In March of 2008 MVSS started a songbird nestbox program primarily to assist nesting Eastern bluebirds and tree swallows. Our first 4 boxes were erected that year in Rabis's field and have increased each year since. In 2009 we were granted permission from Mount Southington Ski Area. We were also granted permission to put up nesting boxes at Lincon Technical Institute and are currently hosting and maintaining approximately 30 nestboxes on private lands on Mount Vernon Rd as of the summer of 2012.
Breeding Tree swallow
Eastern bluebirds hatching
Landscaping for songbirds - Provide cover, food and nesting sites using native plants
Native Dogwood - Cornus florida
Native Serviceberry - Amalanchier
Winterberry - Ilex
Crabapple with small diameter fruit
Top Plant Choices For Attracting Songbirds
Eastern Red Cedar
New jersey tea
Northern bush Honeysuckle
Reduce negative impact:
As more land is developed , our contact with songbirds is also going to grow. Unfortunately this increases the risk of songbirds becoming injured. The majority of songbirds coming into rehabiliation are a result of contact with humans and our possessions.
Heres some tips to help reduce this impact:
Window stikes -Pull the blinds/shades, place window decals or suncatchers
Cat and dog attacks -Please keep your cat indoors (for more information see www.abcbirds.org/cats ) and your dog on a leash
Entanglement -Avoid using glue traps, tanglefoot, and flypaper. They can and do catch songbirds. Fishing line and sixpack holders not diposed of properly also pose serious hazards to songbirds.
Poisoning - Yard and garden chemicals that are toxic to us are to wildlife too! Use organic, songbirds cannot read that keep off sign!
Car collisions - Watch for songbirds on roadsides or flying into the road. Never assume the bird will get out of the cars way. Many songbirds are killed by cars each year.
Tree/shrub cutting - Avoid cutting during the spring/summer months when nesting occurs. Even if a nest is not visible there could be a nest inside the tree limb (cavity nester). Prune during late winter when plants are dormant.
Chimney caps and liners - Please do not cap or line your chimney. Chimney swifts have evolved to use brick/stone and mortar chimneys as a nesting and roosting site. They are rapidly declining as more people cap and line chimneys. For more information on chimney swift conservation www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/birding
Barns/out buildings- Please allow birds such as barn swallows to nest inside barns and other out buildings. These birds do not build nests in trees, instead, build them under or inside structures. As CT farmland continues to diminish, our barn swallow population is decreasing rapidly due to habitat loss (loss of nesting sites and open land to forage).
Trash - Please take care when disposing of trash, and other items that can be left behind - especially fishingline andhelium filled balloons (of which many species of wildlife get entangled and trapped in). Also fishing lures and rubber bands, many birds may mistake these items for worms or fish, ingest them, then die from starvation.
Tips for attracting beautiful songbirds
Beautiful sky blue, sporting an orange breast, eastern bluebirds with their warbling melodic call and their dependence on manmade nest boxes, has captured the hearts of so many people. Bluebirds can be attracted to open country habitat, such as open woodlands, meadows, orchards and farmland edges but don’t be discouraged if you do not meet these requirements. I have been surprised by some of the more wooded areas bluebirds have set up house in.
In my opinion the biggest hurdle in attracting and having bluebirds nest successfully is controlling house sparrow populations. English (house) sparrows are cavity nesters, and are very aggressive. House Sparrows are small enough to enter any hole that a bluebird can, and are so aggressive that the bluebird will be chased away. Since house sparrows are a non- native species it is legal for you to control them, by either removing any nest, eggs or bird. But if your neighbor next door is allowing house sparrows to breed your chances of reducing the population is slim. If you can start a group effort in your area of attracting bluebirds and deterring house sparrows, your success is more certain.
Close monitoring of the nest box is essential to knowing and controlling when a house sparrow is evident. On nest boxes that have a single entry hole if a house sparrow catches the bluebird unaware he can trap them in the box and will kill them and their young, and then build his nest on top of them. There is nothing more heartbreaking than opening up a box of just about ready- to - fledge baby bluebirds to find them dead and buried under a house sparrow nest. If you are not going to closely monitor your nest box and control house sparrows, then do not put up a bluebird box.
At Mount Vernon Songbird Sanctuary we prefer using slot boxes which have a slotted opening under the roof instead of a single entry hole. This allows a bluebird to vacate the box, instead of being trapped inside if a house sparrow attempts to enter. This, however, does not save any young inside but does allow adults to escape unharmed. I strongly recommend the slot box if you have house sparrows in the area.
Bluebirds usually start nesting by mid March to early April. Their nest is cup-shaped and neatly woven with grass and sometimes pine needles are used. They usually lay 4 to 5 light blue eggs. The incubation period for bluebird eggs is 12 to 14 days. The young remain in the nest 18 to 21 days before they fledge. We recommend you do not open the box after 10 days as disturbing the young can result in them leaving the box before they can fly well, reducing their risk of survival. Once the young have fledged immediately remove the old nest which will reduce nest parasites if present. The female will build a new nest for the next clutch. Bluebirds usually have two broods per season, but some may have three, our resident pair has three each year!
We also attribute our success with bluebirds to the feeding of live mealworms. We have a bluebird feeder that we keep filled with mealworms at all times for them, year round. Bluebirds are very sensitive to rainy weather. During rain storms the insects bluebirds eat are not available, if prolonged, bluebirds may abandon incubation or young in order to save themselves from starvation. Feeding mealworms when natural foods are not available can be very important during rainy weather for their survival and also for keeping them near by so they do not leave the nest box vulnerable. In addition, while the female is incubating the eggs she can quickly go to the feeder, fill up, and return to incubation. Feeding mealworms year round keeps our bluebirds in the area all winter long.
