Eastern bluebirds: a story of success
By Vanessa Balintec
For Ian Kinross and his wife Nadine Wirsig, it was a pleasant surprise to hear that the Haliburton Highlands Field Naturalists were launching an eastern bluebird bird box program along Gelert Road, as they’ve been housing two boxes of their own for over five years at their property in Minden.
“I saw it in the Minden Times and I went to the seminar,” said decade-long cottager Kinross. “I chatted to the guys and I really support their work.”
For years they’ve been watching eastern bluebirds use two little boxes on their property to nest and raise their young. Although they were out of town by the time the HHFN called for their support in putting up the boxes, Kinross arrived back home in time to see a new family of bluebirds getting ready for nesting season.
“They’re just beautiful creatures,” he said. “And it’s kind of like, you feel good that you made this small step of putting up a little box and it actually works, it’s actually attracted the birds. So that’s pretty cool.”
Although they were at it years before the HHFN, the non-profit organization took it to new heights. With the help from U-Links, they paired up with Anna Robbins, now a graduated Trent University biology student, to launch their project. The group has been working since fall to get around 20 boxes erected for this and next year’s summer.
“The field naturalists, we used to have one of our members that had a bluebird trail with nesting boxes and some of the members would go out and do some monitoring,” said Gord Sheehan, treasurer for the HHFN. “So then, when he left the club, we decided we would like to try one of our own, and decided a good route would be along Gelert Road.”
With Robbins’s help, they were able to determine 39 ideal locations for bluebird boxes. While building them is just one part of the process, putting them up proves to be more challenging as some of these locations are privately owned, requiring the HHFN to get permission to build and monitor the boxes for long periods of time.
“All these things, getting people together, getting time, it’s much more of a project than it appears to be,” said Sheehan. “Putting up houses, it’s a piece of cake, right? I’m glad we didn’t do 20 houses on our own.”
Robbins was thrilled to see the enthusiasm of the group behind the project, and was drawn to them because of it.
“I think this one stood out to me the most because it was such a small organization of people who weren’t being paid to do anything, it was all volunteer,” said Robbins. “It was a great little community, and I really liked that.”
But another big motivator behind the project was to monitor the bluebird population.
“When Shirley was working with bluebirds about 30 years ago, their populations were really low,” said Robbins about HHFN director Shirley Morden. “Now they are increasing, so she wanted to monitor to see how that was going.”
According to Canadian Geographic, during the mid- to late-1900s, the eastern bluebird had a declining population due to the introduction of two competing birds, the house sparrow and the European starling, and loss of habitat due to human development.
It was the work done by bird watchers and bluebird lovers, who began the initial movement of building bluebird birdboxes to aid in their chances of survival, that the population was able to slowly stabilize and become a species of least concern today.
“In addition to that, bluebirds are just loved among bird watchers,” said Robbins. “They’re very beautiful, they have this vibrant blue colour. When you see one up here, it’s very exciting.”
Today, according to the HHFN, there are 16 bluebird boxes up in total: four along Gelert Road, six along HHFN member Don Kerr’s property, and the other six at Walkabout Farm on Spring Valley Road. Although the other four boxes have yet to go up, Sheehan has already been receiving reports about some of them being in use.
“We have one of the four nests occupied by bluebirds, and last report there were five eggs,” said Sheehan. “The other boxes are empty at this time. We will continue to monitor them for more results.”
Kinross says watching the bluebirds finally fledge and leave their nest is something that reminds him of his own role as a parent.
“They’re always dealing with these little challenges and it kind of makes you realize that life is a little bit precarious,” said Kinross, who says out of close to six to seven cycles of bluebird watching, only four to five of them have been successful. “‘Cause the parents are busy building the nest, and she’s got to lay the eggs, and they’ve got to raise the chicks and help them fledge successfully. It’s a sweet moment that makes you think about the cycle of life. Also, as us as parents. These are parents working so hard to raise these little babies, and they have a much tougher time.”
For more resources on how to build your own bluebird bird box, visit the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society at oebs.ca.