06 September 2013

Bluebird Nest Watch

Frank Zuern stopping to check one
of the 40 nesting boxes he's placed.
Welcome back. Early one morning a few weeks ago, my wife Vicki drove off with Frank to watch him check some of his bluebird nesting boxes (aka, birdhouses). He’s got them all over the place. 

They tromped through the fields, but this wasn’t another of Vicki’s tick-gathering projects. Whenever you’re with Frank, it’s a learning experience. (Many thanks to Vicki for all of the photos in this post.)
Frank examining an empty nesting box.
Frank Zuern

Although Frank is in his mid-80s, he’s yet to slow down. He was an elementary school teacher and principal. For something like 13 years, he also served as Director of Outdoor Education for the local school district, arranging programs and speakers, lecturing and leading groups into the field (e.g., Sullivan’s Woods, a warbler hotspot).
Oh darn! This nesting box
had a Tree Swallow’s nest.

An ardent conservationist, Frank loves just about anything he can find outdoors. He’s active in the local Audubon Society and especially partial to bluebirds.   


I’ve nothing against bluebirds; I’m leery of bluebirders. I spent most of my life in Upstate New York, away from large urban areas. The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) was the state bird, which is reasonable since it’s good looking and sounding, is everywhere from spring through fall, and puts on a great show capturing earthworms.

House Sparrow’s eggs to be
removed along with the nest
from a bluebird nesting box.
This non-native bird
slaughters native species.
In 1970, however, the poor, unsuspecting robin was forced to abdicate, pushed aside by devotees of the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis). Prior to the bluebird’s coronation, I had never seen one in New York. After it nested on the state bird throne, I did see one…once. At least I think it was a bluebird.  

Here in Wisconsin, they knew enough to keep the robin as the state bird, chosen originally by school children; but they did start worrying about bluebirds. Breeding Bird Surveys were showing steep losses in bluebird population caused by agricultural practices, especially spraying and spreading of DDT; competition from House Sparrows and European Starlings; severe weather and loss of habitat and nesting sites.
Finally! A bluebird
nest in a nesting box.
In the mid-1980s, special efforts began to restore the bluebird population. It wasn’t just Frank. The Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin was organized. 

Frank’s Bird House 

Among the restoration activities was a program to install artificial nesting boxes in prime locations. Different designs were and still are recommended and thousands have been placed. They seem to be working.
Bluebirds’ nests are remarkably neat. Old
nests should be removed to encourage new
nests and limit parasites. (More about
monitoring the box in the next post.)

Based on his observations and research, Frank came up with his own design. It’s one of the more successful nesting boxes. I’ll get into it, so to speak, next Tuesday. I hope you’ll be back. 

Thanks for stopping by.


North American Bluebird Society: www.nabluebirdsociety.org
Bluebird Restoration Assoc. of Wisconsin: www.braw.org
Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Nest Watch: www.nestwatch.org
Saving Birds Thru Habitat: www.savingbirds.org/

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