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Summer 2009 Vol. 24, No. 2

Bluebird Newsletter of the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin, Inc.

BRAW is an affiliate member of the North American Bluebird Society (NABS), founded by Lawrence Zeleny

BRAW Annual Convention see page 2

Female Eastern Bluebird - Shari Kastner

Also in this issue: BRAW Awarded - 3 • WI Winter Bluebirds - 4 • Cowbirds/Cavity Nesters - 5 • Looking Back - 7 • BPCA Production of EABLs - 8 • Time & Place for PVC box - 10 • Front Open boxes - 11 • Portable Mealworm Feeder - 12 • Point/Counterpoint - 13 • ALAS Box Blitz -13 • Sparrow Reducer? - 14 •

Kickapoo Valley Reserve location for 2009 BRAW Convention

The BRAW State Convention is on September 19, 2009, at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Visitor Center north of LaFarge on Hwy. 131. This area is exceptionally beautiful and is in the heart of the most productive bluebird area in Wisconsin. The program is set, and there will be a Silent Auction and luncheon. We hope that many of BRAW members and friends will attend. Please put the date on your calendars. CATERED LUNCH: A chicken meal with drink and dessert will be served. No food will be served other than the catered meals. There are no nearby restaurants, so bring your own lunch or reserve a catered lunch. Return Form Only to: Kent Hall 200 Pine Bluff Rd. Stevens Point, WI 54481 Call: (715) 344-8081 or email reservations To Kent at by Sept. 1


Please indicate the number of catered lunches for your party at $10 each: ___________. Pay upon registering the day of the event.


Last year the response to the Silent Auction was wonderful and we brought in around $800. This is an excellent way to raise money for BRAW to help with expenses. Bring an item to donate and/or plan to buy a donated item. Some items follow a bluebird theme but any bird or wildlife item is fine. Or use your imagination! It would be very helpful if you donate an item to put down a value amount so we can establish a minimum bid. Minimum bids may not start at 100% but around 50-60%. On many hand-made items it’s difficult to determine a value at the last minute when we are getting set up.

Silent Auction Item

Name: ____________________________

Yes, I’d like to donate an item for the silent

Return form ONLY to: Kent Hall 200 Pine Bluff Rd. Stevens Point, WI 54481 Call: 715-344-8081 or email info. to Kent at by Sept. 1

auction. Name ___________________________________ Item ____________________________________ Value $______________

Directions: The Kickapoo River Reserve Visitor’s Center is located 2-3 miles north of La Farge, WI, and 3-4 miles south of Rockton, WI, on Hwy. 131. The Visitor’s Center is on the west side of the road. More info at

Please attach this form or similar form to the item(s) you are donating. Thank you.

From the east, take I-90 to Tomah and take the Hwy. 131 south turnoff to the Visitor’s Center. An alternative for the Madison/ Milwaukee area is to take the 12/18 beltline west around Madison, follow 12 north and take Hwy. 14 west to Hwy. 131 at Readstown and follow it north to the Visitor’s Center. From the LaCrosse area, one can take I-90 east to 131 south to the Visitor’s Center. An alternative from the LaCrosse area would be to take Hwy. 14 east to Viroqua, take 82 north to 131 in La Farge and follow 131 to the Visitor’s Center. Wisconsin Bluebird


Summer 2009

Program for 2009 BRAW State Convention 8:00-9:00 a.m.: Registration 9:00-9:15 a.m.: P  resident’s Welcome: Joe Schultz; Treasurer’s Report: Mike Helgren; Operation Top State Account Report: Kent Hall 9:15-10:00 a.m.: Bluebirding: In Search of the Conservationist’s Soul: Dr. Kent Hall, VP-BRAW 10:00-10:30 a.m.: SE Wisconsin: More than Buildings & Highways Bob Tamm, SE WI Regional Coordinator, BRAW 10:30-10:45 a.m.: Break 10:45-11:30 a.m.: Restoration of Red-headed Woodpeckers at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge: Rich King, Refuge Biologist 11:30-12:00 p.m.: Bluebird Bloopers! Pat Ready, WB Editor/BRAW BOD 12:00-1:00 p.m.: Lunch with chicken, drink & dessert 1:00-1:15 p.m.: Announcement of Silent Auction Winners: Joe Schultz (Auction bidding over at 1 pm) 1:15-1:30 p.m.: Entertainment by the “Blues King”: David Pray 1:30-End : Questions about monitoring: Panel & audience Panel: Kent Hall, Chair; Fred Craig, Leif Marking, & Joe Schultz

Madison Audubon Awards Hall and BRAW

by Patrick Ready, WB Editor On March 18, the 1,600 member Madison Audubon Society presented their Joseph Hickey Award for Excellence in Bird Conservation to Dr. Kent Hall and the Bluebird Restoration Assoc. of WI (BRAW). The presentation was made in the Grand Ballroom of the Memorial Student Union on the UW-Madison campus. The late Joseph Hickey led the research and political effort to get DDT banned in the U.S., enabling several birds of prey to return to healthy populations (e.g., Bald Eagle, Osprey & Peregrine Falcon). The 860 member BRAW organization was formed in 1986 to prevent the decline of the Eastern Bluebird. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, this species had an alarming decline in population, causing the WDNR to approach private citizens to initiate an artificial nest box program. The program has been a resounding success and represents the greatest

Madison Audubon VP Deb Weitzel, presents the Excellence in Bird Conservation Award to Kent Hall and BRAW board members Joe Schultz (BRAW President) Sue Hall, Claire Romanak, Jerry Schoen, Mike Helgren and Pat Ready.

recovery of a songbird in the history of WI conservation. Bluebird populations are now at a 43 year high, in part because of BRAW members. A total of over 500 persons per year record data for a 17 week period and turn the data in to Dr. Hall (about 7,800 nest boxes reported in 2008). For the past two years, WI has led all states in the country for bluebird production in artificial nest boxes, setting a national record of over 28,000 fledged in 2007. 3

Dr. Hall is Vice-President and Data Collection & Analysis Coordinator for BRAW. He collects data from BRAW members’ boxes and enters them into a spread sheet for later analysis. He began “Operation Top State” to set the goal of implementing scientifically proven, bluebird management techniques, to create nationally recognized leadership in bluebird production. Leading the nation for the past two years is validation that these

continued on page 19

Summer 2009

Wisconsin’s Winter Bluebirds

By Bob Tamm Like many of us, I have been in the bluebirding “business” for many years. Back when I first started, my goals were quite meager. If I was fortunate enough to attract a pair or two of these beautiful birds, I was more than satisfied. In those days, it was pretty much a “given” that after the summer was over, the new bluebird families pretty much packed up their things and headed south. That was fine with me, and I spent the fall and winter preparing boxes and posts for spring, which never seemed to come fast enough. I did, however, on occasion visit my early trails in late February and early March to prepare them for the coming season. It was then that I discovered that some of the boxes contained droppings that were, for the most part, consisting of sumac and other berry seeds. From what I knew of cavity nesters, bluebirds seemed to be the birds that would do this, but, hey, they’re supposed to be way south for the winter, so what could be using these boxes for roosts other than the bluebirds? In hindsight, I was getting my first glimpse of the reality of winter in Wisconsin: some bluebirds DO stick it out! The migrating instincts may be stronger in some birds than others, but, for whatever reason, it was becoming obvious to me that there were indeed a few bluebirds that decided to brave our cold blustery winter weather. To add credibility to this, a few years ago my friend Walter Jost called me on New Year’s Day to tell me that a bluebird was sitting in a tree in his back yard and he had pictures to prove it! (Yep, it WAS a bluebird!) Today, it is common knowledge that a few bluebirds do reside here through winter, a fact made clear by the numbers of pictures sent through the internet lately. How many of these birds survive? How many don’t make it? I don’t know the answer, but overwintering bluebirds are no longer an unusual phenomenon. It is reality, and probably more common than we know. Wisconsin Bluebird

