Songbird Nest Box Program Seeks Volunteer Monitors

Songbird Nest Box Volunteer training will occur on Saturday, March 23, 2013, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the A. B. Ceder Classroom.  Please bring a lunch, paper, and pencil. Dress for the weather.!

Eastern Bluebird
Photo By Bob Stanowski
All wildlife populations are regulated by many things in their habitat. One factor that limits cavity nesting songbirds is the availability of appropriate nest sites. Certain species like woodpeckers create their own nest site by excavating wood with their chisel-like beaks. However, there are several cavity nesting birds that do not create their own cavities but use ones that are already present in their habitat. Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows are a couple species that require pre-existing cavities before they can reproduce. Eastern Bluebirds experienced severe declines in Connecticut starting over 40 years ago. This was due in large part to ecological changes that succeeded open fields to forests and due to a lack of nest sites. A statewide program was coordinated by CT DEEP, Wildlife Division to restore Eastern Bluebird populations by installing nest boxes throughout the state. White Memorial has been part of this initiative since it’s inception by installing nest boxes throughout the property since approximately 1989. Since then the Bluebird population has responded to this conservation strategy quite well by steadily increasing in abundance (Figure 1). This year starts a new phase of White Memorial’s Songbird Nest Box Program. Volunteers are needed to monitor 75 nest boxes for success and productivity.

Figure 1:  Eastern Bluebirds Counted on USGS Breeding Bird Survey Routes 
that Traverse WMF (1967 - 2008), Trend-line Added.
Figure 2:  Eastern Bluebird Summer Distribution Map  from USGS Breeding Bird Survey (2006 - 2010).  Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., and W. A. Link. 2011. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 - 2010. Version 12.07.2011 USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.

The Songbird Nest Box Program has proven a success for helping to restore Eastern Bluebirds to WMF but it only helps the birds a little. Eastern Bluebirds are not consistently successful at fledging young every year. Connecticut is found in the more northern portion of Eastern Bluebird distribution and southern populations are more abundant than northern populations (Figure 2). This suggests that Eastern Bluebirds are better adapted to a slightly warmer climate. Yet, Connecticut offers enough habitats to make it worth a Bluebird’s effort to still attempt to reproduce because some birds are successful at producing young even though some seasons do not offer the best conditions.  Bluebirds migrate as early as they can from winter habitats (April) so that they can locate a nest site, reproduce, incubate eggs, and raise young. This gives the young enough time to develop so they are physically capable of migrating to warmer climates by the next winter. Connecticut’s breeding Bluebird population is vulnerable to early spring weather conditions that could kill young birds due to exposure. Late frosts, extended cold rain, and freezing temperatures contribute to young birds dying. The nest boxes are designed to meet the needs of the birds while they need a nest site by providing as dry a micro-habitat as possible and protecting the birds from predators and non-native species.  The habitat around each nest box is managed by mowing and controlling the vegetation so that Bluebirds can find enough food for their chicks.  Check the map at the bottom of this page to see the Songbird Nest Box locations.  The boxes must be visited to collect data and to assess how the box is functioning. We have designed a program that provides the volunteers with the option of deciding how much time they can commit to the program. Each nest box must be visited at least twice a year but more frequent visits allow us to learn more about the population. If you have only a little bit of time then you can meet the minimum requirements, but if you have more time to commit then the program will benefit. There are several important things to learn about nest boxes and the birds that use them prior to volunteering with the program. Therefore, we require that if someone wishes to volunteer their time, they must attend a training session offered by WMCC Staff.

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