(This 787th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on April 30, 2006.)
The New York State Bluebird Society will hold its spring meeting next Saturday, May 6, at the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center on Welch Road in North Java. Activities will begin with a bird walk at 8:30 a.m. and regular sessions will commence at 10 a.m.
Photo by Carl Carbone
One of the two major speakers will be Kim Corwin, a Department of Environmental Conservation officer who has served as project coordinator and publication co-editor for the forthcoming Breeding Bird Atlas based on information gathered by hundreds of observers statewide between 2000 and 2004. Kim's talk will focus on the numbers, past and present, of bluebirds and other cavity nesters.
The program will, however, not be limited to bluebirds. The other major speaker will be Brett Ewald, one of western New York's fine field ornithologists. He will discuss spring raptor migration along Lake Ontario.
For more meeting details visit the society website at www.nysbs.com or contact the meeting coordinators at 434-7568 or 434-7518.
I am happy to call attention to this society meeting and I hope many visitors will attend in its support because we owe its members much credit for the strong increase in numbers of bluebirds to this region. In fact, I agree with the North American Bluebird Society's claim that these folks and their comrades continent-wide have indeed "brought back the bluebirds."
In support of this contention consider some local data. The Buffalo Ornithological Society May Counts that include all of western New York and nearby Ontario found only an average of 65 bluebirds through the 1950s and 1960s. Since 2000 that average has risen to 240.
What caused this rise? Bluebird Society members and others have established and maintained nest boxes for these shy birds. And not just a few boxes. One of my local heroes, Carl Zenger, recently monitored over 150, but even his number is eclipsed by Oswego bluebirder John Rogers' over 400.
Many people think that all they need to attract a bluebird family is to build and erect a nest box. They find a plan (a good one is on the society website), build the box and set it out. However, unless they are very fortunate, their nesting success rate will be near zero.
What results? The box goes unused or at best it provides a home for house sparrows or house wrens or even mice. Some are satisfied with those results but they are not helping bluebirds.
The extensive experience of society members suggests caveats about maintaining one or more bluebird nest boxes. It's late this year for setting out boxes but these suggestions may give you an idea of how many issues apply to this kind of operation:
Okay, now you have one or more boxes erected. Your job has only started. You should check your boxes about once a week. Remove the nests of unwanted birds or mice. Replace nesting material that harbors blowflies. (Even if this requires handling young birds, songbirds have little sense of smell so this will not bother them.) Finally, clean out and disinfect your boxes each season.
We who admire these beautiful and retiring songbirds should appreciate those who do so much for our bluebirds.-- Gerry Rising