Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Bluebird Trails

Yes, I'm one of those wild-eyed environmental (WEE) wackos that cares to keep bluebirds from the brink of extinction, and so I annually maintain a "Bluebird Trail" for the purpose of providing proper nest areas for those beautiful creatures.  Former President Jimmy Carter may have his Habitat for Humanity thing going, but I'm much more interested in seeing the bluebirds stay on the prairie.

Eastern Bluebird in my backyard
Bluebirds are in danger of becoming the next Carolina Parakeet or Passenger Pigeon without our help. Their numbers became dangerously low in the 1970's because they are cavity nesters.  Man, in his infinite wisdom, cuts down and destroys all the dead tree stumps that would otherwise provide natural cavities for the bluebirds and they also have competition for the few remaining natural cavities from sparrows (introduced to this country in the 1850's, again as a mistake by Man because He thought sparrows would eat crop insects, not become the nuisance pests they proved to be) .

Bluebirds and I have a special relationship.  My spirits are revived each spring as they arrive to begin nesting in February.  When we were building our current home, more than once I visited the framed but not yet walled-in house to find a bluebird sitting on a windowsill, as if blessing the building of our house with his presence.  Their quick little bounces while flying always lighten my mood.  And if you've read this blog long, you know I'm a sucker for light sky blue colors in the garden in any shape or form.  I've maintained a Bluebird trail, now up to sixteen boxes, for a number of years in my small attempts to aid the bluebird comeback.  This year I fledged 6 bluebird families from the 16 boxes, with 2 more nests of other species found.  My record was 8/12 bluebird nests several years back.

 In fact, I'm so into the Bluebird Trail concept that I've done some investigation into box design and also designed my own.  I started out by purchasing some typical commercial boxes from Walmart, but along the way I've built and tried lots of others. Somewhere out there on the Internet, you can find specific designs for different forms of bluebird nestboxes, from the NABS (North American Bluebird Society) box to the Peterson box and back again. Bluebird enthusiasts can debate front- and side-opening designs, floor designs, hole shapes and diameters, and hole positions till eternity passes.  Placement and construction of the boxes is critical to draw bluebirds and repel other species.  The box should be placed in grasslands away from trees and shrubs and about 4-5 foot high.  It should be away from houses as well to deter sparrows.  Size dimensions for the nest box are critical and the hole is also carefully shaped and sized (Starlings don't use oval holes and sparrows need wider ones than the 1 3/8 X 2 1/4 inch oblong hole now recommended).  Classically, the hole is placed closer to the top of the box, but another researcher has suggested that sparrows are also deterred if the nesting cavity is shallow, with the hole nearer the bottom.  Every year you must clean out and maintain the boxes to prevent disease in early Winter, before the bluebirds return to nest in February.

I've taken the best features from research to create my own simple design, which I must say seems to be remarkably effective on my little patch of prairie. Five of the six bluebird nests I had this year were produced in the six nest boxes that I've built of my own design and the sixth box was simply empty (without a sparrow nest).  The other ten boxes of commercial and other designs had only one bluebird nest among them, but two other nests from other species. At Photobucket, you can download a jpg of the "Roush Bluebird House" construction (page 1) and a diagram of how to cut up the boards (page 2) if you click on the links.  It's cut from standard lumbar widths; cedar is best for durability. It's a similar box to the Peterson box, with a larger bottom and a lower entrance.  I find front-opening boxes to be the easiest to clean.

So please, whatever design you choose, choose to help the Eastern Bluebird. I regret that I will never be able to see a Carolina Parakeet or Ivory-billed Woodpecker and I wasn't even responsible for those extinctions.  I'd like my grandchildren to still be able to enjoy a flash of blue in their gardens.

1 comment:

  1. I love this and definitely appreciate your efforts to preserve such a sweet bird. It reminds me of a time, back when my greenhouse was up. I propagated several cape mallow (anisodontea) and soon had a protective mama finch with several finch babies nesting in it! I couldn't even go out to the garden without her kamikaze dips to my head! I was happy to provide temporary housing for them, so I can imagine your satisfaction knowing you're helping so many to get a healthy start.
    Great job!


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