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Old 04-20-2013, 02:47 PM
 
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This year we are having problems with sparrows taking over the bluebirds nesting boxes. The sparrows are very aggressive and will kill the bluebird babies if they feel like it.

Currently the only solution we have is to remove any nests that the sparrows make. This requires a lot of diligence. We have tried the "fishing line" around the boxes, which didn't work.

Any suggestions?
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Old 04-20-2013, 09:09 PM
 
Location: Pittsburgh area
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The fishing line didn't work for you? That worked for me, to an extent, although additionally I got a new box (which by itself didn't work) and also at the same time as putting the fishing line on I moved it's position by just a few feet and aimed the opening just a little bit different.

Last year we had a successful nesting in the old box, but this year I moved it about 15 feet it turns out (I thought it was less) closer to the house and ended up with a sparrow chasing off the bluebirds. (We saw the bluebirds at one point but the sparrow had taken it over.) I started researching and found that I might want to get a different box. I was debating slot opening vs Peterson style box with oval and I finally went with latter after reading this: That Remarkable Peterson Entrance When I first put it up in the same location, the damn sparrow came back and claimed "his" box again. Argh. So, I went with the fishing line, moved the pole a few feet in the direction away from the house, and turned the opening of the box a little bit (instead of directly north towards the house it now faces about NNE or maybe as much as NE). After a week or two, bluebirds came back and I just checked today and they have a lovely cup nest in there full of pine needles (there's a handy white pine nearby).

This page was helpful in a number of ways although you have to overlook the pictures of dead birds: Managing House Sparrows That's the worst part about house sparrows, that they'll actually attack bluebird nests. The male house sparrow will claim and be very attached to a box. Once he claims it, you can't do much about it except take it down, move it or do something else that deters him from staying there. The fishing line I did something like the grayscale diagram on that page, as well as the X on the roof, although I never got around to those dangling weighted lines on the edge. The bluebirds have no problem perching up there; I've seen both up there at times, sometimes together.

Being diligent about removing the sparrow nests will only prevent them nesting. You'll never get a bluebird to use that box this year if all you're doing is removing sparrow nests. If you can move the boxes just a little and/or change the orientation of their openings a little, in addition to the fishing line, maybe that would help. If you move them, the direction you want is away from buildings and other such spaces that the house sparrows prefer. It may not need to be much; I backed my pole away no more than 5 feet. With those changes, never saw a sparrow on it since, even though I know the one had already claimed it before.

I don't know where you're located but you may have different results than I if you're looking for western or mountain bluebirds rather than eastern. There are a couple different things to consider as far as the size of the opening of the box, etc.

Since you talk of multiple boxes I assume you are aware of the large amount of space that should be between them. My yard is small enough that I can have one box and that's it.

Last edited by greg42; 04-20-2013 at 09:17 PM..
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Old 04-21-2013, 06:31 AM
 
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greg42: thanks for all the information and your experience. We have 3 acres unwooded in front of the property (upstate NY) so quite a bit of room for several houses. It appears the swallows and blue birds are able to co-exist but the sparrows kill the blue bird eggs if given the chance, for no reason. We spoke to a local bird store owner and her suggestion was to remain vigilent and keep chasing them away, even if that included using pellets.
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Old 04-21-2013, 07:11 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh area
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellwood View Post
greg42: thanks for all the information and your experience. We have 3 acres unwooded in front of the property (upstate NY) so quite a bit of room for several houses. It appears the swallows and blue birds are able to co-exist but the sparrows kill the blue bird eggs if given the chance, for no reason. We spoke to a local bird store owner and her suggestion was to remain vigilent and keep chasing them away, even if that included using pellets.
The info I read suggests trapping and killing them. Ugh, that didn't sound like fun. If the new box plus other simple measures hadn't deterred the sparrow I would have taken it down for now. As invasive as they are, trapping and killing birds just wouldn't be my thing you know?

I also read that continuing to destroy the same sparrow's nest can send them on a sort of rampage. This really sounds ridiculous to me in the natural world; it sounds more like a human trait of revenge. But people have apparently reported sparrows deterred in that way ransacking multiple bluebird nests, attacking and killing bluebirds, etc. for no other apparent reason. In other words, they aren't limited to only attacking a bluebird who manages to take over their one box.

Basically, what it seemed to me is that you keep chasing them away and you'll succeed in having no sparrows breeding. Fine. But I'm not sure you'll succeed in having many if any bluebirds nest that way. You have to get to the point where the sparrows are actually ignoring the boxes.

Good luck, seems like it could be some tough times with it.
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Old 04-21-2013, 09:02 AM
 
Location: Hot Springs
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I ran a bluebird trail of about 50 boxes for a few years. The most effective way I found to deal with house sparrows was to either destroy the sparrows or move the box to another location. Usually the other location was away from any cattle or horse feed and also away from any birdfeeder locations that may have had "wild bird seed" in them. I didn't find that box style or hole size made any difference although one friend claimed that by raising the floor 3/4 of an inch, the sparrows seemed to leave his boxes alone.

Ideal locations had an object in front of the box for the adult to perch on while hunting for food. Utility wires or spruce trees seemed to be favorites. You also want to position the box so it catches the morning sun and is shaded from the afternoon sun.
Good Luck,
uh
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Old 04-21-2013, 02:09 PM
 
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Have moved some of the boxes today and appears the bluebirds and swallows are taking ownership. Have had one or two boxes being claimed by a very persistent sparrow, which I have chased repeatedly away using the pellets. Might give the 3/4 floor rise a try.

AFA feeders, they are in the backyard away from the house and quite a distance from the boxes. I'm hoping that the sparrows head to the neighbors boxes!
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Old 04-21-2013, 04:32 PM
 
Location: Pittsburgh area
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Yeah I read that sparrows don't like to nest in a shallower box. I even saw a box in a store that came with an insert to make it shallower. The wedge shape of the Peterson-style box makes it naturally shallow to an extent, at least compared to something rectangular.

Get this: just a few minutes ago I had a couple of mourning doves perched on top of the box! LOL Never seen that one before. Big dumb things, hehe. One left pretty quickly but the other was sitting there for a few minutes. Dunno why except that it must've seemed like a convenient perch at the time. Can't imagine they are any threat. The bluebirds were not to be seen at that time so I'm not sure what is going on.

I think in general my box could be seen as a little too close to the house, less than 100ft away (I can see it from the house fairly easily but for decent view of what's happening need the binoculars). But I will keep it there as long as it seems safe. There was one successful brood last year in the old box so I think it'll be okay. If it seems like they'll be nesting only to have eggs or young destroyed, then I will take it down. I don't think that will be the case though.
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