Citizen Science & Bluebird Trails

Citizen science volunteers work hard to encourage and maintain suitable nesting sites for bluebirds. Bluebirds around where I live have been in decline due to habitat loss and also habitat succession as the farms of yesterday have been turning back into forests removing the broad open meadows once common place. To help assist beautiful bluebirds, nest boxes are placed in the remaining open meadows.  Bluebirds like to forage in these open areas and also require nesting shelters that are out in the open. They will not nest too close to the forest edge or within likely due to competition with other bird species for those nesting shelters.

It turns out that placing two nest boxes back to back or within 15 feet helps to allow tree swallows to take up one box and bluebirds to live in the other. This relationship works because the tree swallows will defend their territory against other tree swallows but allow bluebirds to move in. Bluebirds and tree swallows will also tolerate one another because the bluebirds are feeding from the ground level whereas the tree swallows feed in the air with their acrobatic maneuvers as they swoop up flying insects.  Both species can consume as many as 2,000 insects a day.

Bluebirds work hard to create a suitable home for their young and will aggressively protect it. They face increasing nesting competition due to non-native birds like European starling and house sparrow. Fortunately, when a good location is provided they can have up to three broods a season. If you monitor your boxes in the wintertime, you might find a blue feather or two on the grass nest acting as an identifying indicator.

Tree Swallow at Becker Farm Bluebird Box
Tree Swallow at Becker Farm Bluebird Box

Citizen Scientists can monitor these nest boxes to help provide adequate shelter for them to bring up babies. Nestbox monitoring sheets often include the following information that is gathered: Nest box #, Species, Nesting Activity Notes, Nest Completed Date, 1st Egg Laid, Total Eggs Laid, Hatching Date, Total Eggs Hatched, Total Fledges and Date Fledged.

We can use the data to identify the suitable habitat elements that support bluebirds, document resident bird populations, increase available shelter for bluebird species recovery and promote a stewardship ethic that cares for our natural environment.

Consider installing a single box or an entire trail of boxes during National Nest Box Week in February to have them ready for the spring season.

Bluebird Eggs in Box
Monitoring Bluebirds at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Byrne Golf Course Bluebird Box Map

To learn how to properly construct a bluebird house and much more, visit the North American Bluebird Society.

The basic design that I use with students, campers and scouts is:

One bird house requires:

  • (1) 5” x 5 ½ ” x ¾   base
  • (1) 9” x 8 ¼  x ¾  roof
  • (3) 13” x 6 ½ x ¾ side and back walls
  • (1) 5 x 12 ½ x ¾  with a 1 ½ inch whole centered about one inch down from the top for the front of the house
  • Grip Rite 4d 1-1/2 exterior galvanized finish nails
  • Cedar is definitely the preference for wood type as it is long lasting.
  • They must be mounted on a strong study post with a minimum 6ft height so they don’t sway around in the wind and when installed aren’t too low to the ground vegetation.
  • If you use cheaper pine and choose to paint the boxes the birds prefer flat earth tones like light shades of green and brown.  Too dark and the box will absorb heat and make it too hot and uncomfortable for the babies.  Zero VOC paints are required like Valspar safe coat. The kids may also like to sign the boxes with a sharpie.

Share your efforts with the community : )  


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