Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bluebird Nest Box Project at Hagerman NWR

While the Bald Eagle is our national bird and the one we think of in conjunction with patriotic holidays such as July 4th, the Bluebird is an American favorite.  Three years ago several Bluebird trails at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge were established through the efforts of the Friends of Hagerman.
Monitors setting up nest box, 2011.
In the July, 2013, edition of the Featherless Flyer, these numbers were reported for the Nest Box Project at the Refuge, as of June 30, for the current nesting season:

Eastern Bluebirds:  141 fledged from 32 clutches (20 clutches had five or six fledglings)

Young Eastern Bluebirds
Carolina Chickadee: 11 fledged from 2 clutches

Tufted Titmouse: 9 fledged from 2 clutches

Carolina Wren: 16 fledged from 3 clutches

Bewicks Wren: 6 fledged from 1 clutch

Prothonotary Warbler: 5 fledged from 1 clutch

There are a total of 54 Bluebird nest boxes on the trails – approximately half are along Harris Creek Trail and the remainder are divided between Meadow Pond Trail and Raasch Trail.  The boxes are monitored weekly by teams of monitors who take turns on the job, working approximately once each month during the nesting season.
Melinda Hill, recording nest box data. (Photo by Skip Hill)
The monitors check each box to see if there is any activity and record what they find for each box.  These results will be entered in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Nest Watch database at the end of the season.  The monitors look to see if there is a nest, and if so, for what species, are there eggs and how many, live young and the stage of maturity and so on.  Once one or more eggs appear, the monitors calculate the estimated hatch date and then the fledge date.  The latter is important, the boxes are not opened near the fledge date to avoid causing the baby birds to fledge prematurely.
Young Bluebirds, about to fledge!
Additionally, now that the daytime temperatures are getting into the 90’s the monitors will begin recording nest box temperatures for a series of “test” boxes along Raasch Trail.  Earlier in the year, special “space” paint, white with ceramic beads incorporated into it for insulation and reflectivity was applied to the roof of a number of boxes, with nearby box roofs left unpainted.  The hope is that the paint will keep the box interiors a little cooler during the dog days late in the season and increase the number of successful hatches.
Bluebird eggs in nest box on Harris Creek Trail.
Monitors for Harris Creek also photograph nest box activity for the 20 people who have adopted a nest box for the season.  Box maintenance, including removal of wasp nests, etc. is performed as needed.   When a nesting cycle is completed, the box is cleaned and made ready for another family – Bluebirds  typically have two broods and sometimes three each season; Carolina Wrens, Bewick’s Wrens, Prothonotary Warblers  may have 1- 3 broods also, while the CarolinaChickadees, and Tufted Titmice have just one brood per season.
Fully-feathered young Carolina Chickadees.
Just ask the monitors how much fun it is to open a box and find a brood of newly hatched baby birds - or the Nest Box Adopters, when they get “baby” pictures by email, as well as hikers and birders who view the birds on the wing!  Many thanks to all who support this program of providing increased homes for cavity nesting songbirds, especially the Bluebird, at Hagerman NWR!   AND – anyone interested in becoming a nest box monitor for 2014, please contact us through the Friends website.

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