Suggestions to control house sparrows –
Place nest box in an open area as far away from buildings as possible
Stretch monofilament line on either side of the opening of the box which may deter house sparrows from entering
Trap and remove any male house sparrows
Close or remove the nest box until Mid March, reducing the chance of a house sparrow claiming it for the winter
Do not use seeds that have millet, milo, corn and other fillers
By mid-April each Spring I am eagerly waiting for the first Baltimore Oriole to arrive. The brilliant orange, yellow and black plumage, accompanied by his loud musical notes and distinctive chattering, adds a beautiful and lively presence to any garden.
Baltimore Orioles can be found in open forests, parks or well-planted yards with mature trees. They arrive in CT towards the end of April and can be seen until September or even later during migration. I can expect their arrival to coincide with the blooming of our Flowering Quince shrubs. The plentiful orange-red flowers are filled with nectar and are frequented by newly-arrived orioles. By the end of August I know it’s time to say goodbye to my beautiful summer friends.
If you have the appropriate habitat you should be able to entice them to visit and maybe even take up residence. If you would like to create better habitat for attracting them, remember this: Baltimore Orioles have a “sweet tooth”! They will visit flowering trees, shrubs, and flowers to feed on the nectar the blossoms produce. During early Spring, when weather is cool and rainy, they are much more dependent on this source of energy until insect activity grows. Once fruit begins to develop, the Orioles will feed on that as well. Our Mulberry trees are a whirlwind of bird activity once the fruit is ripe, with Orioles being constant visitors. Orioles also eat large numbers of caterpillars which can be found on flowering plants, keeping your plants pest-free without chemicals!
Orioles will come to feeders filled with orange halves, grape jelly, sugar water, mealworms, hulled sunflower and suet. Here at TRW we have oriole feeders that have a place to spike orange halves and 4 dishes that can hold jelly, mealworms, suet or sunflower. We have found other species of birds also enjoy these offerings. So don’t be surprised if you attract Gray Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks or Red-bellied Woodpeckers and more.
Be patient when attempting to attract Orioles. It took several years of food offerings to have them consistently returning each Spring. One hint is to make sure you have oranges and other offerings out by mid-April, before they arrive. Place your feeder near shrubs or trees that provide cover for the brightly-colored birds to dive into when feeling threatened. Moving water is very attractive to them and they visit our shallow waterfall regularly all summer long to drink and bathe. Again, make sure there is plenty of cover near your water source so that the birds feel secure enough to approach. Your reward will be a yard full of color and song!
Ruby -Throated Hummingbirds
Attracting Ruby Throated Hummingbirds to Your Garden
The best way to attract Ruby Throated Hummingbirds is to put up a brightly colored feeder in a conspicuous area. They can begin to arrive in our area as early as the first week of April, with most birds arriving by the first week of May. We always get our feeders up no later than the April 15th, but when the weather is mild we will have them up the first week of April just in case a bird comes our way. People who live by the coast or along the river valleys tend to have the earlier arrivals than the more inland locations.
When selecting a feeder, our recommendation is to find one that is easy to clean and does not have a large capacity. We use a saucer style made by Aspects called Hummzinger Mini. It has an 8oz capacity, 3 feeding ports with perching, a built in ant moat, and a brass hanger. We find the inverted bottle type feeders very difficult to keep clean and have a lot of wasted nectar at each cleaning. We make our own nectar by using one part table sugar to four parts water, using half the water hot out of the tap to melt the sugar, and the remainder cold so it is ready to serve after mixing. There is no need to add red dye to the water, nor should you purchase hummingbird nectar with red dye or any other additives in it, as there have been studies that proved red dye to have a negative effect in hummingbird reproduction. Proper maintenance of your feeder is of the utmost importance. If the sugar water is allowed to become cloudy or develop mold, you run a very great risk of infecting the hummingbird that drinks from it with a fatal fungal infection. We have a very simple way of remembering to change and clean the feeders. We do it every other day; this way there is no confusion as to when it needs to be done. We strongly recommend finding a routine that keeps the feeder cleaned that you will adhere to.
Planting trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals will ensure that the hummingbirds never need to venture far from your garden. For maximum impact, planting large groups of flowers works best. Planting clusters of 5-7 or more plants of the same variety offers a lot of nectar in one location versus one plant here and one plant there. Hummingbirds also enjoy bathing but need very shallow water to do so or a fine mist to fly through. There are hummingbird misters you can purchase that attach to your hose to provide a fine mist for them to bathe in.
After October first you want to look closely at any hummingbird you see, as it may not be a ruby -throated hummingbird. Every fall to early winter along the east coast, including Connecticut, vagrant hummingbirds are foundat feeders or late flowering plants. The most common vagrant hummingbird found in CT is a rufous hummingbird. This is a western hummingbird species but is regularly being found along the east coast in the fall and winter. The trick to attracting them is to keep your feeder up, clean and with fresh nectar, and plant late flowering hummingbird plants, such as the fall blooming salvias. We finally give up when we no longer have hummingbirds visiting our feeder and it is freezing solid at night. If your sugar water is frozen or slushy on a cold morning, and you have a hummingbird using it, replace the slush with fresh, lukewarm sugar water. If you do have a late hummingbird show up, please contact MVSS so we can come out and identify your vagrant hummingbird and help you to assist it if it gets into cold-weather trouble.
Happy Birdwatching! From all of us at Mount Vernon Songbird Sanctuary