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How to establish a bluebird trail.

While at one time probably the most prevalent of native American songbirds, the bluebird population has been drastically reduced since the turn of this century.

Their population decrease is primarily attributed to two factors. The bluebird prefers to nest in a natural hollowed-out site, such as small dead trees in which most of the center core has rotted out; or in wooden fence posts which have split or the core rotted to form a cavity. The introduction and popularity of metal t-posts for fencing replaced many of their former nesting sites. The second reason is the introduction of European species, such as the English sparrow and starlings, which preempted many of their former nesting sites.

The method of reviving the population of the American bluebird is simple -- we need to provide it with suitable nesting environments. Due to their preferred nesting sites being between three and five feet off the ground, this has tied in rather nicely in places with the creation and maintenance of what are commonly called "bluebird trails."

The bluebird prefers a nesting site on the edge of a field, no closer than about 100 yards from another nesting site. Barbwire fencerows are nearly ideal for nest boxes providing some type of suitable prey-watching site is nearby, such as a tree or high bush.

There are several different plans for bluebird nestboxes. The one shown in the photograph incorporates a hinged front for nest inspection. The plans provided by the North American Bluebird Society incorporate a removable roof. The key elements seem to be the location of the nestbox, its height from the ground and the size and location of the entry hole.

The bluebird is somewhat unique in that it can, under optimal conditions, raise up to three clutches of eggs during a single season. The first nesting may contain four to five eggs, while the second, and possibly a third, contain fewer, depending on the bounty of the season. However, bluebirds will not use the same nesting site during a single season unless the previous nest has been removed. This aspect has led to the creation of a number of bluebird trails around the country.

Basically a bluebird trail is established by one or more people who like to hike or exercise by walking outdoors. A series of nestboxes is set up along a route to be inspected on roughly a weekly basis. The trail can be established on separate posts, attached to existing fence posts or even on telephone or electric poles along a right-of-way. (In any location other than your own property, ask permission first.)

The nestboxes can be numbered and entries recorded into a small notebook, such as when a nest is started, the number of eggs laid, when they hatch and how many fledglings survive. Periodic nestbox inspections also allow the removal of nests of competitive species.

A bluebird's nest will be built solely out of dried grasses. If the nesting material contains twigs, feathers, pieces of string or similar material, it belongs to another species and should be removed to discourage their use of the nestbox. If a nest is in question, it can be left until eggs are laid. Bluebird eggshells are a light blue color. White eggs and the nest should be discarded.

If you have lost track of whether or not a nest has been used, one way to tell is to pull out, the nest and separate the layers. If small bits of whitish material fall out, it is a used nest since the material is droppings from the fledglings. Discard the nest. Sometimes a pair of bluebirds will build a nest and then abandon it before eggs are laid. Since eggs will be laid within a couple of days of nest completion, an unused nest in a box after a week or two should also be discarded.

For further information on how to help increase the population of the Eastern Bluebird (roughly the states east of the Rockies), the Western Bluebird (roughly the states west of the Rockies), and the Mountain Bluebird (roughly extreme western Canada and a small portion of Alaska), send a business-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope with a recommended $2.00 donation to the North American Bluebird Society, P.O. Box 6295, Silver Spring, MD 20916-6295. Be sure to specifically request nestbox plans for the state in which they will be placed.

Do-it-yourself nestboxes are available from the Society, but their construction is so simple it would appear to be a good project for a youngster learning woodworking. A Scout troop or other group looking for a community project could make nestboxes for, and then set up and monitor a bluebird trail.

I have created a bluebird trail on my farm with 14 nestboxes so far and have been pleased with the results the first season. Find out for yourself the pleasure of watching this beautiful native American songbird.
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Title Annotation:nestboxes
Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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