Q: I have seen bluebirds checking out my boxes ever since December. Are they ready to nest?

A: It is almost that time of year for bluebirds to start scouting for suitable nesting sites. Male bluebirds locate a nesting site and establish their territory as early as the end of February and as late as July. The bluebirds using your box during December were trying to keep warm against the cold weather and many times they will have a slumber party with more than one in the box.

For our readers that would like to provide a home to the beautiful bluebird, let’s start with some basics. Birdhouses are readily available but not all are suitable to be a bluebird house. Purchase or build a nest box designed specifically for bluebirds. If you feel the need to paint your bluebird house, use only light colors and paint only the outside of the birdhouse. For best results and the most protection from predators, boxes should be mounted on poles with a baffle. A metal mounting post need not be elaborate or expensive. Smooth, round 1” electrical conduit is inexpensive and works well; although any smooth scrap round pipe will work. The nest box should be mounted on the pole so the entrance hole is at eye level. This provides a good height to deter predators and allows you easy monitoring. Be sure to install a predator baffle on the post about 2 inches below the nest box to prevent critter predation.

Location, location, location. We know location is often the selling point for our perfect home and the same is true for bluebirds. Bluebirds prefer to nest in an area that includes open space, scattered trees and low ground cover. The nest box should face an open space with a 50 – 75 foot straightaway with suitable landing for fledglings within 50 feet. If you plan to install multiple houses make sure the nest box openings do not face each other (no direct line of sight) and place approximately 60-75 feet apart. Bluebird boxes should be placed out of reach of sprinkler systems. The nest box should not be placed on or close to trees or fences that would afford easy access for predators. Keep boxes at least 200 yards from barnyards and feed lots where House Sparrows are abundant. House sparrows are the main source of competition for bluebirds. House sparrows will nest anywhere and will often drive away adult bluebirds, leaving bluebird nestlings to starve to death. Worse, they will peck unhatched bluebird eggs and kill the babies, or even kill adults they happen to find sitting on the nest.

Now to the rewarding part: Nesting bluebirds. The female bluebird lays an egg a day for 3-5 days. She then starts to incubate the eggs. The eggs will hatch in 13-14 days and will hatch within hours of each other. The babies will fledge in 16-20 days.

Nest boxes should be monitored at least once a week to observe bird development and check for undesirable competitors, ants, wasps, and any parasites. Care should be used in opening a nest box (place your hand gently over the door opening) once the hatchlings or 10-12 days old, as this could cause them to fledge too early. Bluebirds will not reuse a nest; therefore, the nest box should be cleaned out after each batch of babies has fledged. To control mites and other parasites dust the inside of the box with diatomaceous earth. Bluebirds in South Carolina will typically produce two to three broods of three to six young between March and August. Fun fact – 5 percent of bluebird eggs can be white.

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For more information visit the SC Bluebird Society’s website: www.southcarolinabluebirds.org

Q: The beautiful weather makes me want to get out in the garden.  What can be planted now?

A: You can actually plant quite a bit now. The majority are in the cool loving cruciferous family which includes collards, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, radishes, turnip and mustards.  Sweet peas, beets, rutabagas, spinach and lettuces should be planted now.  Sweet peas, spinach and lettuce will bolt when the hot weather arrives.  Seeds can be sown outdoors; however, if you want a jumpstart there are some plants are available.

This column by Kay Williams (the Flower Lady) is designed to answer your gardening questions. Send questions to ktheflowerlady@gmail.com or to news@timesanddemocrat.com.

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