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Tuesday August 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday August 20, 2013 MYT 8:23:46 AM
by kathy van mullekom
Eastern bluebirds work in loving pairs to raise a family.
Bluebird fans pursue conservation efforts.
WHEN my husband Ken heads for the yard, he’s got good company – bluebirds watching his every move. They follow him to the back yard, hoping he’s going to fill their feeder with the dried mealworms we religiously keep on hand.
When he heads to the front garage, they again follow him, perching and watching while he sits and sips cool water. For more than a decade, eastern bluebirds have been our buddies, staying the year to entertain us with their amusing behaviour and sky-blue hues.
Members of the Historic Rivers Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists in Williamsburg, Virginia, feel much the same way about bluebirds. For four years, the group has been involved in a citizen science project, working as volunteers to enhance bluebird conservation by monitoring nest boxes along eight trails in nearby cities and counties in Hampton Roads Virginia.
“I became enchanted with the eastern bluebird in Illinois where we had nest boxes in our yard and enjoyed watching the family life of several migratory bluebird pairs,” says Jan Lockwood, co-ordinator of the monitoring project. She moved to Williamsburg in 2009, trained as a master naturalist and became a volunteer monitor on a bluebird trail.
This season, the birds nested later than usual, she says. Even so, there were 363 young bluebirds fledging from the 204 nest boxes on the trails, according to the group’s report in early July. Bluebirds can nest up to three times during the summer months; the second nesting now underway includes 73 eggs, 149 chicks and an additional 53 fledglings. Once the female begins to incubate a second or third clutch, the male feeds the first fledglings and teaches them to forage for their own food.
“Bluebirds are exceptionally busy during this phase,” says Jan. “On the trails, we find it difficult to observe since the fledglings don’t return to the nest, but we do see them flying after their parents calling for food.”
In addition to eastern bluebirds, the United States is home to western bluebirds and mountain bluebirds. Western types like open woodland, both coniferous and deciduous, and they live in yards, burned areas and farmland, from the sea level far up into the mountains, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.birds.cornell.edu). Mountain bluebirds prefer more open habitats than other bluebirds, and are found in colder regions in winter, according to Cornell. All bluebirds like insects and berries, especially the fruits from plant species native to their area.
Here’s how to attract and maintain bluebirds in your yard:
< Provide suitable habitat. Open or semi-open areas with short or mown vegetation and scattered trees – parks, suburbs, golf courses, schools, farms and forest clearings – all provide ideal conditions for bluebirds to forage for the insects that make up most of their summer/breeding diet.
< Bluebirds are attracted to areas with perches from which to hunt. Consider erecting additional perches using dead tree limbs or garden stakes throughout your yard.
< Set up a bird bath or other reliable source of clean water for drinking and bathing. A simple dripper, which birds love, can be created by hanging a hose over the bath.
< Plant berry-producing trees and shrubs, to provide food for the birds.
< Mealworms can be fed year-round, especially if the bluebirds are habituated to them during the nesting season.
< Install a wooden nest box on a metal pole prior to the nesting season, but only if you’re prepared to check on it regularly. Suggestions for siting the box in your yard and design specs/safety information are available at Virginia Bluebird Society (www.virginiabluebirds.org).
< Consider retaining dead trees with woodpecker holes in wooded areas. Bluebirds will nest in unused cavities.
< Keep your cat indoors. It’s healthier for your pet as well as protecting the nest box from a predator. – Newport News/ McClatchy Tribune Information Services
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