Spring brings arrival of bluebirds to Northeast in droves

| Friday, March 9, 2007

Snow and ice lingers, and cold winds continue to blow. But if you've been watching, migratory birds are starting to make their annual spring pilgrimage to the Northeast.

One of the more delightful visitors to the Keystone State is the Eastern Bluebird. According to the Pennsylvania Game News, the state's bluebird population has blossomed to a rate not seen since the late-1800s. Those figures are due, in part, to efforts of organizations such as the National Bluebird Society and the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania, which promote understanding of bluebird behavior and encourage efforts to provide nesting boxes and develop suitable bluebird habitat.

Although bluebirds will eat certain types of suet, they will not visit backyard feeders. Bluebirds are voracious insect eaters. If you desire to provide some food for bluebirds in addition to suet, the birds are especially fond of maggots or mealworms, which may be set out in an open feeder tray. Bluebirds get thirsty, and if there are no natural sources of water nearby, they will visit bird baths.

The best thing we can do for bluebirds is to provide proper nesting boxes. Despite the fact that winter is hanging on, now is the right time to set out nesting boxes.

While nesting boxes can be set out anytime, including early- and midsummer, setting out boxes in the early spring gives bluebirds a chance to stake their claim before other species take over. Most bluebird pairs have at least two, sometimes three egg-laying periods during a typical season.

Placement of nesting boxes to encourage bluebirds is important. The Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania recommends that boxes should be placed 4 to 10 feet above ground. Mounting a box at eye level allows for easy monitoring and, later in the season, cleaning the box. Boxes should be mounted in open locations on a fence line or near a woods, if possible.

To discourage predators such as racoons or snakes, houses may be attached to a piece of electrical conduit. The conduit will slip easily over a piece of rebar (a concrete reinforcing bar) of the proper size.

Since bluebirds are territorial, it's a good idea to place nesting boxes some distance apart. Fifty to 80 feet between houses seems to discourage territory disputes between bluebird neighbors.

Once a nesting pair of birds sets up housekeeping in a box by lining it with nesting material, the female will start laying eggs. The eggs will hatch in about two weeks, and the newly hatched young will remain in the nest for the next two to three weeks before venturing out on their own. During this time, the parents will keep busy fetching morsels of food for their young ones. This time is the time of greatest activity and makes for excellent watching.

To encourage building nests in nest boxes, you may consider setting out short pieces of soft white yarn. Bluebirds will be attracted to these pieces and use them to line the nest.

To learn more about the bluebird, readers should visit the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania's Web site: www.thebsp.org. As one of the member benefits, the organization offers a quarterly publication, "Bluebird Trails and Tales." The organization's Web site offers some excellent tips on bluebird propagation and conservation.

Putting out nesting boxes is the best, close-to-natural way to help wildlife.

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