What can we do, or what should we do, to help those bluebirds that decide to brave winter in Wisconsin? I ask this because of events this past March on two of my trails here in southeastern Wisconsin. One of my early stops was at our brand new bluebird trail at Edgewood Golf Course, where we have over thirty boxes that were installed this last fall. Everything looked pretty good until I got to box #10. Inside it was a dead female bluebird! I should mention that this is the first time in all my years of bluebirding that this has happened, so it obviously took me by surprise. There was no head trauma, so I ruled out house sparrows. This bluebird was using the box as a roost, and judging from a lot of whitewash droppings, she was under much stress for a long period of time. A couple of days later, I visited one of my old trails, W. R. Wadewitz Nature Preserve in Waterford, Wi. There, in box #24, were TWO dead male bluebirds! In this box, there were many seeds/droppings, so I knew this box was being used for roosting for quite a while. Of course, I was upset to see this, and I asked myself what I could have done to prevent this? And I am not alone. Recently, Kent Hall mentioned to me that in seven years of monitoring his trails, for the first time, six dead bluebirds were found this last winter. My bluebirding friend Ellen Lafouge also reported that she found two dead bluebirds at her highly successful Mee Kwon Golf Course trail. Many of you, I am sure, have had similar experiences, and again, I am asking what we could have done to minimize the mortality rates of these brave (but perhaps common sensechallenged) little birds. 4

On our large trails, without doubt, you are limited. It would be nice if every box could be near a good supply of berries to sustain the bluebirds until the bugs fly! That, however, is seldom the reality of the situation. In the harsh weather of winter in Wisconsin, the fact is that only the hardiest bluebirds will survive, and those weather-resistant genes will be passed on to future generations! Mother Nature has a way of culling out the weak. And so it should be! At our back yard boxes, we have more control. Planting native shrubs like various dogwood and viburnum species certainly helps their chances. This is not new information, I know. Every bluebirding book tells us to do this, but it is probably good for us to take a look around our yards and see if we can’t make our yards just a little more bluebird-friendly. Adding a heated birdbath is also a good idea. Bluebirds love water, and it’s no different in winter! Then, there is something to be said about mealworm feeding! Another bluebirding friend, Shari Kastner, recently told me: “The bluebirds in my yard have been so hungry that they come to eat within seconds after I put out mealworms and whistle! The snow and cold spring weather have made it very hard for them to find any insects…” (Note: Don’t laugh about her whistling… I have witnessed first hand her mealworm feeding techniques. She puts a few mealies in a small container, then whistles – the bluebirds come FAST!!!) So, even though I personally have never used mealworms as an emergency ration, there is certainly something to be said about having some of them on hand when the weather is bad! In conclusion, as hard as it is to see our beloved bluebirds laying lifeless in a nestbox, it is apparent that we have to come to grips with losing a few blues over winter. In some ways, we can help them to make it, but, overall, it comes down to this: Only the strongest will survive. We are bound to lose some along the way, but the future Sialia Sialis gene pool will be all the better because of it. And again, I believe that that is the way it should be. Summer 2009

Cowbirds and Unsuspecting Cavity Nesters

By Patrick Ready WB Editor In a recent issue of the Bluebird journal I read with interest an article about Brown-headed Cowbirds predating on cavity nesters. The article’s final conclusion was that cowbirds don’t lay eggs in nests of cavity nesting species. My own experiences from my trails in 2008 proved to the contrary. Let’s go back a few years. My friend Jack Bartholmai from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin sent me some photos he took of a pair of adult bluebirds feeding a young cowbird chick on the ground. Jack included nest box photos and some record information. He was checking his trail when he discovered the cowbird egg inside. He decided to leave it and see what would happen. It didn’t take long before the cowbird chick was hatched and begging for food. I ran the photos and a short article in the Wisconsin Bluebird newsletter in the fall of 2006. After the article ran, I started getting calls and emails from other bluebirders who were experiencing the same thing in recent years. I asked them if they knew what had changed. Some thought it may have been due to using nest boxes with the oval hole entrance. But this didn’t apply to everyone as others had boxes with the standard 1-1/2” round entrance. In May of last season I was checking some nest boxes and opened a Peterson box I knew had Blackcapped Chickadees nesting. To my surprise I found 1 cowbird egg in with 4 chickadee eggs. I decided to leave the egg and watch the box closely to see what took place. Cowbirds are legally protected by the Migratory Bird Act, the same one that protects bluebirds and all native songbirds. Removing eggs is illegal. One week later when I returned the cowbird was a monster compared to the chickadees. (see photo) One chickadee egg did not hatch but I’m not sure if the cowbird egg was the cause. Returning a week later I discovered the cowbird had already fledged. There were 4 chickadees inside the

The first photo shows a cowbird egg (speckled) in a bluebird nest. The second photo shows a cowbird chick begging with 3 Black-capped Chickadees. The third photo shows a cowbird chick begging with a bluebird chick. Note the size difference at just a few days old.

nest but 2 were further developed than the others. The 2 advanced birds weren’t too far from fledging. After waiting 2 more days I checked the box again and found only the 2 runts left in the box. The adult chickadees hadn’t abandoned their young and diligently kept feeding until all were fledged. One month later while checking my trail at Lake Kegonsa State Park I opened a Peterson box that had a pair of bluebirds nesting. There were 3 nice light blue eggs and incubation was about to start. The next time I checked the box there was a cowbird egg in with the 3 bluebird eggs. Once again I chose not to mess with Mother Nature and let it be. Since cowbirds hatch sooner and take over dominance in the box I decided to monitor this box more often than my once per week routine. The bluebird hen didn’t try to remove the egg either. She rotated the eggs and incubated them all. The cowbird chick did hatch a few days earlier as expected and was further developed 5

than the bluebirds. (see photo) To my surprise the cowbird chick was gone on about the 10th day following hatching. I couldn’t see the chick near the box nor did I see any adults around. Had it fledged already? Or did it get ousted by one of the adults because it was too aggressive? Several days passed. I checked the box again and there were only 2 bluebird chicks left. One had disappeared. All appeared healthy to me on my previous visit. Had the female continued on page 19 . . .

Summer 2009

New Members Join BRAW

Tom & Sue Becket - Wausau Mr. & Mrs. Butch Plach - Appleton - Gift from Fred Heinritz Christine Holicek - Fish Creek Ron Klimaitis - Ellison Bay Gail Malven - Waunakee Dick and Sally Keyel - Sun Prairie Laura Dollar – McFarland Layfayette Cty Bluebird Society – Darlington Kathleen Herrewig – Milwaukee Floyd Patterson – Sommerset – new LIFE member! Nina Mills – Mount Horeb Susan Chesshire - Wauwatosa Lee Curtis – Cascade Diana Koenig – gift from Richard Koenig Family Rick Reed – Mundelein, IL Eileen Riehle – Stratford Joette Schleisman – Verona Sheridan Schwark – Irma Joan Sommer – Fredonia Jacki Barndt – Appleton – Gift from Lois & John Vedock Lloyd Bethke – Richard Center David & Pauline Pray – Stevens Point William Mueller – Milwaukee Barbara Johnson – Milwaukee Jim Evers – Beaver Dam Joy & Steve Sample – Madison Darlene Heath – Ellison Bay Randy & Bernice Koula – Chaseburg – Gift from Leif & Carol Marking Harry & Ellen Caulum – Bangor – Gift from Leif & Carol Marking Joel Braunschweig – Jefferson – Gift from Jan & Richard Voeltz Jane Arnold – Waukegan, IL – Gift from Richard & Carol Becker Charleen Breest – Mequon Joseph K Keller – Jackson Joseph W Keller – Iola – Gift from Joseph K Keller Leona & Paul Lysne – Baileys Harbor Bob & Nancy Hardisty – Sturgeon Bay Laura Keyder – Sturgeon Bay Leon Blahnik – Sturgeon Bay Richard & Candice Knutson – Poynette Gene Lyons – Viola Amy Johnston – Waupaca – Gift from Pat & Toni Wanserski C. Abel – Eagle Al Abramson – Verona Robert Birkhauser – Verona Gerhardt Fregien – Madison Bart Johll – Madison Kathi Kemp – Oregon John Sharp – Mineral Point Mary Symak – Lyndon Station Roger & Gloria Drews – Waupun DeAnna Crevierce – Madison Karen Koebel – Manitowoc Lentz Used Vehicles – Waldo Anna Babler – Browntown Sue Fafard – Verona Linda Lynch – Ridgeway Bill Carpenter – Omro Dan Short – Juneau – Gift from Mike & Ellen Helgren Jacqueline Lindahl – Itasco, IL – New LIFE member! Wisconsin Bluebird


