|A Western bluebird checks out a nesting box. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Here's my latest column, scheduled to run in Saturday's Orange County Register:
Though it’s too early for Western bluebirds to be nesting, they’ve been recently seen going in and out of area nesting boxes.
“During the winter they seem to periodically check out the nesting box they’ve used in the past,” said Bill Wallace, president of the Southern California Bluebird Club. “And in cold weather, they will roost in them.”
Therefore, it’s important to keep the nest boxes up all year, he said.
Bluebirds generally begin nesting in early to mid-March, though they’ve been known to begin as early as late February, he said. They typically have two broods, or nests with chicks, but if they start early enough they can have three.
Western bluebirds are easy to recognize. Males have brilliant deep blue plumage on the head, neck, wings and tail with a rusty red belly that can extend to the shoulders and back. Females are less colorful with a grey throat and belly with blue tinges in the wings and tail.
These birds are year-round residents in Orange County. They’re typically found in parks, cemeteries, golf courses and greenbelts with large grassy areas where they forage for insects. Berries including juniper, elderberry, mistletoe, raspberries and blackberries are also an important part of their diet. These birds are very social, so it’s not unusual to see them in flocks at backyard birdbaths or at feeders offering mealworms.
Audubon California recently named the Western bluebird as bird of the year for 2015 and designated the species as climate threatened, as it is predicted to lose about 60 percent of its winter range by 2080.
Declines in Western Bluebird populations have prompted conservation groups such as the Southern California Bluebird Club to provide nest boxes as a way to increase local numbers. A nest box mimics their original nesting habitat. Bluebirds are cavity nesters, which means they build their nests inside an enclosed area such as a hole in a tree. But since there are limited natural cavities, such as woodpecker holes, bluebirds have adapted to the nest boxes. And they’re not the only bird species that appreciate a safe and functional home to raise their young. Other species that nest in these boxes including wrens, nuthatches and tree swallows.
“While bluebirds have adapted well to the boxes, it’s an artificial population,” Wallace said. “The real solution is to maintain natural nesting spots. And that means saving dead and dying trees.”
A cavity conservation initiative has grown from the local bluebird organization to address this issue with arborists, landscapers and officials from city and county parks.
The local bluebird club needs nest box monitors for the upcoming nesting season. Those interested can attend the next meeting at 9 a.m. Feb. 6 at the Irvine Ranch Water District, 15500 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine, or go to socalbluebirds.org.