Male bluebirds have it pretty easy. All they have to do is find a prime piece of nesting site and then attract a female to come build a nest for the family. That’s right: Once the female is suckered in by a little song and dance, she is then on the hook for building the nest alone and incubating the eggs.
Of course, male bluebirds haven’t had it easy finding natural nesting sites in Michigan over the last couple decades or so.
“For a while the bluebird population plummeted,” said Kathleen Dougherty, the education resources specialist with Oakland County Parks and Recreation. “A lot of it had to do with loss of habitat and a change of landscape, as these birds are associated with the farming communities. And as farms went to suburbs and urban areas, a lot of open landscape was lost.”
The bluebird also faces steep competition from non-native species — the house sparrow and weaver finch — for nesting sites.
Luckily, the bluebird population can be easily recovered, provided people put up nest boxes to provide the bluebirds an opportunity to reproduce.
Bluebirds are cavity nesters and typically nest in old woodpecker holes in the wild. As such, they are a prime candidate species to use a nest box.
Oakland County Parks and Recreation’s Nestbox Monitoring Program puts up and maintains nest boxes for three native species of birds, including the eastern bluebird, the house wren, and the tree swallow.
It follows the program developed by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology — NestWatch — which tracks the survival and reproductive success of all North American breeding birds.
Oakland County has run its monitoring program since 2003 with the help of volunteers.
“The nest box monitoring program at Oakland County Parks and Recreation is only possible through the efforts of wonderful and dedicated volunteers,” Dougherty said. “It’s a very labor-intensive program.”
Volunteers are expected to attend a two-hour training session annually, follow the code of conduct for monitoring, and report their field observations and results. In addition, they must visit their assigned nest boxes at least once a week during the nesting season, which is from April through July or August.
Oakland County Parks and Recreation was recognized by NestWatch as one of the top 20 reporting programs in the country during 2011, with 125 nest attempts.
Last year, 147 eastern bluebirds were fledged along with 198 tree swallows and 70 house wrens.
The program is still looking for volunteers for the upcoming monitoring season.
Volunteers are especially needed at Lyon Oaks County Park off Pontiac Trail, just west of the Wixom border. Anybody interested in volunteering should contact Dougherty at 248-858-0704 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A volunteer training session will be held on Sunday, March 4 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Winter Nature Center at Independence Oaks County Park.
“Promoting native birds not only adds to the viewing enjoyment of the public at parks, but they also eat insects and thus help control the insect population,” Dougherty said. “Tree swallows in particular eat mosquitoes, which can only make the public’s visits better.”