A Man for Many Seasons

By Sue Hall Sir Thomas Moore was a creature of many parts, of many places and many seasons as most recently was Danny Boyle, the director of “Slum Dog Millionaire”. Both men were called “Men for Many Seasons” for their ability to pursue many interests and live them with zest and enthusiasm. BRAW has its own “Man for Many Seasons” known as Sherman Griffith. Sherm recently retired as the treasurer of BRAW after serving for 14 years and is a life time member of the organization. His zest for living, like Moore and Boyle, takes on numerous images and involves many people in his community. He operates a “Phone Shack” in his back yard where he allows the Amish community to come to communicate with others and also has over 20 freezers where he allows them to store their food. In the winter, Sherm can be seen plowing for neighbors, his church and helping his friends out with the winter snow. Spring and summer finds Sherm tending to over 100 bee hives in his back pasture where he delights in producing honey and enjoys selling and sharing this delicacy with friends, neighbors and fellow BRAW members. This year, Sherm has undertaken a new hobby with his carpentry expertise by making beds, kitchen set for his wife, Carol, and his children and their families. For the past 15 years, Sherm has monitored over 200 Eastern Bluebird houses. When one enters Green Lake County where he lives, you can witness the various boxes Sherm has carefully placed along the road sides and in low grass areas to encourage the bluebirds to nest. The BRAW board of directors would like to thank Sherm for his many years of service to the board, continued success in bluebird monitoring and appreciates his being our own “Man for Many Seasons”. Summer 2009

place to tend a hatch…Protected by a thistle patch…Of stinging spines so awful that…We do not fear the ‘coon nor cat…But now and then we view with pain…The ravage of a slanting rain…And though it isn’t orthodox… We crave to own a bluebird box!…Of course we know for that effect…We’d need a human architect…Could he be you?…Yours truly, Blue.” Cory at the age of 91 finally had to give up his bluebird trail, observed Warren Close of Salem, a BRAW director.

From the Pages of Wisconsin Bluebird Newsletter:

Looking Back By Don Bragg, Rhinelander

5 Years Ago, Summer 2004 An apparently abandoned bluebird trail at Cherokee Marsh on Madison’s north side was renovated by Pat Ready and Paul Noeldner who noticed decaying Peterson style houses all filled with mouse nests and debris. The men spotted the neglected trail on an earlier visit to confer with Russ Hefty, park supervisor, about erecting an osprey nest platform on the property. **** “Continued monitoring and reporting (of box productivity by monitors), good or bad, will help to continue the improvement of productivity, and to increase the wellgrounded sense of satisfaction of all the members of this association who hopefully put up bluebird boxes,” wrote Joe O’Halloran of BRAW’s Data Collection and Analysis Committee. The statement was made by O’Halloran in an article reviewing recently acquired data on the extensive wetlands of Wisconsin and the wetlands’ impacts on bluebird and tree swallow production.

15 Years Ago, Summer 1994 “How much is too much?” the lead story asked Wisconsin Bluebird newsletter readers. “Should we be putting up miles of nest boxes to show passing motorists how much we love bluebirds and then neglect those boxes?” 20 Years Ago, Summer 1989 A three-part article on house sparrow and European starling control by Andy Jenson of Gillette, Wyoming concluded with a review of bird trapping techniques. Jenson approached the problem by tightly repairing or constructing buildings that prevented access to sparrows seeking shelter or nesting locations and by trapping the unprotected species. **** BRAW President Dick Nikolai made an appeal to recruit additional county coordinators. “There are a number of Wisconsin counties still without coordinators…Even where there is a coordinator, they may need additional help to put on a workshop.” **** Rock County Coordinator Dorothy Gessert of Brodhead, WI reported areas of misunderstanding among various publics about the practice of monitoring bluebird nest boxes. One complainant thought that BRAW advocated opening bluebird nest boxes every day. “I don’t mean to be carried away with this subject but (there is a) need for us to get out some good factual information on the way to handle trail monitoring,” said Gessert.

10 Years Ago, Summer 1999 “Could people who want to foster high bluebird occupancy in their nest boxes look for, and set up nest boxes in the little territories in which there are a large number of the non-box using types of Barn Swallows, Bank Swallows or Cliff Swallows?” wondered Joe O’Halloran in an article that cited various experiences with swallows other than Tree Swallows. **** Carlyle Cory, who started working with bluebirds in 1959 and who went on to provide a reported 7,000 homes for bluebirds, had the practice of enclosing this poem with his box instructions: “Dear Reader…My mate and I and brood of three…Nest in a fence post cavity…A favorite

Product Review by Pat Ready, WB Editor Backyard Blues - DVD: Running time Approx. 50 mins. Boz Metzdorf This DVD is a real Bluebirder pleaser. Filmaker Boz Metsdorf who lives in northern Wisconsin decided to put out some nest boxes and try for bluebirds. When they came and nested in his backyard he decided to make a film about them. If you ever wondered what goes on inside the nest box this DVD will give you a “birds eye view” of adult bluebirds going inside and taking care of business. Also plenty of scenes from the backyard showing them at meal worm feeders, fledglings


ing at feeders and bird baths and even late migrants that survived winter’s fury. Boz adds scenes of other bird species coming to his feeders year round as well. A multi-talented guy, Boz wrote several songs about his bluebirds and performs them while the veiwer enjoys the “Blues” on screen. This DVD is a must for all avid bluebirders or those who enjoy birds of any kind. To order the DVD you can contact Boz at (715) 248-7459 or from his web site at Summer 2009

Production of Eastern Bluebirds in Monitored Houses

ally. Technical information and instructions for producing bluebirds are available from websites of NABS (, BRAW (, and BPCA (www. The purpose of this report is to summarize the numbers of bluebirds produced by club members this year, recognize increases or decreases over last year, identify problems that influenced production, and evaluate procedures to increase future production.

Annual Report - 2008

Brice Prairie Conservation Association By Leif L. Marking, Project Manager Production of Eastern Bluebirds in Monitored Houses

Procedures: We have selected the NABS-style house to promote bluebird production because the design is practical, they are easy to construct, maintain, and clean, and bluebirds readily occupy them. These cedar houses are mounted on 7-foot steel T-type fence posts that are covered with a 5 ft. section of PVC pipe (1 ½”) for mammalian predator control. The houses are placed 200 yards or more apart to respect the territorial nature of bluebirds and to encourage maximum production of bluebirds. New houses are built without air vents, and vents are covered on existing houses to reduce mortality of eggs and young during sustained cold spells in early nesting and to prevent black fly mortality during second nesting. Site and habitat selection favors bluebird ecology with large, open, grazed or mowed areas where bluebirds can forage for insects. House Sparrow competition was diminIndividuals ished appreciably by avoiding active farm and livestock feeding operations. House Wren competition was minimized by placing houses at least 200 feet from woods and thickets. Weekly observations were recorded in notebooks of choice, and those results were transferred to spreadsheets for calculations, evaluations, and presentations. These spreadsheets accumulate numbers of eggs, numbers hatched, and count of bluebirds and other songbirds fledged. Finally, the numbers are consolidated for each member’s totals as well as individual and total production rates for all club members and bluebird affiliates.

