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Make a little birdhouse in your….tank farm?

We’ve had our fair share of animal interactions in the Conservation Lab. With the Park surrounding the Museum, and the tank farm (outdoor tanks for storing large objects) so close to the woods, we expect to get the occasional turtle, goose, or squirrel coming to inspect our work. What we didn’t expect was to have a several-year-long battle with….bluebirds.

Photo of an Eastern Blue Bird in The Mariners’ Park. Photo courtesy of Rand Milam/The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

For anyone who doesn’t know, bluebirds are small, brightly colored birds that nest in tall trees, and have 2-4 broods (times they lay their eggs) each summer. My stepmom loves bluebirds and sets up a birdhouse for a bluebird family in the backyard every year, so I’m always keeping an eye out for these feathered friends.

Summer of 2019

The gantry crane we use in the tank farm to lift large objects.

Way back in the summer of 2019, the Conservation team headed out to the tank farm for the first time that year to get things started. As we inspected all of our equipment, we noticed a pair of bluebirds constantly flying around the tank farm. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but then I noticed something suspicious on our crane. Something….nest like!

A bluebird nest can be seen poking out of the wheels of the crane!

As it turned out, this bluebird family had made themselves at home in the tank farm, and built a nest in the crane wheels! This was not a safe place for the baby birds, if we tried to use the crane they could get crushed in the wheels! That’s when conservation decided to call on the help of our Park team. Together, we were able to remove 3 baby bluebirds and their nest!

One of the baby birds safely in the container.

Fortunately, the bluebirds were nearly full-grown by this point, so we put the babies and their nest into a small container and set them on a high point in the tank farm where predators couldn’t reach them. Later that day, the bluebird parents came and escorted the babies to a new location.

Three baby bluebirds in the container, one looking very annoyed at this new nest location.

Summer of 2021

After this adventure, we didn’t see the bluebird family in the tank farm again, so we didn’t think much of it. And in the summer of 2020, we didn’t even get out to work in the tank farm due to the pandemic. So when we finally got to get back to work outside in 2021, the bluebird family was the last thing on our minds. Until…we noticed a familiar sight flying around the tank farm. It took some time to figure out where they had built their nest this time around. But we finally found it. This time, the birds had built a nest inside the chain bucket of the crane!

Gantry crane, with the location of the second nest circled. The chain bucket holds the coiled up chain when the crane is not in use.

This was definitely not a safe place for the birds either, they could be hurt by the chain moving if we used the crane. This time, the babies were very young birds, however, and we did not want to move them. Fortunately, we already had a summer schedule planned and we didn’t need to use the crane for at least a month. This gave the babies plenty of time to grow up and leave the nest before we cleaned it out to use the crane.

Very young baby bluebirds are in the top right corner of the chain bucket. You can see a little beak!

The Resolution

We continued to check on the babies throughout the month, just to make sure everything was okay. Once the bluebird babies left home for the wide world, we came back with a plan. We cleaned out the chain bucket and covered it, to make sure the bluebirds wouldn’t nest there again. And we installed a bluebird-friendly birdhouse in the tank farm. It was placed away from any work we might have to do, and far up so that it would be hard for predators to reach. While we don’t have any photos, we have spotted the Papa blue bird flying in and out of the birdhouse! So the new birdhouse seems to be a hit! Hopefully, the bluebird family isn’t too disgruntled by all these moves, and enjoys their new home for years to come.

A new birdhouse was safely installed!

See you next summer, bluebird family!

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