Bluebird Project at Wolf Road Prairie
by John J. Skach, Field Ornithologist
At present, there are eleven bluebird boxes located at the Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve at locations which have been favored by Bluebirds in the past. Bluebird boxes need to be spaced at least 300 feet apart to prevent territorial aggression between nesting Bluebird pairs. Boxes placed closer to each other than 300 feet create another problem. They encourage Tree Swallows to occupy one of the closely placed boxes. This increases Tree Swallow numbers and creates greater competition for nest sites for Bluebirds during the mating and fledging season.
If boxes were located near the marsh/wetland, they would definitely be taken up by Tree Swallows who are an aggressive competitor to the Bluebirds. Should any boxes be located closer to the savanna and shrubbery, they would attract House Wrens. House Wrens destroy bluebird eggs and even remove small nestlings in order to take over a Bluebird nest box for their own eggs and young.
Monitoring Bluebird boxes is extremely important. It must be done on a regular basis during the nesting season, at least once a week, to check on the young and also to prevent parasites, such as the Blowfly larvae, from attaching themselves to the nestlings, thus weakening the baby birds. Ants are sometimes also a problem for the nesting Bluebirds. Boxes placed close to buildings are favored by House Sparrows who are known to take over the nest boxes, killing the young and even the adult Bluebirds. Part of the monitor's job is to remove the parasites such as the Blowfly larvae. Monitors must also maintain various types of predator guards to prevent mainly raccoons getting to the nest boxes.
The monitor's job also requires keeping detailed records of each box status, on each visit in order to prepare a summary at the end of each year for the database.
Banding of Bluebirds with uniquely numbered aluminum bands, issued by the Federal Government, is done when the young are about nine or ten days old, with minimum disturbance. Surprisingly, the Bluebirds are very tolerant and do not mind the intrusion at all. Banding reports are submitted to the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland at the end of each year. By banding the young Bluebirds and recapturing the adults, the longevities, dispersement, population fluctuation, relationship of individuals to each other and other data is obtained.
Bluebirds typically arrive at Wolf Road Prairie in March to survey their nesting territories. Once they have selected a nest box, the male can often be seen sitting on top of the box, protecting his young and bringing in food for the babies inside. The brilliantly blue colored feathers of the male bluebird and the strong bond between the parents and the young make bluebird watching a favorite pastime for birders at Wolf Road Prairie.
The Wolf Road Prairie Bluebird Trends Chart from 1991 through 2009, prepared by John Skach, provides statistics on the bluebird breeding program at Wolf Road Prairie.
For more information on Bluebirds, their habitat needs and the Federal Banding Program, contact John Skach at SKACH1@aol.com.
Bluebird photos taken at Wolf Road Prairie by Jerry Kumery
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