A Bluebird Meeting

 

(This 940th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 29, 2009.)

 

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An Eastern Bluebird caught in a snowstorm

Photo by Joseph Meyers

 

The New York State Bluebird Society will sponsor a Bluebird Workshop at 1:00 p.m. next Saturday, April 4, at the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center. The Center is on Welch Road just east of Route 77 in Wyoming County. It is a major locus of natural history activity in western New York and is always worth visiting. Families planning to attend this meeting should allow extra time to study the Center's exhibits of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and plants and to explore the nearby trails.

 

This year's Bluebird Society meeting will feature a presentation by the founder of the Society and a lifetime director, John Rogers. Rogers has earned his leadership role: his trail of over 400 bluebird nestboxes in Central New York has fledged over 11,500 bluebirds over the past 35 years. His illustrated talk, titled "All about Bluebirds - and More," will provide information about the life history of this species as well as how to attract and provide homes for our state bird. He promises that his presentation will be of interest to children as well as adults.

 

Another feature of this open meeting will be a panel discussion about bluebirds with three of our finest bluebird trail monitors participating: David Hofer, Rich Wells and Carl Zenger. Bluebird nestboxes will be on sale and will be available free to those who join the Bluebird Society.

 

I am happy to call attention to this meeting as, like so many of us familiar with bluebirds, I consider the species a favorite. There are several reasons for my appreciation. The blue of the males is quite unlike the light blue of jays or the metallic blue of indigo buntings: I can best describe it as a beautiful rich color. This blue is set off by the bright red-orange of the bird's breast. The female is grayer but it is still an attractive bird. Also, bluebirds are peaceful birds and you cannot help but side with them when they are bullied by aggressive house wrens, house sparrows, starlings, jays or grackles.

 

I love the bluebird's song too. It is at this time that I hear their plaintive "spring is here" whistled notes across country meadows. Hunters, and now birders as well, call the crisp cold mornings with bright sun we enjoy here in both spring and fall, bluebird weather. Rightly so for the few bluebirds that have stayed through our cold winter are now being joined by arriving migrants.

 

With the clearing of hollow trees in hedgerows and orchards, bluebirds have become highly dependent on us for nesting. I know of no recent bluebird nest anywhere but in man-made nestboxes. It is not too late to set one out this year. (In fact 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.) But don't expect your birdhouse to be used unless it is properly situated. Bluebirds are a species of open meadows so there is no use erecting a box in the city or a suburb.

 

Many bluebird fanciers mount two nestboxes a few yards apart. That is because earlier migrating tree swallows will usually get to one first. The tree swallows will not allow another swallow to occupy the second box but the non-competing bluebirds are welcomed.

 

Bluebird nestboxes are very simple to construct, requiring only a few boards and fasteners. Plans for a nestbox designed by Herm Bressler are posted on the New York State Bluebird Society website. Carl Zenger tells me that he mounts his boxes on steel pipes, which he polishes with car wax or covers with synthetic grease. This deters some of the many predators of bluebirds. These include in addition to those birds listed earlier: cats, raccoons, red, gray and flying squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, snakes, bees, ants, blowflies, lice and, as if those were not bad enough, even human vandals.

 

I add one note about setting out nestboxes of any kind. They require maintenance. Too often considerate people put out the birdhouses but then fail to clean them out after each nesting episode. Like bird feeders, they should be regularly emptied and disinfected.-- Gerry Rising