Make bluebirds happy: Volunteer at Mashomack

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO Both male and female bluebirds on a marked nestbox. The labeled boxes allow the birds to be easily monitored.

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | Both male and female bluebirds on a marked nestbox. The labeled boxes allow the birds to be easily monitored.

As another nesting season for eastern bluebirds approaches at Mashomack Preserve, it was a real treat to see Beverlea Walz’s wonderful photo of bluebirds bathing and drinking at her heated watering hole in the midst of this stormy winter (“Bev’s bluebirds of happiness,” January 29). Besides providing inspiring testimony to the many folks who feed and supply water for birds in the winter, this photo has another story to tell.

A careful look shows that one of the birds has a small yellow band on its right leg. That band reveals that this is a young bluebird, fledged last summer, from the Preserve’s Nestbox Trail. It was one of 54 bluebird nestlings that were banded at 11 to 12 days of age, just before they flew out of their nestbox. The bird also has a metal numbered band on its left leg, which can definitively identify it. The band is provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of its national program. The numbers from the band on each bird are recorded and submitted. If a bird is found in another state, by comparing the numbers on the band with the records, we can tell how old it is, where it came from and when — a good way of tracking bird movement.

By placing a colored band on each nestling’s right leg, we are able to tell at a glance what year that bird was fledged: red band, 2013, yellow, 2014. For 2015, we will use a green band. In this way birds can be identified by sight as they move into other areas, like Ms. Walz’s yard.

Her photo also shows house sparrows, the deadliest enemy of the nesting bluebird. They are an invasive species, which anyone who puts up a nesting box for birds of any species needs to protect against.

Volunteers have helped make this project a success. Four hundred and eighty-two bluebirds have been fledged at Mashomack, along with 1,157 tree swallows over 14 years. Beginning in 2014, purple martins were inhabiting the Preserve’s purple martin house.

This past season, many volunteers participated in this worthy bird conservation program. Each volunteer has the opportunity to examine the nestboxes weekly and has the thrill of seeing those first bluebird eggs turn into successfully fledged birds. Not only do they see the birds grow, but they get to see some of the Preserve’s beautiful natural areas — and you can, too, by becoming a nestbox volunteer.

Join us on Thursday, March 26 at the Visitor Center at 5:30 p.m. for a program about the natural history of bluebirds, tree swallows and purple martins. Learn how a nestbox trail is monitored — and why we avoid house sparrows. Reserve a spot by calling 749-1001. The program is free.

This is a great chance to participate in a project that gives back to our natural world as it brings more bluebirds back to Eastern Long Island.

DR. BILL ZITEK

Lead volunteer, Mashomack Nestbox Project

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