With summer just beginning, have you run out of ideas to educate and entertain your kids at home? What’s a parent to do? Consider starting a bluebird sanctuary in your yard! With a bit of preparation and a little luck, soon, your family could enjoy the sweet chirps of baby bluebird hatchlings just outside your door.
Beginning as early as February, the brilliantly hued eastern bluebird begins seeking nesting spots and crafting its signature cup-shaped nest in anticipation of warmer weather. For decades, the bluebird population was on the decline due to years of development and habitat loss, pesticide use, and introduction of non-native species. Thankfully, due to conservation efforts, restrictions on harmful chemicals, and increased public awareness, the number of bluebirds is no longer on the decline.
To continue stabilizing the bluebird population, Mount Paran Christian School (MPCS) in Kennesaw decided to deploy its own nesting boxes on campus, maintained by lower school science classes. The goal for the three nesting boxes was to attract bluebird pairs – monogamous during the mating season – to campus. Students in grades K-5 observe the birds, gain awareness of what threatened the bluebird population, and learn how ecological impacts affect the environment.
Working under the guidance of local partner and master gardener Jim Beardan, founder of the Bluebird Trail at Green Meadows Preserve in Marietta (www.greenmeadowspreserve.org), MPCS installed its first three nesting boxes in the spring of 2019. In its first year of nesting boxes on campus, the students successfully hatched four Carolina chickadees and 12 bluebird hatchlings. For the 2019-20 academic year, the program grew, with seven nesting boxes on campus. As the program gains momentum each school year, the goal is to further integrate the nesting boxes into the lower school curriculum.
To add your own bluebird nesting box at home, consider these helpful tips.
- Start by adding one nesting box to your yard. Find building plans online (www.mtparanschool.com/bluebirds) or order a box from Amazon for less than $30.
- To encourage bluebirds to visit your yard, consider adding mealworms nearby. Though available in dried and live, bluebirds prefer the live larvae. You can purchase mealworms from pet or bait stores, or, buy in bulk online from mealworm growers.
- Competition for nesting space is a major challenge for bluebirds. House sparrows and European starlings are fierce competitors and are much more aggressive than bluebirds. You could choose to remove their nests if you see these invasive species building in your nesting box. Other nesting birds, such as Carolina chickadees, also may decide to take up residence in a bluebird nesting box. You may wish to leave this nest, if chickadees move in, as they are delightful to watch.
- If possible, place your box in an open area that faces woods, about 5 feet off the ground. You can secure it to a fence post, to the side of your house, or to a pole.
- Have your children contribute to scientific research on bluebird populations. They can report their observations and data to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s nationwide NestWatch program, whose goal is to track trends in the reproductive biology of birds. Observations will be added to those of thousands of others in a continually growing database used by researchers to understand and study birds. (https://nestwatch.org/)
Your family may find that supporting the eastern bluebirds can become addicting; the rewards of watching these colorful birds hatch and then flit around the yard is nothing short of miraculous. Your children can take pride in helping to increase the local bluebird population, bring awareness of the plight facing the environment, and demonstrate that everyone can make a difference in helping God’s creatures survive.
By Amber Irizarry, communications content specialist for Mount Paran Christian School and contributing writer.