Nesting boxes for bluebirds: after 16 seasons, trends spotted

COURTESY PHOTO | A pair of eastern bluebirds captured on birdcam at Mashomack Preserve. WINGSCAPES BIRDCAM PRO CAMERA

COURTESY PHOTO | A pair of eastern bluebirds share a meal in an image captured by birdcam at Mashomack Preserve.

As Mashomack Preserve volunteers gear up in preparation for providing nesting sites for the eastern bluebirds, 57 boxes stand ready to welcome the returning birds for the 17th year of this project.

These nest boxes are set throughout the eight meadows on the preserve that provide excellent bluebird habitat. The past 16 years of monitoring the bluebird nests along with the tree swallows which nest close to them, and now, purple martins, are helping us to spot trends in their habits and movements.

The weekly involvement of volunteers in this conservation program for the New York State bird has helped the eastern bluebird recover from near disaster back in the 1960’s. Our nest box trail is one part of an effort throughout the eastern U.S. in which people have provided nest boxes for these cavity nesting birds, which were losing not only their habitat but also suffered from the incursion of introduced invasive bird species which out-competed them for nesting sites.

Happily, the eastern bluebird has recovered well and the birds that share their nest sites, the tree swallows, are also thriving here despite population drops in other parts of the country. Records kept here at Mashomack show that the bluebird population is trending toward nesting earlier and laying eggs earlier over the years. In the same period the tree swallows show a trend toward nesting a bit later, laying their eggs closer to that nesting time.

COURTESY PHOTO | Eastern bluebird.

COURTESY PHOTO | Eastern bluebird.

Placing colored leg bands on the nestling bluebirds just before they fledge helps us to track the ages of those returning and which member of a former nesting pair returned. Along with cameras placed at active nests, we learn about the activities of the birds while we can’t be there to watch and this helps us to learn about their nesting, feeding habits and movements.

Over the years, 560 bluebirds and 1,395 tree swallows have fledged from our nest boxes. In the past two years, 60 purple martins have joined them.

As the 2017 nesting season approaches, volunteers will be gearing up for another exciting year “out on the trail.” On Thursday, March 30 there will be an educational program about the eastern bluebird, tree swallows and purple martins. We will meet at the education building of the Mashomack Preserve Visitor Center at 5:30 p.m. and refreshments will be served. All are welcome, especially those interested in volunteering and getting out into some of Mashomack’s most beautiful areas.

Please call to let us know you are coming at (631) 749-1001.

Bill Zitek is a trustee of The Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve and the lead volunteer for the Nestbox Project.