Frequent visitors to Mary Virginia Crites Hannan Park may have noticed a number of rectangular shaped wooden boxes mounted on poles along the Wellness Trail, by the Starkey Pavilion and by the Wetlands. They serve as nesting boxes for birds, primarily Eastern Bluebirds although Tree Swallows are frequent occupants as well as House Sparrows and the occasional Chickadee and Carolina Wren.
The boxes are checked every five to seven days from the beginning of March until September or until no activity is noted. Those who monitor the boxes look for the presence of a nest, eggs, and hatchlings. They track the type of birds nesting in each box, the number of eggs and when they are laid, when the eggs hatch and calculate the likely date of fledging based on the hatch date and the species of bird.
In mid-March of this year, Melanie Shuter, our regular trail monitor, prepared the boxes for the breeding season. Each box was cleaned and sprayed to deter ants. The poles were greased. Older boxes, including Box No. 3, were replaced. Regular monitoring of the trail began on March 29. On that date and again on April 6, Box No. 3 was recorded as empty.
That changed on April 12 when Melanie noted a “few strands,” meaning blades of grass, in the box. Male birds of many species, including bluebirds, will place a few bits of nesting material in several boxes then show the female in hopes of attracting her as a mate. If the female approves of one of the male’s sites, she will begin to build her nest.
Apparently, Box No. 3 was approved because on April 17, Melanie recorded a “nest with deep cup” but “no feathers.” At this time, she would have been hopeful that the nest builder was a bluebird but not 100% sure. However, on April 22, her hopes were confirmed when she discovered three light blue eggs in the nest. Bluebirds!
At this time, Melanie would have felt the eggs to determine if they were warm to the touch. If so, it means the female has been incubating, or sitting on the eggs. If the eggs are cool, then the female is not yet incubating and will probably lay more eggs.
On the next monitoring date, April 29, Melanie discovered two more eggs had been laid for a total of five, an average size clutch for a bluebird. Then on May 5, Melanie observed the mother bluebird in the box, incubating the eggs. The incubation period for bluebird eggs is typically 12-14 days. The female incubates the eggs. At this point, Melanie could calculate a range of possible hatch dates. If all goes well, we would have baby Bluebirds between May 6-8.
The following week I was monitoring the trail in Melanie’s absence. I remember walking up to the box, whistling to alert the mother that I was approaching. The mother bluebird burst out of the box and took refuge in a nearby tree as I carefully lifted the side of the box. Inside were five tiny birds, eyes closed tight, bare little bodies huddled together in the nest that their mother had made. Weak and wobbly, they raised their heads, mouths opened wide, waiting to be fed. I quickly noted the number and condition of the babies, then grabbed my phone and snapped the picture that accompanies this article.
Now the bluebird parents would be busy from dawn to dusk bringing food to these five hungry mouths. In just 15-18 days, these hatchlings would grow from virtual helplessness to feathered birds capable of flight.
Box No. 3 was monitored again on May 15, 22 and 29 and the hatchlings were growing and healthy. No signs of insect infestations. The parents both present and actively bringing insects, the preferred food, to the babies. Then on June 5, the box was opened again and the bluebird babies had fledged. These parents will continue to feed their young while showing them how to find food on their own.
Now, you may be thinking that monitoring a bluebird trail seems like a lot of work. And you may be wondering why. For answers to those questions and more, the Friends of the Circleville Parks are hosting a program called Don’t Worry! Be Happy! Bringing the Bluebirds of Happiness to Your Yard on Saturday, June 15 at 10 a.m. at the Starkey Pavilion at Mary Virginia Crites Hannan Park, 1230 Pontius Road in Circleville.
We are planning, weather permitting, to spend the first part of the program inspecting the trail, discussing appropriate locations for Bluebird boxes and perhaps opening a box. The remainder of the program will take place inside the Starkey Pavilion. Children under 12 are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.