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Invite a ‘Piece of the Sky’ to your backyard

Courtesy photo. Bluebird.

(Chelsea Update would like to thank Tom Hodgson and the Waterloo Natural History Association for the photos and information in this story.)

The eastern bluebird’s back is a brilliant blue; as if some say, “he has covered himself with a piece of the sky.”

These birds are cavity nesters, using the old nest holes of native woodpeckers.  Once a common songbird of the eastern half of the United States, in the past 50 years, the Eastern bluebird has experienced a 90-percent population decline. The reasons include habitat loss, decrease in natural nesting sites, and competition from the introduced European starling and English (house) sparrow.

Those who have some acreage in a semi-rural setting can help this beautiful bird and enjoy a colorful addition to their homesteads. Bluebirds adapt readily to man-made nest boxes, and nest two and sometimes three times per season. They like open areas of short grass with scattered trees, including large lawns, meadows, fallow fields, pastures, orchards (if they are not sprayed with pesticides), golf courses, and cemeteries.

The majority of Michigan bluebirds head south for the winter, return in Mid-March, and immediately begin looking for suitable nesting cavities. So, now is the time, before the potential occupants arrive, to build some bluebird houses and decide where they need to be placed.

The Waterloo Natural History Association is selling bluebird nest box kits complete with assembly and installation instructions through the Discovery Center gift shop.

They are $12 per kit and can be purchased at The Discovery Center, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. during February and March. The center hours will expand to include week day hours beginning in April.

A set of nest box plans is also included with this article for those who wish to build their own.

Nest boxes should be placed in a suitable area (grassy area with scattered trees) by mid-March.  Do not place them near thick shrub growth, facing roads, in the woods, on trees or fence posts or near buildings (buildings attract house sparrows).

To minimize competition with house sparrows, boxes should be placed at least 200 yards from the nearest building.  If boxes are installed near buildings, they should be checked every three days, and sparrow nests removed.

Courtesy photo. Bluebird nest and eggs.

It is best to install each nest box on a smooth metal post (3/4 inch water pipe or electrical conduit at a height of about 5 feet above the ground and within 100 feet of a tree.

The entrance hole should face a tree so that young birds taking their first flight can reach it easily. Young birds that fledge to the ground are vulnerable to predators.

Nest boxes can be installed singly, or in pairs 15- feet apart. Pairing boxes further reduces competition from other birds. The distance between each pair should be at least 100 yards, as a bluebird family will not nest any closer to its nearest bluebird neighbor.

Those installing bluebird boxes in residential or urban areas can expect fierce competition from house sparrows to the point that the house sparrows must be physically removed to insure bluebird nesting success.

Next week’s article will include information on building a nest box for a bird species that does quite well in residential and urban settings.


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