Introduction: Bluebirds are cavity-nesting songbirds that are unable to create their own nesting cavities. Natural cavity availability declined significantly when non-native House Sparrows and European Starlings were introduced to this country over 150 years ago because they were victorious competitors for nest cavities and vicious predators of bluebird eggs and young. However, bluebird populations have been increasing since the birth of the North American Bluebird Society (NABS) in 1978 followed by many state chapters such as the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW). Our Brice Prairie Conservation Association (BPCA) members have recorded our bluebird production activities since 1992 and reported the numbers to the above organizations annu-

Consolidated Nest Box Summary 2008 Brice Prairie Conservation Association –

Results and Discussion: We monitored 977 bluebird boxes this year, an increase of 61 boxes over the previous year. These boxes produced 4,228 bluebird fledglings, a decrease of 1,171 compared to the previous year. Our bluebird production rate decreased this year to 4.33 fledglings per box, a dramatic decrease of 1.56 bluebirds per box. The cold temperatures in the early first nesting season and the unusual fledgling die off during the second nesting season were perhaps the most important negative factors for our poor bluebird production when compared to the previous year. There were several below freezing periods in April when a number of nests already had eggs in them. Perhaps the eggs under incubation during those freezing episodes were safe, but many other eggs did not hatch primarily due to the

Consolidated Nest Box Summary 2008 Leif Marking Associate Bluebirders

Wisconsin Bluebird


Summer 2009

cold temperatures. There were no extreme heat Bluebird Production in Houses of Different Types cycles during the later nesting and there was no By Members of Brice Prairie Conservation Association known mortality due to heat in our non-vented NABS-style boxes. We also produced 471 Tree Swallows, 223 House Wrens, and 37 Black Capped Chickadees. These cavity nesting species readily occupy the bluebird boxes, especially if they are located on the edge of bluebird territory habitat. We have found that Tree Swallows may dominate boxes placed near the Black River, La Crosse River, smaller streams and ponds, and adjoining wetlands in those areas, so we get some relief for the bluebirds by avoiding those areas. The bluebirds prefer diversified agriculture, mowed, or grazed areas, and if the boxes are properly located and spaced the bluebirds will occupy them before the swallows are capable of nesting. My 12 bluebird associates produced 441 bluebird fledglings, 74 Tree Swallows, five chickadees, and 38 wrens as identified in the second table. These folks are not members of BPCA, but they like bluebirds and our technology for producing them and are willing to monitor and contribute to our efforts. Of course they realize their efforts also benefit the bluebird population so we are thankful. This associBPCA Numbers of Bluebirds Fledged ate concept encourages more people to get involved in serious monitoring and keeping good records. We attribute our success for producing bluebirds to providing a box with a cavity size and shape that appeals to them, selection of ideal habitat for box location, spacing the boxes at least 200 yards, providing predator prevention for every box, moving boxes that fail to attract bluebirds one year, and monitoring weekly to ensure the cavities are available to bluebirds that are searching for a home. House Sparrows interfered with bluebird nesting in limited locations, but wrens again were the most important predator and competitor on our bluebird trails. Our technology for bluebird production is effective, and we feel satisfied and rewarded with the bluebird responses to our efforts and look forward to their return next spring.

BPCA Bluebird Production Rate

BPCA Numbers of Bluebird Houses


Summer 2009

A Time and Place for PVC Bluebird Houses

By Gary Gaard Summary About one fourth of the 150 bluebird houses I monitor are PVC. PVC houses are the safest houses currently available. The well being of adult bluebird and brood is more important for me than the numbers of bluebirds produced.

Introduction Bluebird monitoring for me began in the mid 1990’s. The mode of operation at that time was “build a house, put it up, and the bluebirds will come”. In general, bluebird monitors believed you could design a perfect birdhouse, place it anywhere and the bluebirds would flock to your door. I built houses and put them up, but didn’t fledge many bluebirds. The number of failed nests was really disturbing. Approximately 50% of eggs laid failed to develop into fledged baby bluebirds. Early on I decided there was not a one size fits all bluebird house and there would probably never be the sought after perfect house. Today my philosophy is entirely different. When placing a bluebird house I consider in order of importance: 1) Habitat, including site competition from other cavity nesters. 2). Safety, of both adult bluebirds and their nest 3). Monitoring, meaning repair and cleaning of houses 4) Fledge of bluebirds and other cavity nesters 5). Preference of bluebirds to style of house used. The PVC houses I now have in the field are at sites where bluebirds are not safe in a wooden house. If a House Sparrow tries to nest or kills an adult bluebird in a wooden house, I swap the wooden house for a PVC house. The PVC houses are at sites preferred by bluebirds as bluebirds have already nested there in wooden houses. Safety and the Black Fly In 2000 and 2001 I published articles in Wisconsin Bluebird, results of field experiments with black flies. The recommendation was to eliminate ventilation holes thus preventing Wisconsin Bluebird

black flies from taking blood meals from young and adult bluebirds in the nest box. Since then I have lost, in unvented houses, several broods to the black fly. My current theory is this. The black fly has to locate the source of its blood meal. The fly can detect increasing concentration of Carbon Dioxide, and moves to the source, or higher

Jack Bartholmai

concentration of Carbon Dioxide. The higher concentration of Carbon Dioxide is in the house, and if air moves through the house the fly is able to find its meal and the feeding frenzy begins. If there are two holes in the house, the fly will enter. The entrance hole is always present, and the second hole can be as small as an old nail hole or a sixteenth inch crack where two boards don’t mesh. The K-box is highly susceptible to black fly entry. It takes a very good carpenter to fit the slanted side to sloping roof without a gap. Joints will separate to form cracks as the house gets older. If wood houses are near a black fly river, all open joints, cracks in wood, and knot holes should be caulked. Pine is not a good choice of construction materials because it warps when exposed to weather. PVC houses have only the entrance hole, no seams or knots. Air does not move through the house, therefore the PVC house has excellent black fly protection. More than 95% of black fly 10

attacks are prevented – this is excellent biological control!!

Safety and the House Sparrow Schedule 40 PVC houses with no head room above the entrance are infrequently used as nesting sites by House Sparrows (WI Bluebird 22-4, P10 and WI Bluebird, 24-1, p5). Many of my houses are in areas where House Sparrow population is high. I prefer to prevent House Sparrow nesting rather than having to throw their nests or offspring in the bushes. Not all people with bluebird houses have the time or inclination to toss out sparrow nests or trap adult sparrows, and PVC houses relieve the monitor of this unpleasant duty. If House Sparrows evict a bluebird from a wooden house I replace the wooden house with a PVC house. These houses are in sites the bluebird has predetermined to be a preferred nest site. Most PVCs are now “double nesters” for bluebirds. Most of my PVC houses are at isolated sites so there are no nearby wooden houses for bluebirds to move to. So any data from these houses are skewed positive – conversely data from Aldo Leopold Audubon in Stevens Point (WI Bluebird, 24-1, p5) is skewed negative for these reasons; they placed PVC houses in 1). bluebird predetermined non-preferred bluebird nest sites, 2). the middle of the first round of bluebird nesting season, an open invitation to Tree Swallows seeking a nest site, 3). sites where wooden houses were nearby.

A simple model A 38 year career in research taught me that often the best way to analyze a situation or problem is to work from a model. Establish an ideal situation, and remove all variables. Then, mentally or on paper, you begin asking “What if?” National Audubon says nesting bluebirds require 2-3 acres per breeding pair. Assume four acres of excellent bluebird habitat. Let’s make the four acres our model and begin to ask “What if”? Assume no predators, competition, infertility, equal weather, etc. What if you placed two wooden houses? You should fledge two nests/ house or 16 bluebirds. Summer 2009

What if you placed two PVC houses? You should fledge two nests/house or 16 bluebirds. What if you placed two wooden plus two PVC houses? You should fledge two nests/house or 16 bluebirds. The bluebirds, their preference, will nest in the wooden houses (I proved this in 2000- 2001 in my black fly experiments, Deer Valley Golf Course). The dominant bluebirds will not allow other bluebirds in their territory, so the two PVC houses will be unused by bluebirds. This is where it becomes interesting. You still fledge 16 bluebirds – but if you look only at statistics, the wooden house is perfect; the PVC house produces zero bluebirds. But what happens at the PVC houses? Tree Swallows will nest, and data collected from these PVC houses is false proof that PVC houses produce more Tree Swallows than wooden houses. What if you placed two wooden plus two PVC houses and add nest site competition from both House Sparrows and Tree Swallows? Again bluebirds would nest in the wooden houses, Tree Swallows in the PVC houses. But the bluebirds in the wooden houses wouldn’t be safe from attack, nest site takeover by the aggressive sparrow. PVC, the good and the bad Compared to wood, materials for PVC houses are less expensive so you save a few dollars on each house. But you need more skill, tools, time to build a PVC house. Many monitors do not like to use PVC houses - it just doesn’t seem right to use a plastic bird house. But PVC is OK with the bluebirds, and House Sparrows do not like to nest in PVC houses. My PVC houses don’t ever seem to be used for winter cold or spring storm protection, presumably because of the poor insulation properties of plastic. Conversely, my wooden houses have grass, droppings, and feathers from bird use winter and spring.

