The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 28, 2013

Building bluebird boxes a beneficial activity for whole family

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Want a front-row seat to see the life cycle of birds? Consider installing a bluebird nest box soon to prepare for the coming nesting season.

By doing so, you'll be helping a population that has seen a decline in numbers. As a bonus, you'll get a bit of exercise and some insect control on your property.

Rural Pittsburg resident Elma Hurt did so after becoming a birdwatcher about 20 years ago.

"We saw some bluebirds in our backyard," she said. "So I bought a nest box and put it up, and we had four babies. And that's what got me started. When I joined the local Audubon chapter, being with other people who are birders and love the birds has a lot to do with my continued enjoyment and interest in it."

Hurt, who has become a local expert on bluebirding, now monitors 32 boxes as part of her "bluebird trail" Ñ 24 on her home place of about 60 acres and another eight boxes at other locations. She's responsible for the fledging of hundreds of bluebirds and is a frequent presenter on the subject at schools, libraries and to groups across Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.

"There seems to be a growing interest out there in bluebirds," she said. "It's something I think all ages enjoy."

This is cause for celebration, noted Bob Mangile, a charter member of the Southeast Kansas Audubon group who maintains the database.

In recent decades the number of bluebirds has been on the decline, partially because of human destruction of nesting habitats, and partially because of competition over nesting sites with non-native European starlings and house sparrows. Eggs also often fall victim to predators, including house cats, snakes and raccoons.

Elma and her woodworking husband, Bob, tried several designs of boxes before settling on one they believed was perfect for improving chances Ñ one by national bluebird expert Andrew Troyer, who gave them permission to reproduce it.

As with all bluebird nesting boxes, one side is hinged to open for easy monitoring and cleaning. It is approved by the North American Bluebird Society.

As soon as the snow clears, Hurt anticipates beginning her annual trek along her trail to make necessary repairs, clean boxes out with a paintbrush she keeps especially for that purpose, and ready them for nesters which could begin as early as March 23.

Throughout the spring and summer, bluebirds can produce two to four broods of babies. Each brood usually is comprised of five light-blue eggs, although that number can vary slightly from bird to bird. Nestlings remain in the nest for 17 to 21 days before they fledge.

Beyond helping the environment, Hurt has found an unexpected bonus to maintaining such a lengthy trail.

"It takes me about an hour and 15 minutes to walk all the way around, and most of the time I try to do it twice a week, so that's good exercise," she said.

Housewarming help

Consider these tips when building a bluebird nest box with your family: