Bluebirds at Utica Golf Club

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By Dave Misterek, Bluebird Trail Monitor.

My wife, Christine, and I are glad to report on another year of successful bluebird monitoring at Utica Golf Course.  For those of you who are not familiar with this effort, a brief background summary is in order.  This bluebird trail is sponsored by Winnebago Audubon Society and the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW).  It is composed of a total of 37 bluebird houses, a majority of which were installed at Utica Golf Club several years ago with the approval of the golf club owner, Greg Johnson.  I wish to express my sincere thanks and appreciation for the support that is given by Greg and his staff in providing a safe environment for the bluebird houses at this location.  We have found Utica Golf Club to be a great option to attract bluebirds and other native cavity nesting song birds who depend on bird houses for safe nesting sites.  Without the assistance of native bird enthusiasts who install and monitor bluebird houses on appropriate habitat, these beautiful birds would be dependent on natural tree cavities for nest sites.  Unfortunately, natural cavities are declining due to changing land uses and competition from aggressive non-native birds such as starlings and house sparrows (English sparrows).  The semi-open grass habitat found at golf courses provides ample volumes of insect larva and insects for food and is a good example of that preferred by bluebirds.

Our bluebird trail is composed of 32 bird houses at Utica Golf Club, 3 additional ones located in my yard and 2 more at my daughter Jennifer and her husband, Mark’s property.  Following guidelines of BRAW, we monitor and record the nesting activity of bluebirds and other song birds weekly and send the monitoring report to BRAW at the end of the nesting season.  This bluebird trail may also be called a bluebird/tree swallow trail because of the large number of tree swallows that are found in eastern Wisconsin and the favorable bird house nest sites provided for them on our trail.  The competition between bluebirds and tree swallows for nest sites is a friendly one as the two species do not harm one another and are both beautiful song birds that are important members of our environment.  This year we have continued with the experiment of placing bluebird houses in pairs 20 feet apart to see if bluebirds and tree swallows will nest close to each other.  If they do, it may increase the total production of both species.  In our continuing experiment we have installed 8 pairs of bluebird houses and found that a majority of each pair of houses did produce successful bluebird and tree swallow nests at the same time.  Evidently, the bluebird pairs will potentially accept the presence of tree swallows in their nest territory even though they do not allow other bluebirds to nest within their territory.  Next year, we intend to continue our experiment with paired bird houses to further explore this alternative.       

This year we again monitored the trail weekly and enjoyed watching and recording the nesting success of these wonderful song birds.  Even though the nesting season is now ended, the bluebirds are still very evident on the golf course as they continue their fall migration to southern states to spend the winter.  We have kept records of the nesting activity and can happily report that the total results of the song bird nesting on this trail this year includes the production of 47 young bluebirds, and 133 young tree swallows.  The bluebird success was significantly reduced this year similar to last year even though we cannot blame the reduction on a large spring snow storm as we saw last spring.  In my opinion, the decrease in bluebird nesting this year may have been impacted by the decreased bluebird production last year or the earlier arrival of tree swallows as compared to that of bluebirds.  We are always glad to see the continued success of tree swallow nesting even though we place our emphasis on bluebirds.  Tree swallows are beautiful native birds that have a tremendous positive impact by helping to keep a natural control on nuisance insect species such as mosquitos. 

We reported this successful production to BRAW.  They in turn accumulate this data from other bluebird monitors state wide and are able to announce at a later date a total production for the entire state.  As a result, Wisconsin is always among the top producers of bluebirds in the U.S.  

With predator guards installed on the bird house posts we are able to reduce most raccoon and other mammal predation.  This year we noted almost no loss of bird eggs or young due to these predators.  We do have a few houses that were initially occupied by house sparrows that are present at nearby farms.  These non-native birds are a main avian predator of bluebirds and are known to kill adult and young bluebirds and tree swallows on their nests.  Fortunately, we are able to control these predators by placing birdhouses far from farm buildings and through the use of VanErt sparrow traps placed in bird houses at any sign of house sparrow nesting.  Another main avian predator of bluebirds is the starling.  This non-native bird is always controlled through the use of the bluebird house entrance hole that is designed to be too small for starlings but the right size for bluebirds and tree swallows.   

As a side note to those of you who may be interested in placing one or more bluebird houses in your back yard or other appropriate habitat, we strongly encourage you to do so to promote bluebirds and other cavity nesting native song birds.  I advise you to follow guidelines provided by BRAW at www.braw.org   This guidance includes bird house plans, bird house placement guidance and monitoring recommendations.  Please also consider joining BRAW to receive additional guidance in promoting this important song bird.  So, for now, so long and good luck in your bluebird monitoring experience and we hope to report to you again next year.    

To learn more about Winnebago Audubon, visit www.winaudubon.org, or like on Facebook.

Written by Dave Misterek, Bluebird Trail Monitor. Submitted by Janet Wissink, Winnebago Audubon.

Photo caption: A pair of Eastern Bluebirds bring nesting material to their nest box. Photo courtesy of Patrick Ready.

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Janet Wissink

Janet Wissink is currently president of Winnebago Audubon, chair of Oshkosh Bird Fest planning committee, and co-coordinator of Project SOAR (Snowy Owl Airport Rescue). She loves bird watching, prairies and exploring the natural world.

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