Bluebirds on nesting houseTime flew by for the Lake Monticello Wildlife Committee since setting up bluebird houses around the Lake. It has been two years since they proposed and implemented a plan to bring back bluebirds by setting up nesting areas.

Spring begins on March 20, and this is the time bluebirds start building their nests. Jim Haney, a volunteer with the wildlife committee who monitors the birdhouses, said, “When you see activity around the birdhouses, start monitoring. They begin building nests by the end of March.”

Haney was specific about the different types of nests that are distinguishable from bluebird nests.

“Bluebirds use pine needles and they are neat, and wrens will use moss. Chickadees’ nests are messy. They use moss, sticks and other things. But they are not as bad as the sparrows – they literally use garbage,” he said. Haney has seen plastic and other unnatural things in sparrow nests. They are considered the recycling birds, since everything and anything goes into the building of their nests.

Co-chair of the wildlife committee, John Day, is excited about the return of the bluebirds and the committee’s upcoming program at the end of the month.

“Bluebird populations had declined at an alarming rate since the 1930’s,” he said. “Since then there has been a dedicated effort to save them from elimination. Lake Monticello has joined in that effort.” Competition and loss of habitats for cavity nesting caused the decline, he said.

“In 1934 the first Bluebird Nesting Box Trail was established in Illinois,” Day said. “That idea spread throughout the country and has helped the bluebird population increase significantly. For example, the Audubon Society’s Christmas bird count from 1980-2004 showed a three-fold increase in the Eastern Bluebird population.”

Doug Rogers is a board member and grant coordinator for the new and refurbished trails for the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS), the former editor of VBS’s newsletter, the president of the Monticello Bird Club, and a member of the Virginia Society of Ornithology.  He will be returning this month to talk about the history and formation of national bluebird societies, the current threats facing bluebirds, their lifecycle, mating and fledging the young.

Like Haney, he has monitored bluebird boxes for nine years and established a bluebird trail on private land on Pantops a few years ago. Volunteers like Haney and Rogers are dedicated to restoring the habitats and encourage others who are interested to do the same. The efforts of groups like the VBS have helped considerably in increasing the bluebird population in the state of Virginia.

“With encouragement from the VBS, all golf courses in the Northern Virginia Park System are working to become certified under the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System,” said Day. “In that spirit, our committee has been coordinating with the VBS and the Lake Monticello Golf Course. The golf course leadership has been kind in permitting us to place VBS-approved bluebird houses along our golf course.”

There are 26 bluebird houses at the Lake and more are being approved for the future. Haney added that there are 35 at Pleasant Grove and is impressed with the work of the master naturalists and Fluvanna County Parks and Recreation.
“We had 90 bluebird eggs laid last year with a 75 percent hatch rate, resulting in 79 fledglings,” said Haney.

For those interested in learning more about supporting the bluebird population and creating a backyard habitat or volunteering to monitor, there will be a program on March 26 at 3 p.m. at the Lake Monticello clubhouse in Terrace Room B.
Haney will join Rogers and will describe how he sets up the houses on the golf course and monitors them. Clark Walter will talk about how he builds the houses and why the design is essential for the survival of the bluebirds.