A salute to Steve Gilbertson The PVC houses I use are not built to Gilbertson PVC specs. But it was his creativity that first conceived the PVC houses. He also advocates PVC houses for less House Sparrow use.

An Argument for Front-opening Boxes

By Bob Tamm The discussions about what type of nest box is better are endless. We all have our preferences, but the bottom line should always be: what is best for the bluebirds! Good healthy objective arguments often result in a better product for our blues. I only have to cite the Bauldry box and the Hill Lake box as examples. They were, as we all know, popular boxes at one time, but better boxes followed. The same process has allowed us to come up with better mounting systems, better nest box location/habitat, etc. There have always been different ideas about the various options when it comes to nest box doors. Top opening, side opening, or front opening boxes?. Lets eliminate the top-opening box. The disadvantages to that are fairly obvious. But let’s look at the differences between the side opening box vs. the front opening box. Last year, BRAW used cedar side opening boxes which opened from the top. A screw was used to pull the side open. This year, we are still using the side opening box, but they are now made from pine, and they swing open from the bottom. Can we do better? In my opinion, the answer is YES. And this Spring was for me a reminder of why front opening boxes are the way to go, without question. Over at a brand new bluebird trail at Edgewood Golf Course in Big Bend, a few miles from my house, we are expecting a good first year as far as bluebirds are concerned. But, as in many other areas, house sparrows are a very big problem. On Friday, April 24th, thanks to aggressive house sparrows, I found one dead bluebird and one dead tree swallow, plus two almost dead tree swallows, in boxes on the golf course, mainly those closer to the clubhouse and maintenance buildings. At box #15, I actually saw feathers flying – in the cracks of the box – which meant only one thing… a house sparrow was in the process of killing either a bluebird or a tree swallow. I put a plastic bag over the box and opened it. Out flew a house 11

sparrow, which I destroyed, and sitting at the base of the box was another tree swallow. He survived, but only because I happened to be there at the right time. The answer on this golf course was to put in the popular Van Ert traps, which, in my opinion, are the best on the market. And here’s the rub. Have you ever tried to install Van Ert traps, which mount to the front of the box, right Summer 2009

below the entrance, with side opening boxes? It is no easy procedure. My hand fills the cavity almost completely, and you have to use a stubby Phillips screwdriver and do your best to awkwardly turn it to tighten the two screws. And the “new” pine boxes with side opening doors that swing out from the bottom are even harder to maneuver!!! The door in the open position is so far down in the box that it is almost impossible to put in the Van Ert trap. Now multiply this several times, as I set up many boxes with this trap. This was NO fun… After I finally got done with this, I decided it was time to write about the advantages of front opening boxes. For the last twenty years, I have built ONLY front opening boxes. A big reason is the ease with which you can quickly install these traps. But, that’s not the only reason. With a front opening box, you do not need an extra screw on the side of the box, the sole purpose of which is to merely OPEN the box! The other type of side opening box that we are using opens from the bottom. Again, if you want to peer inside a box with the least amount of disturbance, wouldn’t you want to open the box from the top? Opening a box from the bottom means that you have to open the door all the way before you can see inside the box. I heard one argument in favor of the side opening box that went something like this: “ Yeah, but with a front opening box, if there is a bird inside the box, I don’t want it to fly into my face when I open it!” Sorry, folks, but that just doesn’t happen! Why? Because you stand a step to the side while you are opening the box. Besides, the bird inside could also fly at you with a side opening box! Building the front opening boxes is just as easy as building the side opening boxes. Just change the dimensions for the front and sides. The overall cavity size is identical. It is my hope that we can look at these ideas objectively, and if there is merit to them – and I believe there is – then perhaps it is time to move in that direction in the future, Wisconsin Bluebird

Portable Mealworm Feeders

By Mary Roen Have you ever experienced days of cold, wet weather when your Bluebirds were incubating eggs or brooding newly hatched chicks, and you wished you could put up a quick mealworm feeder to help them through the bad weather? This has often happened to me in Western Wisconsin. We have had cold spells in late April or early May that have killed embryos and young chicks from hypothermia, when the parent Bluebirds were out trying to find food in pouring rain, leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to the cold. I have too many boxes to help out all the Bluebirds, but I have made portable mealworm feeders that I can place near nest boxes that are on our property.   All you need is a wooden garden stake that you can find at most garden or hardware stores (mine are 48 inches), any small plastic container, (I often use the small sour cream or flavored cream cheese containers), one wood screw and washer, a rubber mallet, and a screwdriver. I use a cordless electric one.   I poke holes in the bottom of the container, around the edge for drainage (I use a large nail), then one in the center to fasten it to the stake with a screw. You may want to drill the holes, since in some containers, the plastic may crack before being punctured. I pound the stake in to the ground with the rubber mallet to keep from damaging the top of the stake, then screw the container to the top of the stake. These mealworm feeders can be pulled up and moved at any time. I place them near the nest box, but not too close, to avoid attracting other competitors or predators to the nest box. It hasn’t taken my Bluebirds long to find this banquet and they readily eat from the feeder and take the mealworms to their chicks. It makes me feel good to know that in this small way, I may be helping the survival of more of my beloved Bluebirds.

Check out for more information on bluebirds 12

Summer 2009

Point – Counterpoint

To the editor, In the winter 2007 issue of the Wisconsin Bluebird, Kent Hall wrote that fledgling bluebirds need a perch within 100 feet of their nestbox. He also stated that fledgling bluebirds do not have the strength to fly out of deep grass. I would like to add my observations from monitoring nestboxes. Over the years, I have seen dozens of bluebirds fledge and many of them fly at least 200 feet. I have also seen them land in grass when there were perches within 20 feet. We should not be concerned if fledglings land in deep grass unless we have evidence to the contrary. Grasslands birds, including chunky meadowlarks, have always fledged from grass, so agile bluebirds should not have a problem either. Bad weather and lack of nesting cavities are two major limiting factors for bluebird populations. We can’t control weather, but we can put up nest boxes. By putting up ,many nestboxes, we can let the bluebirds decide where they want to nest.

ALAS holds a spring “Bluebird Nest Box Blitz”

In March several volunteers from the Aldo Leopold Audubon Society spent the better part of a day building over 700 NABSstyle nest boxes. The boxes were used for several new trails as part of Operation Top State.

Terry Glanzman Mondovi, WI Terry Glanzman has challenged my suggestion to put boxes within 100’ of a tree to enable fledging chicks a perch site in their “maiden journey”. Few of us have ever seen chicks fledge from boxes. Terry says that he has seen chicks fly from boxes to trees up to 200’ away. I have seen a chick fledge and fly aquarter of a mile away. But I also have seen them struggle to fly only 100’away. It is a fact that once leaving the nest, adults continue to feed and teach fledglings how to feed. I have never seen them feed young in deep grass, but have seen them feed them in trees on many occasions. I have also seen chicks fly into tall grass and never emerge. My suggestion is that we err on the side of caution. Fledging chicks do not have adult flight capability. Adults are known to feed chicks in trees. It is logical to me to have perch trees close to nest boxes to assure that the maiden voyage of chicks have a high chance of success rather than failure. Kent Hall Stevens Point, WI

Marvin Rohm (l) and Gene Krutza donated the wood and cut the next box pieces for the nest box blitz

BRAW president Joe Schultz and vice-president Kent Hall look on as more boxes are added to the growing pile from a hard day’s work. 13

Summer 2009

Plexiglass House Sparrow Reducer

By Gary Gaard Have you ever heard these quotes? “It’s the habitat, not the house”. “I use to have bluebirds, but sparrows took over my bluebird house”. “The best place to observe nature is in your own back yard “. “This is the way we’ve always done it”.

