DB

Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery of Images/Print Information:  Danny’s Website

America is beautiful. I vote to keep it that way.

 

 

6 comments on “Bluebirds, Raccoons, and Champagne Corks”

  1. I’m considering this a tutorial! Thanks for the great ideas! Hope all is well with you and Joyce.

  2. Oh.. in India, we don’t have any such organized citizens’ initiatve (or such varied merchandise) for the birds, apart from a minority setting up nest boxes after learning at workshops, or exhortations to leave saucers of water out for the birds in summer!

  3. Hi Danny Leslie Limberg here from the Missouri Master Naturalists. a few other tips come to mind:- other predators of deadly consequence: House Sparrows & House Wrens – both kill baby & adult Bbs- The Missouri Bluebird Society has good information and the best site for the most thorough info on Bbs:Sialis.org- I trained at Shaw for 2 years before starting 4 BB trails in St Charles County. A wwwwesommmme stewardship. :):) Leslie  (love seeing your photos at Bryan’s gallery in Washington!)


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