Housekeeping Duty – An Eastern Bluebird Fecal Sac Update

A year has passed from my visits to the Bluebird nests, and I'm on my way back to record fresh material about their nest cleaning parenting behaviour. As I set both camera and camcorder, the female is busy gathering insects and feeding the chicks. This brood is probably a second for this pair this year, and the chicks are almost ready to leave the nest. Here she comes again bringing a large insect. And the chicks become agitated even before they can spot her. They respond to her presence by opening their beaks wide. Yummy. Eastern Bluebird Female Bringing Food To Chick I wonder how they know she’s nearby so they grab the best seat for feeding? I cannot hear any call coming from her although I’m just a few feet from the nest. I assume she either calls very quietly or they simply hear her wing beats. If you have more information on this please let me know. Eastern Bluebird Female Bringing Food To Chicks Every fourth or fifth feeding, she gets inside the nest and carries away the fecal sac. I follow her with my binoculars and sometimes she takes the sacs high into the trees at approximately 50-100m distance, at other times she places them on fence posts – at similar distances, and in two instances she takes the sacs fairly far into the field, probably at 200-300m distance. Other studies on Eastern Bluebird parenting behaviour mention the adults placing fecal sacs even on electric wires. In addition to keeping the nest clean from parasites, new research indicates that removal of the fecal sacs is also done for protection. Areas of poop whitewash on the entrance rim is a clear sign of newly hatched chicks. A visible cue that may attract raptors' attention. The following movies in slow motion show how the Bluebird female exits the nest and carries away the fecal sacs.

Movie duration: 17 seconds, filmed with Canon XH-A1 in HDV 1080i Note: You may not be able to load and view the videos directly in your RSS reader. Instead, access the story with your Internet browser and the videos will load and play correctly. Read the initial story – The Eastern Bluebird for more photographs and observations about cleaning the nest to keep parasites out, published in June 2007.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

aubrey wiggins June 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Yesterday, I observed a male bluebird remove 3 fecal sacs over a 45 minute period.  He brought food to the box 7 times to the 2 times that the female brought food.  She sat in a small tree nearby and called repeatedly.  I am not sure if I was too close by (60 feet, I'd guess) and perhaps she was warning that I was nearby, but the male seemed not to take note of me and made his 7 direct approaches to the box.  I also wondered if she was teaching the babies the sound of her voice for when they have fledged.  I put out mealworms the next day and the male was not shy about collecting them.  She made fly-bys twice before finally coming to the worms.  They are a beautiful pair and their 4 babes are growing amazingly.  Years ago we had a pair that I could sit in the car within 10 feet of the box and take pictures.  I don't know if this is a young inexperienced female or maybe an older female who has experienced trauma with a previous nest.  I'd welcome feedback..aubrey

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Mike Lascut June 25, 2012 at 10:02 am

Hi Aubrey,
thanks much for your feedback. It sounds like your male bluebird was taking his parenting duties very seriously that day :)

I’ve seen both male and female taking turns in bringing food and also cleaning up fecal sacs – while the other keeps a close eye on the nest. Feedback from one of our readers – Megan, a biologist working with bluebirds, mentioned that the male is doing more of the feeding when the chicks are young – you can read more of her comment in the following post – The Eastern Bluebird (scroll down to the highlighted area in green titled Feedback from our readers!)

In terms of distance, I’d say that 60 feet was a proper distance to ensure they are not disturbed by your presence. In a few instances I positioned myself even closer to photograph bluebirds at the nest and didn’t see any signs of distress. You can always step back more and see if that makes any difference.

Photographing from the car is a tactic that I use myself with great success – the car acts as a blind and also provides the necessary support for stabilizing the camera for sharp photographs.

All the best,

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