Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bluebirds Beyond Our Backyard

When I first started gardening many years ago, I focused on esthetics. The color scheme, arrangement, and variety of plants seemed the most important factors.  Flowers spruced up our patio nicely, and we soon had many wild visitors. Mornings brought a symphony of bird songs, and we began to count the species. We learned to record data on ebird,  counting each species and entering it in the Cornell database. We carried binoculars wherever we traveled and were soon officially "bird nerds." We learned that what we plant has a direct effect on who choses to visit our yard. 

Bluebird nest and eggs!
We also learned that we can support wildlife beyond our own backyard. Last spring, with help from the Virginia Bluebird Society, my Girl Scout troop constructed bluebird houses and installed them at a nearby park. The girls undertook this project as part of a leadership award dedicated to helping animals. Once in severe decline, the Eastern bluebird population is recovering, due to habitat awareness and construction of bluebird trails. Bluebird houses are inviting to several species of birds that nest in cavities. Welcome species that are native to our area include: house wrens, tufted tit-mice, chickadees, and tree swallows.  European starlings and House sparrows, which were introduced years ago, crowd out native cavity nesters and contribute to species decline. 

A Tree Swallow nest on
top of a Chickadee nest
Bluebirds are territorial and like to nest in open areas, without tree coverage. There are baffles on the poles supporting the houses and wire screens in front of the cavity openings. These safe-guards prevent predators, such as raccoons, snakes, and squirrels, from stealing eggs and attacking birds.  The scouts monitor the bluebird boxes to determine what types of birds are nesting throughout spring and summer. Data collected will be submitted to the Virginia Bluebird Society for official record keeping.

So far, we've watched a Chickadees, Tree Swallows, and Bluebirds build nests and raise young in our nest boxes. This brings immense joy to the observers! 

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