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Bluebird Boxes - Who knew they were so interesting?

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

During my Missouri Master Naturalist days I volunteered to monitor bluebirds at a soon to be park in St. Charles, MO called Spring Bend (a park in reserve). My son only a few months old and I was looking for an easy volunteer opportunity with my naturalist chapter. I was still on my maternity leave and wanted something to do outside where I could take my son. I carried him on my chest as I hiked the mowed paths on land that a family had recently donated to the St. Charles County Parks. The park was closed to the public but was being maintained by the parks staff.

The Spring Bend was only a few acres that sat next to the Missouri River, next to a highway and backed up to subdivisions. Yet it was a peaceful place to go that wasn't too far from my home. The small creek and woods kept a good distance from the subdivisions and there was a bluff that kept the noise out from the highway. The Missouri River was a beautiful background to the lower field with nest box #12 sitting closest to the river.

Missouri's state bird is the eastern bluebird since 1927. These birds have their own dedicated nesting boxes because their habits are becoming less and less due to our expanding communities and competition with other species of birds. A bluebird usually likes its home to be located in open area so that's why you see bluebird boxes in fields. Bluebirds used to nest in wood fence posts on farms, but since these have been replaced by treated wood and metal steaks these homes have also diminished. Nesting boxes can be a fun project to build and place in your yard if it is in an open space.

Bluebirds won't nest close to other bluebirds but by adding two nesting boxes within 20-50 feet from each other will encourage other species of birds to nest such as swallows, chickadees or titmice. This is known as the "peace kingdom" because the birds are not in competition for the same foods. Due to the bluebird's decreasing habitat and increase of swallows and starlings in competition for nesting sites, these birds have been decreasing. That is why people create nesting boxes and monitor the birds that live in these habitats.

With a background in marketing and operations, the bluebird monitoring team asked me to make the maps and a monitoring field sheet. I used a Google sheet to keep our seasonal records. The bluebirds start finding places to nest in early spring, we monitored the nest boxes from March 28th to August 29th, two times a week. Bluebirds will lay eggs in the morning so it is best to monitor in the afternoon.

Bluebirds normally have 2 clutches (total nesting attempts in a year) laying 1 egg a day, but in warmer regions they can have up to 3 clutches a year. The first clutch is average 5-6 eggs while the second is less 4-5 eggs. The female incubates the eggs for about 12-15 days then it takes about 16-21 to fledge (depending on the species).

Bluebirds are tolerant to humans so make sure to monitor their boxes weekly. Boxes allow you to open from the top or sides. Make sure to bring the right tools and a mirror if you can't see inside the top. House Sparrows and European Starlings will take over a nest and push the bluebirds out so monitoring helps keep the predators out. Also, mice and wasps will make a nest box their home too so keep these cleaned out. I remember bringing my dad with me a few times because I didn't want to deal with the wasp nest removal!

Once the bluebirds have hatched, make sure to not monitor day 12-17 in case they fledge prematurely. View from a distance. Once the birds have fledged, it's time to clean out the nest for another bluebird to make this their home.

Make your own bluebird box! It's a fun family project to build the box together while learning about these birds. Your conservation efforts can help maintain the population as we continue to take their habitats away. Follow the National Audubon Society's instructions on how to construct your nest box.

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