The North American Bluebird Society (NABS) frequently receives requests for acknowledgement or commendation when youth have participated in setting up a bluebird trail as part of a project, such as an Eagle Scout project. Often these requests are received after the project has been completed and we have no way of knowing the guidelines or procedures that were used in the process. Many who are unfamiliar with bluebird conservation do not understand that setting up a nestbox trail is only one step in helping bluebirds and other native cavity-nesting birds to survive and thrive. Consequently, NABS has developed a policy by which, if followed, could result in the requested acknowledgement.
As always, the first step in any project should be the gathering of information from reputable sources. NABS suggests contacting a local, state, regional or national organization that is knowledgeable about conservation efforts for native birds. Many states have bluebird or Audubon societies and many of these organizations are affiliates of the North American Bluebird Society. A list of some of these organizations can be found on our web site, www.nabluebirdsociety.org by clicking on the Our Supporters/Affiliates page. Organizations are listed by state, region or province. Local organizations, especially, are happy to assign an experienced mentor to advise on a project. Additionally, NABS has developed a set of Fact Sheets, listed under Bluebird Information tab on our web site, as a resource for bluebirders seeking information. Of course, NABS Board members also possess years of bluebird conservation experience and are happy to assist. (Board members can be reached via email by clicking on their name in the NABS Board of Directors tab.)
In learning about how to help bluebirds and native cavity-nesting birds, here are some critical factors that should be considered:
- Is the trail situated in proper bluebird habitat? – e.g., an open area with low grass intespersed with trees. Are the boxes a safe distance from low brushy areas (House Wren habitat) or from a location where House Sparrows will be a problem. These non-native birds often evict and frequently kill bluebird adults on the nest and will kill young and destroy eggs of cavity-nesting birds including bluebirds. (See the NABS Fact sheets on Getting Started with Bluebirds and on House Sparrow Contol.)
- Is the nestbox design appropriate for bluebirds (e.g., proper construction materials, proper hole size, floor area, adequate height of the hole from the floor, proper drainage, sufficient roof overhang etc.)? Does the nestbox have adquate protections for control of excess heat and will it keep out water during heavy rain? Does the nestbox open to allow for ease of routine monitoring? (see the NABS Nestbox recommendations Fact Sheet)
- Is the box mounted properly (e.g., on a metal, stand-alone pole), and does it have proper predator deterrance – raccoons and rat snakes develop the habit of routinely raiding bluebird nestboxes, especially when they’ve been successful at finding a meal of eggs or baby birds. NABS recommends that necessary precautions be taken in areas where such or similar predators exist. (See the NABS Fact Sheet on Pedator Control).
- Is the nestbox trail being monitored? It is not enough just to put up nestboxes. The boxes must be monitored at a minimum of once a week during nesting season to address problems as they occur (e.g., blowflies, predators, and other disturbances). In your area, bluebirds may often complete three nest cycles in a season. The monitor should clean out the old nests once the chicks have fledged so that the adults can start a new breeding cycle, which involves the building of a new nest. (See the NABS Fact Sheet on Monitoring Bluebird Nestboxes)
- Finally, and most importantly, is there a plan in place to continue the monitoring of the trail of nestboxes after the builder of the trail moves on? Nestbox trails can stand for many years. If they are not being monitored each nesting season, they should be taken down. Untended trails fall into disrepair and become unsafe for nesting birds. Additionally, unmonitored nestboxes allow for non-native species such as House Sparrows to overbreed an area, making it unsafe for bluebirds and other native, cavity-nesting birds.
All of these elements are addressed when scouts or other youth or groups set up a bluebird trail under NABS guidance. The well-being of native cavity-nesting birds is the priority of NABS, thus we can only recognize those who follow the above guidelines.