Eastern Bluebird (female)
Regardless of how far bluebirds migrate, the important thing is they are back. And they are looking for potential nesting sites in our area's fields, meadows, and backyards. Many of these grass-dominated habitats offer enough food and water resources to raise a family, but the general lack of suitable nesting locations has plagued this and other cavity-nesting birds over the last 5 decades. Bluebirds populations have been hit particularly hard by the lack of nesting locations and were in severe decline over many areas of the eastern US.
Where did their tree-cavities go? Well, cavities tend to form in dead trees or damaged/dead limbs of live trees. When these types of trees occur in our modern neighborhoods, they are promptly removed from the landscape. Often it is done with the best interest of our homes, electric lines, etc, but a valuable wildlife resource is being removed as well. Remaining locations with suitable nesting sites (either natural or man-made) are in high demand, and competition for these sites is fierce since a number of common bird species need cavities for nesting.
A common and practical solution for creating more nesting locations for bluebirds and other common cavity-nesters is to make nesting boxes, commonly referred to as bird houses. Making and erecting a nesting box is a wonderful family project at this time of year. There are many different nest box designs online for anyone who has the tools and time to make one from scratch. Another option for building your own is to purchase a kit and assemble the pieces with nails or screws (usually provided). Last but not least, there are a number of retailers (like our program sponsors at Wild Birds Unlimited) that offer assembled nesting boxes that are ready to be placed in your yard.
For anyone who already has a nesting box, now is the time to make sure it is cleaned out and empty. Most species of birds will not use a nesting box that still has an old nest in it from the previous year. Cleaning out the box ensures a higher probability that another pair of birds will use the box again this year.
Whether you have a box or plan to put up a box, be sure to clean them out and set them out in your lawns soon. Many of our local, year-round residents like Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse are already establishing breeding territories based on suitable nesting sites. Bluebirds have returned and will be seeking nesting locations soon in addition to Tree Swallows and House Wrens later in the spring. The sooner your nesting boxes are cleaned (or erected), the more likely you are of getting a pair of birds to take up residence this spring.
For more resources about nesting boxes, please check out the following websites:
North American Bluebird Society
National Wildlife Federation
Cornell's All About Birds
If you would like a little guidance to make a nesting box for this spring, join us on March 31 at 1pm for a Bluebird House Construction program. Make your reservation by Monday, March 29 by calling the office or sending an email. You can find our contact info on our website.
-Adam Zorn, Naturalist