Bluebirds

(This column was first published in the April 16, 2001 Buffalo News.)

One of this year's March snowstorms led me to cancel my attendance at a workshop of the New York State Bluebird Society in Springville. I give this organization high marks for (a) the chutzpah of its officers in scheduling the meeting in western New York at that time of year and (b) the intrepid character of its members, since -- much to my embarrassment -- the program was well attended.

Fortunately Carl Zenger of Lockport, the current society vice president, has brought me up-to-date on some of the activities of this first-rate group of birders. Last year Carl himself monitored 154 bluebird nestboxes from which 110 bluebird chicks fledged, but he is only one of those managing such routes. At the meeting former society president Rich Wells of Springville reported caring for fewer nestboxes, 89, but fledging more bluebirds, 181. Almost certainly the best state caregiver is John Rogers of Oswego County who monitored 405 boxes that produced 440 fledglings. Many other New Yorkers care for bluebird houses in suitable habitat and Carl says, "Collectively, these persons make a big difference in the bluebird population and are very important to their survival." I agree.

I enjoy writing about bluebirds because the columns always bring mail. Sadly, many messages read like this one from Kenmore, "Can you tell me where I can find those bluebirds you write about? I've lived here all my life yet have never seen one."

One place I have sent such people is the oak grove on Lake Road just east of Fort Niagara State Park. Bluebirds are usually there summer and winter. Now, unfortunately, this lot is scheduled for development. But you need only drive country roads of this region and look closely at bluebird nestboxes. At this time of year you'll see the parent birds flying nearby and often perching on top of their summer homes.

You may even see bluebirds along the Thruway. The Thruway Authority is creating wildflower gardens along this divided highway and placing bluebird nestboxes in several of them. Although I am concerned about fatalities among recently fledged birds, I certainly support both of these activities. We'll have to wait to see what happens to the birds this year. If things don't work out, simply relocating the houses away from the fast lanes may at least partially solve the problem.

Carl tells me that it is not too late to set out one or more bluebird boxes as these birds nest as late as early June. (Harold Axtell once told me that he believed there are two widely separated spring migration peaks for this species, the first in early April, the second in mid-May.) The houses are very simple to construct, requiring only a few boards and fasteners. Nestbox plans are posted on the New York State Bluebird Society website at <www.geocities.com/nysbs> and the North American Bluebird Society site at <www.nabluebirdsociety.org>. Location is most important as bluebirds like broad open areas with short vegetation and available perches. (My wife has insisted on placing a bluebird house in our small backyard where it will never be occupied by this species.) Many bluebird fanciers mount two nestboxes a few yards apart. That is because tree swallows will usually get to one first. They will not allow another tree swallow to occupy the second box but bluebirds are welcomed.

Carl mounts his boxes on steel pipes which he polishes with car wax or covers with synthetic grease. This deters raccoons and other predators.

So far this year I've seen over two-dozen bluebirds. I hope that you will soon surpass my total.-- Gerry Rising