On the Nest Box Trail

COURTESY PHOTO |  Young explorers check out a bluebird box.

Young explorers check out a bluebird box.

No cavities! That’s great news when you come out of your dentist’s office! But sometimes cavities are a good thing. In fact, sometimes there are not enough of them. Learn when — and why — from Mashomack Preserve’s Dr. Bill Zitek on May 16 at 7 p.m. at Friday Night Dialogues at the Library.

Cavities, he will explain, are necessary nest sites for birds that have adapted to them. And satisfactory ones are hard to come by when old or storm-damaged trees, which offer some of the best nesting sites, are found unsightly and cut down.

Dr. Zitek will discuss loss of habitat — one of the greatest challenges to many species today — and how the cooperative efforts of thousands of individuals have met that challenge and are restoring a species on the brink of extinction.

Bird numbers in general have been dropping every year. Many Islanders have noticed that birds seen routinely in our meadows years ago have disappeared. The eastern bluebird was one of these. Many people under the age of 40 have never even seen one. But that’s changing. In recent years, the Nest Box Project at Mashomack has helped markedly increase the bluebird population on the East End, contributing to the dramatic rise in the bluebird population throughout the U.S. at a rate of almost seven percent a year.

Dr. Zitek will be at the library to tell the story of this program — a tale of local volunteers who have built artificial cavities called nest boxes and set them out in trails. It is one of the most impressive success stories about restoring a species nearing extinction.

Dr. Zitek is a veterinarian who owned the North Fork Animal Hospital in Southold for 32 years and now is mostly retired. In 2001 he began volunteering at Mashomack Preserve, part of the Nature Conservancy. At that time he assumed leadership of the Eastern Bluebird Conservation Program and nest box trail, which today has 52 nest boxes that are monitored in weekly rotation by 23 volunteers. Bill has been a trustee of Mashomack Preserve for 11 years and serves as its Science and Wildlife Committee chairman. He lives on Shelter Island with his wife, Mariel.

The Friday Night Dialogues series, held in the Community Room on the library’s lower level is free with donations greatly appreciated.

Coming up: June 13, “Fast Frets, Slow Foods” with Islanders and chef-educators Tom Hashagen and Lisa Shaw; and on June 20, “Two Sisters” novelist Mary Hogan with an introduction by TV’s Bill Persky.