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Time to ready nesting sites for bluebirds

Valentine's Day for the gardener is not so much about mailing out cards and buying candy as it is about outdoor tasks.

Pre-emergent herbicide needs to be purchased and applied to the lawn to discourage the germination of crab grass seed. Winter weeds that are flourishing should be eradicated before they set seed. Eastern bluebird boxes need to be cleaned and in place.

The Eastern bluebirds select their nesting sites this time of year, so having your nesting boxes in place, cleaned and ready for their inspection now is important. They are early nesters and may begin to use the boxes as early as late February.

This little thrush is a welcome addition to the home landscape and worth the trouble to attract. The bluebird's head, back and wings are a brilliant blue, an intensity surpassed only by the indigo bunting. Adults have a reddish-brown throat and white belly. The females have to make do with more muted colors.

Bluebirds feed mostly on insects, but supplement their diet in the winter months with the fruits of sumac and dogwood. They are difficult to attract to our feeders unless we offer mealworms, suet or chopped fruit.

If the summer is long and the insects are plentiful, bluebirds may have as many as three broods in a season. That's a lot of insects down the gullets of the four to six nestlings per brood. The eggs hatch in 12 to 14 days, and in another 14 to 20 days the little ones are out of the nest and on their own. Clean out the box at this point.

Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, which means they use existing holes in trees and posts or abandoned woodpecker nest sites. Fortunately for those of us who want to attract them to our yard, they also find our constructed bluebird boxes acceptable.

The efforts of conservationists who have made nesting boxes available to the bluebird has brought them back from the edge of extinction. Loss of their natural nesting alternatives, the use of insecticides and the competition from starlings and sparrows for nest sites had contributed to a serious decline in the bluebird population in the early 1900s.

It is illegal to disturb the nests of all wild birds except for the sparrow and starling.

For a local source for live mealworms, call 770-867-7850. Put up a bluebird box or two, stock up on mealworms and you will almost surely enjoy the flash of brilliant blue wings going past your windows.

Winder resident Dora Fleming is a Georgia master gardener. E-mail her

at dfleming1531@adelphia.net.