PROTIVIN-- Jim and Margaret Hruska enjoy the thrill of seeing brightly colored bluebirds from spring to early fall in Northeast Iowa. And Jim has worked hard for years so that many more people get the opportunity.
“I started building bluebird nesting boxes because they need help. Many people haven’t known the joy of seeing bluebirds a few decades ago in rural communities. I’m concerned about the lack of fence rows and wood lots that these cavity nesters need,” explained Jim about the loss of habitat, and competition for nesting sites from starlings and house sparrows.
After a few attempts to make the perfect bluebird nesting box using the complicated Patterson style, Jim went to a program at Lake Meyer Nature Center by Conservationist Larry Reis to learn more about the fascinating, beautiful bluebirds and building the perfect nesting box.
“I learned a lot of useful information talking to Larry,” said Jim. As a matter of fact, he had a hundred nesting boxes that he built and put up between Protivin and Spillville. He would check them often during the nesting season and record his findings. He would number his boxes and then record how many eggs were laid, and how many babies hatched. Later years, he was down to sixty-eight boxes, and now, he is down to thirty-seven nesting sites on his bluebird trail. When the brood fledges (leaves the nest), he makes sure to clean out the nest because the mother will otherwise build on top for the next brood and Jim says this is unsafe because the leftover nest could get infected with ants, lice, or disease and kill the new babies.
After further research on the design of the nesting box, Jim now knows that bluebirds prefer a box with a slot entrance to the standard circular entrance and those pesky house sparrows have a strong preference for the circular entrance. He uses a slot entrance box with a standard depth of about five inches from the entrance to the floor, which is more likely to attract bluebirds than house sparrows. The shallower the box, the less attractive it is to house sparrows, so where there is a sparrow problem, you might want the boxes to be built with a slot entrance and no deeper than five inches. If you have a sparrow take a nest, remove the nest (it is legal to do so) and place a piece of wood on the floor of the box to make it more shallow.
Jim explains about where to put your nesting box, “Location is very important. They need a place to perch and watch the nest, put the box facing northeast to keep away from strong winds and rain. They also help the farmers by eating corn insects. You might want to stay away from putting nesting boxes close to water, or you may end up with tree swallows instead.”
Even though the bluebird population had at one time significantly decreased, the future is promising for them because of people like the Hruska’s. We thank them for their years of service helping our habitat so the bluebird populations can once again thrive in our beautiful northeast Iowa, giving more people a chance to see this brilliant colored bird of happiness.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.