Their numbers have bounced back in recent years, but bluebirds still struggle to maintain their niche in nature. Changing land use practices that eliminated the cavities the birds need for nesting led to their decline.
Today the population is more stable, thanks in part to the work of the Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota. Founded in 1979, the BRP has received information requests from 11,851 people, and a lot of them have put up bluebird nesting boxes.
But slapping up a box on a fencepost in the corner of the yard isn't enough. Keith Radel, BRP county coordinator for Steele and Rice counties, calls these types of boxes "raccoon feeders."
"Put a box on a wood post and pretty soon a raccoon is in there and you have nothing," said Radel, who made a presentation last Saturday at Habitat Day at Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge near Little Falls. "You must look in the box once a week to make sure you're raising birds."
Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer
To illustrate his point, Radel brought to Habitat Day a nesting box that had been mounted on a fencepost in southern Minnesota.
"Look at all the claw marks," he said, pointing to the work of a marauding raccoon.
The solution is to mount the box on a smooth metal pole, or to wrap wooden posts with metal baffles that raccoons can't climb.
Among the several styles of raccoon-proof nesting boxes is the Peterson box, named after the BRP's founder. It mounts on a metal pole and has a front panel that flips open for easy cleaning. For maximum effectiveness, the box should be cleaned out between the first and second nesting periods each summer. At the end of the nesting season - Labor Day is a convenient reminder - open the front panel and leave it open so mice don't move in for the winter.
Despite our best efforts, bluebird numbers aren't nearly what they once were.
"They should be as thick as robins," Radel said. "They were at one time."
The BRP's annual conference is scheduled for April 14 in Elk River. Radel will make a presentation, as will Carrol Henderson of the DNR nongame wildlife program and Roger Strand of Wood Duck Management in Minnesota. Cost is $4 per person. Phone (507) 332-7003 or (507) 210-0961 for more information.
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