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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Bluebird Trail

My husband and I have embarked on a new adventure over here in Middlebury. We joined the Middlebury Friends of the Parks, while maintaining my work with the Friends of the LaGrange County Parks. We volunteered to maintain the bluebird trail along the Pumpkinvine Trail through Middlebury. A series of about 10 bluebird houses were installed along the trail several years ago. Some of them are in a state of disrepair, and most of them had been taken over by house sparrows. John McKee, President of the Park Board, brought over some pre-cut wood to make new houses so we could replace the ones that were missing parts. Assembling the first one took about an hour. After investing in a battery powered screwdriver, Gary had the assembly down to about 15-20 minutes each.

We walked the trail with John a week later and assessed the needs and also looked for sites for additional houses. Since a new section of the Pumpkinvine opened last fall there is the possibility of adding to the bluebird trail. Some parts of the trail were too shaded. Bluebirds like open, grassy areas. Then, too, we had to consider that these new posts would have to be mowed around by the park staff, and we didn’t want to cause any extra problems there. We found a couple of new possibilities, noted them on paper, and are waiting on the official go-ahead to put them up.

In the meantime we have walked that section of the Pumpkinvine several times, checking the boxes as we go. I never knew that bird nests were so distinctive. If you know what to look for, you can tell what species built the nest just by the size, shape, and materials used. House sparrows aren’t too choosy—you can tell their nests because they incorporate a lot of trash in their nests: cellophane, bits of paper, and plastic woven in with the grasses or sticks. Bluebirds on the other hand make a neatly woven cup with only grasses—no trash. When we encounter a nest in one of the boxes we have to determine whose nest it is and remove it if it belongs to a house sparrow. Although bird nests of all song birds are protected by law, house sparrows are not included in this law. House sparrows were introduced to this country from Europe many years ago. Our native birds were used to forests or prairies or wetlands, and when cities first started to emerge on our continent, the birds retreated to habitat they were more familiar with. However, sparrows and starlings had adapted to city life in Europe and thrived. Since people wanted birds in their cities, they imported a few and now they’re pushing our native species out of their remaining habitat.

A few of the nests have had eggs in them. Sparrow eggs are light brown with darker brown speckles. Bluebird eggs are light blue or white but with no speckles. I don’t like throwing out nests with eggs, but that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’ve checked them frequently enough that we have never had to deal with nestlings. I think if the eggs have already hatched, I’m not going to be able to remove the baby birds. I’m too soft for that!

 A couple of the boxes were set up near to some pine trees, which is probably not the best for attracting bluebirds. One of the boxes has a nest made exclusively of twigs, and we think that is a wren nest. That one we’re leaving alone. Good luck, little wrens.

The last time we checked there were fewer rebuilt sparrow nests than previously. Maybe they’re getting the hint. We haven’t found any bona fide bluebird nests yet, either, unfortunately. We did find a couple of half-built nests that did not look like sparrows, but they didn’t quite seem like the pictures we’ve seen of bluebird nests, either. We’ll have to keep an eye on them and see who is living there when we next make our rounds. I’ve seen bluebirds when I’ve been out biking in the countryside, but I haven’t seen them in town yet. We’re trying to make it hospitable for them, but only time will tell.