Friday, August 14, 2009

Here's How We Do It

This is the second year of the Bluebird Trail here at the garden and we’ve been in the saddle, so to speak, since the beginning of the project. We aren’t sure how we were selected to monitor the birds’ activities, but it must have been because we talk “birds” a lot. At any rate, it just sort of evolved and we consider it a privilege, as well as a pleasure, to keep tabs on the Eastern Bluebirds which we do one morning each week from mid-March until mid-September.

So what exactly do we do? We start out by taking a golf cart to the beginning of the trail and then we start knocking on doors (nestboxes). Knocking is supposed to alert the female that we’re going to open the box. If there’s one in there, she usually flies out but we’ve found that sometimes she stays on the nest and gives us “the eye.” In fact, in several cases the bird has been so obstinate that we’ve returned to the particular box later, after she has left, to check on what was happening in there.

We check each box for evidence of nesting such as a partial nest, a complete nest, or no interest in that box at all. If it’s a complete nest, we carefully peek in to see if there are eggs and if so, how many are in the nestcup that week. If there are chicks in the nest, we count heads (often wide-open mouths) and compare them to the number of eggs we had recorded. If the chicks have been in the nest into the second week, we know it’s about time for them to fledge so we’re very careful when opening the box and peeking in. We don’t want them to fly before their time.

All of this information is recorded on a checksheet which we developed. We have a sheet for each box, and the sheet shows four (sometimes five) weeks of data that we’ve collected for the month. Often we have to refer to the prior month’s sheet to see what had been happening in a box. There’s a section for additional comments and our notes in this column often are more helpful than just the numbers.

So we make the rounds checking boxes and doing some other birding along the way. We keep lists of all the birds we see during the couple of hours we spend on the trail. That information will be useful someday, also, and folks always want to know what we’ve seen. Ours is a great assignment!

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