Introduction This article is theory only. It’s the first time I’ve presented anything without personal field testing. But I’m sure it will work, and I invite other monitors to join me in field testing this summer. There is excellent bluebird habitat in Wisconsin that does not have either natural cavities or a bluebird house. One reason, the general public has been taught (by BRAW) that you can’t have bluebirds if you have House Sparrows (sparrows). Imagine the increase in bluebird production if we could fledge bluebirds in these sparrow-infested bluebird habitats. There’s two biological control ways of preventing sparrow nesting in a bluebird house. At least two ways that makes sense to me either statistically, or as a student of nesting behavior in cavity nesters. One way is fewer sparrows nest in PVC houses than wood houses. The other is reduction of sparrow nesting in nest boxes that restrict head room for the sparrow to “weave” its nest. Cubic inches of the nest cavity may

also be significant, but I’ve never experimented with box size and sparrow nesting. Sparrows prefer a large capacity nest box (remember the Hill Lake?), bluebirds a small capacity nest box. The houses I use are smaller capacity than the Peterson, NABS or K-box houses.

Use more habitats BRAW is doing an excellent job “bringing back the bluebird” at conservatories, parks, golf courses, cemeteries…Note that there are approximately 600 golf courses in Wisconsin. Not all golf courses are excellent bluebird habitat, and not all would welcome bluebird houses. But BRAW is doing nothing to develop excellent bluebird habitat sites in the lawns of farms, subdivisions, manufacturing, institutions… There is high sparrow population at these sites. BRAW has recommended no nest boxes in these areas because sparrows will take over the boxes and kill young and adult bluebirds. Note that there are approximately (a six figure number,) excellent bluebird habitat lawns in Wisconsin where you could put bluebird houses. If we can prevent sparrow takeover of the houses, then we can place bluebird houses at high sparrow population sites. More important, more bluebird monitors will work to “bring back the bluebird”.

A wooden house that reduces sparrow nesting In both my wooden (flyGuard) and PVC (Farm) houses I use a sub roof to restrict “weaving room” for the female House Sparrow to build her nest. Some monitors don’t want to use a plastic bluebird house. In WI Bluebird Two features of a Sparrow Resistant wood bluebird box. (22-4, p10, Plexiglass at the bottom of the entrance hole is mounted photo bluebird 1/4 in. above the bottom of the hole. The sub roof is the and sparvisible wood grain at the top of the entrance hole. The sub row talons) I roof is a 2X4 to which the roof is attached. It is ½” below theorized that a the top of the entrance hole. Wisconsin Bluebird


sparrows’ talons couldn’t grip ¼” thick PVC, but bluebird talons could. Would it be possible to incorporate the sparrow eliminating properties of a PVC house into a wooden house? The answer is use a ¼” thick plastic entrance perch for your wooden birdhouse. My plastic of choice was Plexiglass. Originally I was going to use schedule 40 PVC entrance holes, but there was no way I could fasten PVC to wooden bird houses. PVC is also brittle. Plexiglass My experience with Plexiglass is making laboratory instruments; Plexi is also used for signs and displays. You can saw or drill Plexiglass, and it lasts for years out of doors. You can buy it in ¼’ thick sheets (expensive!). I used scraps from the instrumentation lab.

Attaching the Plexiglas See photo for dimensions. The entrance hole is 1-1/2 wide. Two screw holes are drilled and countersunk in the Plexiglass. Attachment is with 1” deck screws. Plight of the male House Sparrow The male sparrow wants to find a mate and raise a family. He finds a nest site, and may have to wait for weeks before a female shows interest. It’s not likely the male sparrow can find a female to move into my bluebird house. The female sparrow will not accept a nest site that doesn’t let her get into the entrance, that doesn’t give her enough space to build a nest. Assume the bluebird house is at a site preferred by bluebirds. The male bluebird will defend his nest site – each time the male sparrow approaches the house he will be attacked by the male bluebird. These attacks aren’t gentle or a bluff – both males may fight to the ground. Broken wings are a possibility. Request of bluebird monitors Build a bluebird house with the two House Sparrow discouraging features described in this article. Select a lawn (short grass prairie) 2+ acre. Place the house where it will receive morning sunshine, preferably on a south east slope near the top of a hill. The house location should be where you see it from a window. Watch for bluebirds and sparrows. Let me know if you fledge bluebirds.

Summer 2009

BRAW Form 21 Revised 1-08

YEAR __________

Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin


The 2007 Annual Nesting Survey eliminated spacing and box type. The BRAW Board still considers spacing (100 yards+) and box type (see below) important, but many monitors told us it was difficult to interpret what data was wanted, so we changed the form and asked for 1st, 2nd & 3rd broods. Unfortunately, this request was also difficult to interpret. So, to assure accurate collection of data in 2008 and beyond, the BRAW Board has changed the form again. This time we are asking for nesting attempts instead of broods. Each bluebird nesting attempt with eggs is recorded sequentially, regardless of whether it/they fledged young. We ask that you provide complete data (including eggs and hatchlings). Otherwise the report will not be included in the BRAW Annual Report. BRAW monitors are expected to collect data from each of the songbirds below and to protect their nests.

Please return this completed form by September 1 to BRAW, Inc., c/o Dr. Kent Hall, 200 Pine Bluff Rd., Stevens Point, WI 54481. Any reports received after Oct. 10 will not be included in the Annual Report. Total Boxes Presented: Name ___________________________________________________ (Sum of used & unused) Address: ________________________________________________ IMPORTANT: Number of boxes with no nests City _______________________State_______Zip_______________

during the current season: Number of boxes with at least one bluebird egg laid in them:

Telephone (_______) - ____________ Email Address: __________________________________________ County where boxes are located? ________________________ Use a separate Survey Summary form for Each County.

Number of boxes in with a House Sparrow Nest:

Species Bluebird Nesting Attempts * First Second Third

Tree Swallow

House Black-capped Wren Chickadee

All Nest Attempts: Number of nests in which at least one egg was laid. Egg Count: Total number of eggs laid for all nests, including those that don’t hatch. Hatchlings: Total number of eggs hatched for all nests. Fledglings: Number of young birds that fledged from all nests. Successful Nest Attempts: Number of nests in which at least one young bird fledged from a nest (Often is less than all nest attempts) * First nesting attempt in all boxes in which at least one bluebird egg is laid (then second nesting attempt then third nesting attempt). Nest attempts without eggs are not to be entered. Note: All five lines of data must be included in the Form 21 report in order for it to be included in the final Annual Report for BRAW.

Many box types are being used by Wisconsin bluebirders. But only the following box types had averages above the 3.5 bluebird fledglings per box for the 2006 season: K-Box, NABS-Style and Peterson.

NABS style



Type of mounting system used: _____ T-shaped fence post ____ U-shaped fence post ____ Conduit/Rebar Do you use predator protection for your mounting system? _____ PVC _____ Aluminum _____ Other _____ None ____ The U.S.F.W.S. guidelines for active nests were followed while monitoring the nests of all songbird species during my/our study. 15 Summer 2009

BRAW management practices that are thought to have improved Eastern Bluebird production on the Audubon and other Bluebird Trails.

Location, Location, Location: 1) Need a territorial forage area of 1-3 acres of predominantly open habitat 2) Ideal sites: short, sparse grass with interspersed trees: cemeteries, golf courses, parks, roadsides, bike trails, RR tracks 3) Boxes should be totally exposed to sunlight from sunrise until noon; thereafter, shading is permissable 4) Perch sites: a) O  ne or more trees (10’+ ideal) right in front or to one side of nest box (most hunting starts on a perch and these trees are vital for use as survival perches when chicks first fledge) b) Fences (barbed, electric, wooden) c) Electrical wires (no more than 30’ high preferred), clothes lines 5) Noisy sites okay (interstates, other roadways, railroads, temporary air shows, church picnics) 6) Roadways with limited traffic can be ideal nest box sites and adults and young chicks are rarely killed by traffic.

Relocation: 1) Change the nest box position if there has been no bluebird nesting attempt in a season OR 2) Change by the end of the following April (75-90% of nest boxes have been occupied by bluebirds by then); if no nesting has occurred by the end of April your 2nd nesting season, it is sign that your site is unappealing to bluebirds. But moving them to better nest sites still gives you a 50:50 chance of occupancy for the season.

