Video: Bermuda Bluebird Nest Box Workshop

March 2, 2013

BluebirdThe bluebird of happiness is becoming increasingly unhappy — and scarce — in Bermuda with growing encroachments on its natural habitat and threats from predators as varied as cats and sparrows.

So on Sunday [March 3] Bermuda Audubon Society president Andrew Dobson will be holding a Bluebird Nest Box Workshop at Aberfeldy Nurseries from 1.30-3.00 p.m. to explain why the island’s unique species depends on artificial nests and man-made trails to now survive.

After introductory remarks by Mr. Dobson, participants will be invited to make their own nest boxes for the island’s endangered bluebirds; all are welcome, particularly families.

A symbol of love, hope and happiness, it is said the bluebird “carries the sky on its back and the earth on its breast” — and with its delightful warbling song and affinity for devouring grubs and caterpillars that attack our gardens, Bermuda could hardly wish for a lovelier bird to grace the island.

Bermuda’s bluebird — its numbers are now estimated to be just 500 — is almost completely dependent on man for its survival. Founded in the 1980s by Thomas Outerbridge, the Bermuda Bluebird Society now falls under the auspices of the Bermuda Audubon Society; both groups have long been encouraging local residents to erect their own backyard bluebird boxes — and even trails if space allows.

Bluebird boxes and kits may be purchased from Aberfeldy Nurseries in Paget. The Bermuda Audubon Society benefits from the sales.

bluebirdworkshop

The Bermuda bluebird is a member of the thrush family and bears the Latin name Sialia sialis. Bermuda is the only place outside of the eastern half of North America where it has ever been known to breed.

Throughout Bermuda’s history these bluebirds were very abundant, attaining population densities much higher than are found in the American continent. As recently as the early 1960s flocks of 50 or more bluebirds could be seen winging over the island.

Bermuda’s bluebird population flourished when the island’s earliest settlers created more habitat by clearing woodland for open pasturelands, cropland and lawns.

The bluebird nested in holes of the shore cliffs, in walls and under the eaves of the houses, as well as in the numerous hollows provided by cedar trees.

The first and most drastic decline of the bluebird population occurred in the late 19th century when the House sparrow was introduced to Bermuda.

The aggressive and adaptable sparrow multiplied rapidly and soon became the most abundant bird in Bermuda. The sparrow, as a hole-nester, rapidly displaced the bluebirds from the eaves of houses and soon began taking over the cliff holes and hollow of the cedar trees as well.

1980s Bermuda bluebird documentary produced by Tommy Outerbridge and Reimar Fiedler

By the 1930s the natural bluebird nestlings were confined almost exclusively to holes in the trunks of cedar trees. The cedar scale endemic in the late 1940s and early 1950s killed over 90 per cent of Bermuda’s cedar forest.

In an attempt to remove the eyesore and reforest the island the Government and private landowners felled most of the dead cedars destroying many ideal-nesting hollows.

Pesticides, the decline of habitat, other pest birds, rats, lizards, feral cats and mites also played roles in the decline of the bluebird in Bermuda.

The bluebird is now almost completely dependent on nesting boxes for their survival. Most parks and all the golf course have monitored trails. A large number of private homes also have nesting boxes.

Habitat is the key factor to consider when setting up a bluebird trail. Open grassy areas with scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover is best. Look for perch sites, such as a fence line, wires, or tree branches where bluebirds may perch to look for food.

Monitor the young in the nest and remove unhatched eggs or dead chicks to prevent ants from invading the nest. Trees and shrubs provide a landing spot for the young bluebirds when they first leave the box. This will keep them off the ground, away from predators.

Be sure that boxes are mounted in areas where pesticides are not used.

Boxes should be spaced at least 100 yards apart.

Flock of bluebirds visiting the home of Ralph Richardson in February 2011

Check your bluebird boxes at least once a week during the nesting season. Birds do not mind being checked.

Have your bluebird boxes in place by mid-March when bluebirds are looking for nesting sites. Bluebirds nest from March until early August and are usually left alone by sparrows from July on.

They usually have two broods per season, but three broods are possible. Learn to recognise a bluebird nest — it is a tidy and neat cupshaped nest that is usually made up of 100 per cent woven grass or casuarina needles.

Bluebirds usually lay three to five light blue eggs. The incubation period for bluebird eggs is 12 to 14 days. Nestlings remain in the nest 18 to 21 days before they fledge.

Remove bluebird nests as soon as the young birds have fledged and sterilize the box with boiling water.

A sparrow nest is untidy, made up of mixed foliage and often strewn with bits of trash. Always remove sparrow nests immediately.

Keep records of the activity in your boxes. This information is valuable to the Bermuda Audubon Society, which compiles data on bluebird populations in Bermuda.

Don’t be discouraged if your nesting boxes are not used the first year. If bluebirds are not common in your area, it may take them a few seasons to find your new box.

Bluebirds generally return to the same area each year. For additional information you can write to the Bermuda Audubon Society at info@audubon.bm

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Comments (8)

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  1. Amazing coincidence says:

    My wife woke me up this morning to get my camera as there were two blue birds frolicking in the garden. Pissed off at first,I got some amazing shots of these amazing creatures, some of which will be framed and hung in my bedroom as a reminder not to sleep in late on a Saturday morning….lol.

    • joe says:

      Please be careful when you frame these birds. You can break their wings when pressing them into the glass of the frame.

  2. Absolutely beautiful!!! A fantastic documentary. I would like to thank Thomas Outerbridge and Dr.David Wingate for filming our native bluebird I’ve found it to be quite educational and would hope others will assist in preserving their existence…
    Never in my entire life have I seen so many gathered in 1 spot as those visiting Mr. Ralph Richardson home, Feb. 2011

  3. J Flood says:

    Informative and beautiful, and I thought I was doing well when I had 5 bluebirds in the bird bath!! In a home garden there really is no need to use pesticides, I stopped over 10 years ago and after a couple of years balance was established – little is lost to “pests” and I can live with a few nibbles out of my lettuce and cabbages if I can watch the bluebirds and vireos foraging in my garden.

  4. Bird Lover says:

    I was pleasantly surprised to see one of these beautiful birds on my drive in to work this morning. A little bit excited too as I havent see one in so long! :)