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We asked Myrna Pearman to answer our questions via email.

Myrna Pearman was raised on a farm near Rimbey, Alberta. She graduated with a B. Sc. in Geography from the University of Alberta in 1979 and has since worked as as house painter, chimney sweep, photographer, writer, naturalist and biologist. She lives on the south shore of Sylvan Lake and has held the biologist's position at the Ellis Bird Farm since 1987.

In addition to her many outdoor pursuits (she loves to mountain bike, in-line skate, ice-skate and cross-country ski), Myrna is actively involved with the Red Deer River Naturalists and the North American Bluebird Society. One of her current projects is establishing the Ellis Bird Farm as a demonstration backyard wildlife habitat site.

Myrna received the 1991 Loran L Goulden Memorial Award from the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, and a Nature Educator of the Year Award from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in 1992. In 1996, she received an award from the North American Bluebird Society for her contribution to bluebird conservation.

By Shae-Lynn

Myrna has written publications to date include Winter Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide (1989) and Nestboxes for  Prairie Birds (1992). In 1995 she edited Water Gardening: A Prairie Guide, and in 2000, she co-authored the best-selling NatureScape Alberta: Creating and caring for wildlife habitat at home. She is currently working on a Mountain Bluebird Trail Monitoring Guide.

Here are some of the questions we asked Myrna!

Which way should a bluebird birdhouse face?

How do wrens and bluebirds feed their young?

How fast do bluebirds & wrens fly?

How many eggs do wrens & bluebirds lay at a time/in a year?

Is it true that the starling will kill the mother blue bird and nest on top of her?

Why is the term "dummy" nest used for the nests wrens live in?

How many eggs do wrens lay and when do they lay them?

What is a blue bird trail?

What are bluebird predators?

Do bluebirds and wrens fight for the same territory?

What is meant by a Cavity Nester?

When reading about bluebird habitat and nesting areas I've seen the terms snag and burns. What do these words mean?

Why don't bright colors work well on birdhouses? What is the best color?

What does fledge mean?

Does either the male or female bluebird build the nest?

What is a life expectancy of a bluebird and wren?

How long does it take till baby bluebirds start to fly?
Where do birds go at night? What do they do out there? Where do they sleep? After dusk can they see?

Which way should a bluebird birdhouse face?

Bluebirds don't really care which direction the entrance hole faces. Most people set their boxes so that the entrance hole faces away from the prevailing wind direction. This reduces the problem of rain blowing into the box.

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How do wrens and bluebirds feed their young?

Wrens and bluebirds feed their young insects. They hunt for these insects in the vicinity of the nest, and choose insects that match the size of their nestlings (the younger nestlings get fed soft-bodied bugs and caterpillars; the larger ones get hard-shelled insects, such as grasshoppers). Once they have a beakfull, they return to the nest and jam the bugs down the young birds' throats. Young birds beg for food by issuing a begging call and opening their mouths as wide as they can.

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How fast do bluebirds & wrens fly?

I donít know, and I'm not sure that anyone has clocked them.

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How many eggs do wrens & bluebirds lay at a time/in a year?

House Wrens typically lay six to eight eggs (but have been known to lay as many as 12!) in one clutch, but they nest only once per year. Bluebirds typically lay six eggs in their first clutch, and four or five in their second. Not all bluebirds lay two clutches per season, but many of them will if they get an early start in the season and the first nest fledges successfully. (I'm assuming you know what 'fledge' means? Wrens and bluebirds both lay one egg per day (usually in the morning) until the clutch is complete. If something happens to the eggs (i.e. a chipmunk gets into the box and has them for brunch), the female will lay another batch. Some female bluebirds are very enthusiastic egg layers, and will lay eight eggs in one clutch. At Ellis Bird Farm, we often have nests with seven eggs

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Is it true that the starling will kill the mother blue bird and nest on top of her?

European Starlings, which were introduced into North America from Europe in the late 1800s, are very aggressive birds. There have been documented cases of them killing the occupants of a bluebird box. House Sparrows are the more serious threat, however, because they are more common in areas where bluebirds nest, and they can get into any box that will allow a bluebird. Starlings cannot get inside a properly constructed bluebird box (i.e. a box that has an entrance hole of exactly 40-mm). House Sparrow males will peck the heads of bluebirds and swallows to kill them, then will use their body as part of his nest.

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Why is the term "dummy" nest used for the nests wrens live in?

'Dummy' nest is really a 'dumb' term. What happens is the male wren claims several cavities within his territory by filling them up with small twigs. He is a busy guy- spends all his waking hours singing and hauling sticks. When the female arrives, she inspects all these cavities (which may include the cavities in lawn furniture, machinery, etc) and after careful consideration, picks one. All the other piles of sticks are then ignored as the pair proceeds to line their chosen nest with fine rootlets, fur etc., in preparation for egg laying. All the unused piles of sticks are called 'dummy nests.'