Box Style/Dimensions: 1) In ‘the wild”, bluebirds prefer to occupy old woodpecker holes that are not usually very large 2) Shallow, narrow boxes work best: a) 4-5” below the bottom of the hole as maximum depth b) 4 x 4”, 4 x 5” nesting platform (inside dimensions) 3) No vents or keep vents closed until June 1 to prevent windchill from killing eggs and/or chicks 4) Oval hole small enough to keep out starlings & cowbirds 5) Don’t use predator guards on box fronts (too thick for bluebirds) or perches on boxes (used by predator birds such as sparrows & kestrels). Instead, use a predator guard on your mounting post or make the mounting post your predator guard (3/4” electrical conduit preferred).

Spacing: 1) S  pace no closer than 100-200 yards (1-3 acre territories); encourages Tree Swallow occupation if boxes are placed closer than this 2) Pairing reduces bluebird and increases swallow production/box

Nest, Egg & Chick Removal for bluebirds, chickadees, Tree Swallows (1,2,3) and House Wrens (4): Procedures approved by USFWS in Dec., 2006 1) P  artial or complete nests w/o eggs: 1st week; 2nd ,3rd ,4th weeks, no change, then remove; restart week count if more building occurs; if wet, remove, replace with dry, coarse grass or pine needles (white pine preferred) 2)Eggs, full clutch in week 1; if do not hatch in 2nd ,3rd or 4th week, place back of fingers on eggs; if cold to touch, remove nest and eggs 3) C  hicks starving/lethargic: foster into nests with chicks of similar age, + or - 2 days [place with slightly younger, if possible]: 85% reared by adoptive parents in a 4-year study by the Aldo Leopold Audubon Society in central WI 4) H  ouse Wrens only: The first week leave partial or complete nests in tact. If still no egg nest cup the 2nd week destroy dummy nest. Repeat if necessary. If egg cup or eggs are found in the 2nd week allow natural cycle to continue.

Predator Guard on Mounting Pole/Post: 1) D  o not put boxes on wooden fence or electrical posts. The cheapest and most convenient mounting system uses 3/4” electrical conduit. Cut 10’ conduit to 6’-8” lengths. Flatten 4” at end and bury 18” of conduit. To the remaining 5’ conduit attach two 3/4” clamps and screw to box. Two 3/4” pieces can be joined with a coupler to make a 6’-8” post. 2) H  ouse Sparrow predation: No nest box has proven to be sparrow proof (PVC/K-boxes work for some monitors)

Direction of Opening: 1) Keep away from prevailing westerly winds (cools boxes) 2) Use the same direction for all boxes 3) C  ornell University has determined that directing the opening of a nest box to the northeast, east or southeast improves the fledging rate of Eastern Bluebirds in northern latitudes. Apparently, boxes pointed in that direction, heat up more quickly in the mornings in cold weather but do not collect as much heat from a southern exposure in summer. BRAW Form 21 Wisconsin Bluebird

Revised 1-09

16 Summer 2009

School and Youth Outreach Report

box design, identifying other cavity nesting birds and other related topics is shown to the students. I also stress the importance of monitoring. In 2008, I presented sessions to over 500 students. Think of the large number of future blue birders Wisconsin will have. Many of you may have already worked with schools or youth groups to provide the leadership or “coaching” to get them started with a similar project. One of the challenges is how to make contacts with teachers and group leaders that are willing to begin a bluebird trail with their young people. We would like your help. If you as a BRA W member thinks that your local school may have an interest encourage them to visit the BRA W website. They can contact me for more information and I will be happy to send them an Information Packet. Thank you. Lowell Peterson 1860 45th St Somerset, WI 54025 (715) 247-3243

Cheer-up Cheerful Charlie!

father agreed to replace 10 old boxes and poles with 10 new ones. This was not an easy task. Anyone who has ever tried to dig a hole in rocky ground will attest to that. He donated 10 more boxes for us to use when others needed to be replaced. Two of those boxes were later installed by another volunteer. Thus twelve new boxes were ready for the bluebirds to use in the following spring. All twelve of the boxes Alex built were used during the spring and summer of 2008. In fact some of them were used for multiple nestings or by a different species after the first birds fledged. A total of 13 nesting attempts were made by bluebirds, 9 by tree swallows and 5 by house wrens. From those nesting attempts, 34 bluebird eggs, 20 tree swallow eggs and 12 house wren eggs were laid. That makes a grand total of 66 eggs all together. All three species of birds that used the boxes are helpful, native, migratory birds. Habitat loss, pollution and invasive species have lead to their decline over the past quarter century. Through nest box building projects like Alex’s these species may ultimately make a come back.

By Lowell Peterson In the winter 2000 issue of Wisconsin Bluebird, Carol McDaniel wrote about initiating bluebird trails as a project for students at local schools. A committee, co-chaired by Mary Holleback and Lowell Peterson, was established within BRA W, to assist schools and youth groups with creating and monitoring nest box trails. Since that time, numerous elementary schools have started nest box trails ranging in size from a few to several nest boxes. Girl scouts, boy scouts, 4-H groups have also worked at starting trails. Several Eagle scouts have earned awards by working with blue bird projects. (see Mary’s article) My role has been to provide Information Packets to interested teachers or leaders. If desired, a slide show presentation covering blue bird habitat, predators, nest

Birders who have a keen ear for bird songs sometimes imagine that bluebirds are saying “Cheer-up Cheerful Charlie.” But if you listen carefully to the bluebirds at Riveredge Nature Center you might hear them say “Thank You Alex.” Rightfully so since Eagle Scout, Alex Dubinski, recently provided them with 20 new NABS bluebird houses. In the spring of2007, Alex inquired if Riveredge had any special projects that we needed help with. Restoration of our bluebird trail was one of our top priorities. Boxes on the trail were in bad need of repair so Alex volunteered to build us twenty new boxes. To accomplish this he contacted a local cabinet maker who generously donated the wood. Then he did some fundraising to purchase the necessary hardware to assemble and mount the boxes. That fall Alex returned to the Center with 20 expertly crafted boxes made out of IPE wood. The wood is so durable that it will never rot. With winter fast approaching, Alex and his


Bluebirds, swallows and wrens all play an important role in controlling insect pests. All of us can thank them for doing their part to feed on the healthy crop of mosquitoes we’ve have every summer. I was recently informed that Alex received the William T. Hornaday Award because of his exceptional work on the Riveredge bluebird trail. The Hornaday Award is the highest award a boy can earn in scouting. It can only be earned with a project that has significant conservation impact on the environment. Alex’s mother, Cindy, told me that “he is the first recipient in 5 years in Wisconsin to receive this award. Only 1,100 awards have been handed out in the past 80 years.” Once again I would like to thank Alex for the wonderful job he did on the new nest boxes for our bluebird trail. 1’d also like to invite anyone who would like to see Alex’s project to come to Riveredge anytime for a tour. Submitted by Mary Holleback, BRA W Washington County Coordinator & Adult Programs Coordinator at Riveredge Nature Center, Newburg, WI. Summer 2009

Wisconsin Bluebird Subscription and BRAW, Inc. Membership

Yes! I would like to renew my membership with the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin, Inc. and receive its newsletter Wisconsin Bluebird. Enclosed is my check/money order (do not send cash) made out to BRAW, Inc. for the following: Subscription/Membership contribution: [ ] $15 individual [ ] $25 Family Annual [ ] $300 Life Membership [ ] $100 Corporate Annual

[ ] $  15 to nest box construction with post & predator guard [ ] $100 for nest box trail [ ] $_______for educational research (Master’s thesis) [ ] In addition to my membership contribution, I wish to contribute: $___________ (Contributions to BRAW are tax deductible)

Print clearly

Check appropriate boxes: [ ] This is a renewal. [ ] This is a new subscription [ ] This is a GIFT subscription. Enclosed please find my check $ _____________

Name: _______________________________________ Address: _____________________________________ City: ________________________________________ State: ____________________Zip Code: ___________

Mail this membership/subscription request to: BRAW, Inc. c/o Sue Schultz 5221 Cheryl’s Dr. Plover, WI 54467

Email Address: ________________________________ Telephone: (

) ______________________________

County of residence: __________________________

Please note: This form appears in this newsletter as a convenience for all who wish to obtain membership. Membership renewals are due as of January 1 each year. The BRAW, Inc. bylaws stipulate that the winter issue (December issue) of Wisconsin Bluebird newsletter of the new year will be the last issue sent if your membership is not renewed before the Spring issue is printed.

Appointed Officers and Committee Chairpersons:

2009 BRAW Elected & Appointed Officers President Joe Schultz, 5221 Cheryl’s Dr., Plover, WI 54467 • 715/341-5521 (term to 12/09) Vice President Dr. Kent Hall, 200 Pine Bluff Rd., Stevens Point, WI 54481 • 715/344-8081 (term to 12/09) Secretary Patricia Heiden, W399 S5484 Hwy Z, Dousman, WI 53118 • 262/495-8595 (term to 12/10) Treasurer, Mike Helgren, 1013 Georgetown Circle, Beaver Dam, WI 53916 • 920-885-4050 (term to 12/09) Director Fred Craig, 807 Judith Ct. Holmen, WI 54636 • 608/5262221 (term to 12/09) Director Terry Glanzman, W6750 Hemlock Rd., Mondovi, WI 54755 • (715) 875-4771 (term to 12/10) Sherman Griffin, retired Director, Sue Hall, 200 Pine Bluff Rd., Stevens Point, WI 54481 • 715/344-8081, (term to 12/09) Director Ellen Lafouge, 9154 N. Fielding Rd.., Bayside, WI 53127 • 414/352-6697; (term to 12/10) Director Leif Marking, W7917 Co. Hwy. ZB, Onalaska, WI 54650 • 608/781-0323 • (term to 12/09) Director Patrick Ready, 1210 Oakwood Ct., Stoughton, WI 53589 • 608/873-1703 • (term to 12/09) Director Claire Romanak, 7175 Nehrbass Rd.; Athens, WI 54411; 715-257-1905; (Term to 12/10): Director, Jerry Schoen, 682 Foxglove Lane, Whitewater, WI 53190 • 262-473-7189 • (term to 12/10) Director, Toni Wanserski, 7315 Hwy. 66, Custer, WI 54423 • (term to 12/10)

Wisconsin Bluebird


Data Collection and Analysis: Dr. Kent D. Hall, Coordinator, 200 Pine Bluff Rd., Stevens Point 54481 • 715/344-8081 kentsue@; Data Analysis: Dr. Peter Dunn, Associate Professor, Dept. of Biology, UW-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee 53201 • 414/229-2253; County Coordinator Chair: Joe Schultz (see above) Funding: Mike Helgren (see above) WI Bluebird Editor: Patrick Ready, (see above) Membership: Sue Schultz, 5221 Cheryl’s Dr., Plover, WI 54467 • 715/341-5521 • Nest Box Designs: Leif Marking, (see above) Public Relations: Ellen Lafouge, (see above) Student and Youth Outreach Committee: Co-Chairpersons: Lowell Peterson, 1860 45th St., Somerset, WI 54025 • 715/247-3243; and, Mary Holleback, 720 Madison St., West Bend, WI 53095-4136 • 262/335-9843 Ornithological Consultants (Volunteers) Dr. Peter Dunn, Biology Dept., UM-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 • 414/229-2253 and Dr. Linda Whittingham, Biology Dept., UM-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 • 414/2292252 BRAW Liaisons: Bur. Of Endangered Res. Liaison: Sumner Matteson, DNR, 101 S. Webster St. PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53701 • 608-266-1571 WSO Liaison: William P. Mueller, 1242 S. 45 St. Milwaukee, WI 53214 • (414) 643-7279 •

Spring 2009

MAS Award . . . continued from page 3

tion that these sound management practices work. To accomplish this national goal, he travels the state putting in nest box trails. To date, he has personally put up over 3,000 nest boxes, statewide. In preparation for the 2009 nesting season, he has traveled over 16,500 miles, worked in 25 counties and put up over 1,000 nest boxes. The Aldo Leopold Audubon Society (ALAS) Trail is also coordinated by Dr. Hall. Now starting its 8th season, this trail has produced 14,000 bluebirds and 4,000 other songbirds (Tree Swallows, chickadees & wrens) in that time. In 2008, the ALAS trail produced 4,324 bluebirds, the most productive trail in WI. For the 2009 Season, the ALAS trail will have 54 monitors and 1,100 nest boxes. For information about participating in this project, contact Dr. Hall at: (715) 344-8081 or .


Photos of bluebirds, eggs, nestlings, fledglings, anything bluebird! for the 2010 Bluebird Calendar produced by BRAW. Send JPG files to readyworks@ or mail JPG/disk to: BRAW Editor Oct. 1 1210 Oakwood Ct. deadline! Stoughton, WI 53589

Bluebirds feeding fledged cowbird chick. Photo by Jack Bartholmai

Cowbirds . . . continued from page 5

cowbird returned and discovered her chick missing and removed one of the bluebird chicks in retaliation? The 2 bluebird chicks did eventually fledge from that nest. But a strange thing happened at another nest box 100 yards away. It had 4 healthy bluebird chicks in it and one of them disappeared at about the 7 day old stage. This wasn’t a nest box predated by cowbirds but was in the general area of the park where the other box was. Did the cowbird retaliate on this nest for no reason? A lot of questions were coming up and answers were nowhere to be found. I recall reading an article in a birding magazine a few years back that researchers from Southern Illinois and Florida universities studied cowbirds and their predation on Yellow Warblers. The researchers found that when they removed the cowbird egg from a host nest the hen cowbird was

more likely to return and retaliate against the host species by destroying their eggs or killing their chicks. This is another reason why I didn’t remove the squatter’s eggs from the 2 nest in my experiences. Many bluebirders may want to treat cowbirds the same as house sparrows, an alien invasive species bent on harming bluebirds and other cavity nesters. We must remember though that cowbirds are “native” birds and won’t completely disrupt the nesting cycle of cavity nesters, as I discovered from my experience. There’s probably a good chance that cowbirds won’t return and retaliate against the host birds and their young but cavity nesters have to learn to deal with this unusual species on their own without human interference. I wish all of you happy trails and a wonderful bluebirding season in 2009, hopefully one free of cowbirds.

Wisconsin Bluebird Volume 24, Number 1 Summer 2009 Published by the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin, Inc. Editor, Designer, Photographer Patrick Ready, 1210 Oakwood Ct., Stoughton, WI 53589 608-873-1703 • Wisconsin Bluebird is published quarterly by the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin, Inc. (BRAW) 1210 Oakwood Ct., Stoughton, WI 53589. Subscription price is included in membership dues. Subscriptions, renewals and address changes should be sent to Sue Schultz, 5221 Cheryl’s Dr., Plover, WI 54467. Issues are dated Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Deadlines for submissions to the editor are due the 15th of January, April, July, and October. Except for material with a copyright notice, permission to reproduce material printed in Wisconsin Bluebird newsletter is granted providing credit is given to Wisconsin Bluebird newsletter as the publisher and to the author(s) or photographer(s) whose bylines and photo credits appear with the story or photographs.


The mission and purpose of the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin, Inc. is to monitor and increase the production of Eastern Bluebirds and other native cavity nesters through a coordinated statewide nest box construction and monitoring program.

Spring 2009

BRAW Board of Directors: Seated: Sue Hall, Patricia Heiden, Joe Schultz, Claire Romanak, Toni Wanserski, Standing: Patrick Ready, Jerry Schoen, Leif Marking, Terry Glanzman, Mike Helgren, Kent Hall, Fred Craig, Ellen Lafouge

Have you ever wondered what goes on at a BRAW board meeting? Discussions on nest box designs, improving mounting methods, trail development/improvements and bluebirds of course! After the meeting there might be an exchange of nest boxes destined to various parts of the state. The boxes were made as part of Operation Top State, directed by Kent Hall,

Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin Sue Schultz, Membership Chair 5221 Cheryl’s Dr., Plover, WI 54467


BRAW Annual Convention set for Sept. 19 at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Visitor Center, LaFarge, WI see page 2 Wisconsin Bluebird


Spring 2009


Wisconsin Bluebirds, Magazine, Summer 2009