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What are bluebird predators?

Bluebirds have many predators. In other parts of the world, raccoons, bears and snakes, as well as fire ants, are major predators. Around here, their main predators include cats, hawks, squirrels and weasels.

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How many eggs do wrens lay and when do they lay them?

House Wrens typically lay six to eight eggs (but have been known to lay as many as 12!) in one clutch, but they nest only once per year. They arrive on territory around the beginning of May, and we often find young in the nest in late August.

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What is a blue bird trail?

A bluebird trail consists of five or more nest boxes set out along a prescribed route. Since most people set their boxes up along roadways, it is easy to see why a line of bluebird boxes are commonly called ' bluebird trails.'

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Do bluebirds andwrens fight for the same territory?

No, they don't really fight for the same territory; however, they will compete for the same nest site. Both MOBL and HOWR are cavity nesters, so if cavities are in short supply, there will be conflict. HOWR are also a little 'greedy,' as the male claims several cavities and fills them with sticks - the female chooses one and the remainder are left behind as 'dummy nests.' HOWR tend to nest in brushy areas, which MOBL tend to like more open areas. Most bluebird trail operators make sure they avoid placing boxes close to wooded areas, as the HOWR claims all of them.

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What is meant by a Cavity Nester?

A cavity nester is a bird that nests inside a hole (cavity). Primary cavity nesters, like woodpeckers and chickadees, excavate their own cavities for nesting (or roosting [sleeping] at night). Secondary cavity nesters, like bluebirds and tree swallows, require a cavity within which to nest (for some reason they can't nest if they don't have a roof over their heads), so they take up residence in cavities that were once used by the primary excavators. Woodpeckers excavate new cavities each year, so their old ones are vacant the next year. These 'second hand' houses are they claimed by the secondary cavity nesters. Squirrels and bats also use cavities!

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When reading about bluebird habitat and nesting areas I've seen the terms snag and burns. What do these words mean?

A snag is a dead or dying tree. These are very important in the forest ecosystem (see the section in my NatureScape book on snags for more information). Burns refer to areas that have been burned by forest fires. Despite what we hear all the time about how bad fires are, they are actually crucial to the functioning of a forest ecosystem. Fires open the way for new species of trees to take over and they release nutrients in the soil. Different species of wildlife will move into an area that has been burned. Burned areas are great for bluebirds, because they open areas up, and the trees killed by the fire will be used by woodpeckers for cavities. Bluebirds will then use these cavities after the woodpeckers are done with them.

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Why don't bright colors work well on birdhouses? What is the best color?

Muted colors more closely resemble the natural environment. The birds don't really care. We stain all our boxes a grey color. You can also use brown or green.

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What does fledge mean?

To fledge means to leave the nest. Whilst inside the nest or nestbox, a young bird is called a nestling. Once it leaves the nest, it becomes a fledgling. After it acquires some skills (like how to find and capture food) but is still dependent on its parents to some extent, it is called a juvenile.

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Does either the male or female bluebird build the nest?

The female builds the nest. The male will watch and encourage her, but basically he's pretty useless when it comes to carpentry!

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What is a life expectancy of a bluebird and wren?

MOBL and HOWR are both fairly short-lived. Although a MOBL has been recorded living 9 years in captivity, the average life expectancy is 2-3 years. I expect it would be the same for HOWR.

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How long does it take till baby bluebirds start to fly?

Young bluebirds leave the nest at about 19-21 days of age. The exact time they spend in the nest depends on the weather (they leave earlier if the weather is warmer, not because they like warm weather, but because the warm weather means that there are lots of bugs and so they will be well-fed). They leave the nest earlier in the southern parts of their range, although it is estimated that, in Oregon, they take 22 days to fledge.

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Where do birds go at night? What do they do out there? Where do they sleep? After dusk can they see?


Different species of birds go different places, depending on the season and what's happening. Except for those birds that are active at night (Owls, for example), they use the night for sleeping. Mother bluebirds, for example, sleep on their nestlings for the first 8 or so days (longer if it is cold out). Most birds just roost in the trees while others sleep in tree cavities. Birds will pile up together in a cavity or a nest box if it is cold outside. Some birds are active at dusk (nighthawks, for example) and most are active very early in the morning, especially in the spring. Although most species sleep at night (because hunting for food isn't that easy, especially if you're hunting for insects), many can find their way around in the dark. We know this because many species of birds migrate only at night (they use, among other cues, the stars to migrate, so they do need some points of light).

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