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Bluebirds nest at twp. hall thanks to Eagle Scout

An adult male bluebird brings a nice, juicy insect back to his nest at the Oxford Township Hall (300 Dunlap Rd.). There, hungry baby birds wait for their papa to feed them. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
June 20, 2012 - A family of bluebirds has taken up residence at the Oxford Township Hall thanks to the hard work of Eagle Scout Alex McDonald.

Township Supervisor Bill Dunn was pleased to report the bluebird family is living in one of the six nest boxes that McDonald, who's a member of Oxford Boy Scout Troop 366, constructed and placed around the government offices in October of last year.

"It's just neat," he said. "You can see them flying back and forth, collecting bugs and feeding them to their young inside the box."

McDonald, who will begin his senior year at Oxford High School this fall, built the boxes as his project to attain the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. He built a total of 12 nest boxes, which included another six at Seymour Lake Township Park.

Two or three of the park's boxes are also being used by bluebirds, he noted.

"I'm pretty proud," McDonald said. "I thought it would take a little while before they actually moved in, but they moved in quite quickly."

Camouflaged in a tent-type hunting blind set up less than 10 feet away from the nest box, this reporter was able to hear the peeping of the baby birds while photographs were being snapped of the male and female adult bluebirds returning with insects harvested from the township's grounds.

Back in the 1700s, bluebirds were plentiful in North America and their population expanded as settlers converted wild areas into open farmland, which provided an ideal habitat for feeding and nesting purposes, according to the Michigan Bluebird Society's website www.michiganbluebirds.org.

It's believed the bluebird population continued to expand until the late 1800s when two non-native bird species were introduced to the United States – the House Sparrow and European Starling.

"These two aggressive and invasive species quickly spread and out-competed bluebirds for natural nesting sites," according to www.michiganbluebirds.org. "In addition, as urban areas expanded in the 1900s and pesticides started to be used in agriculture in increasing amounts, bluebird numbers declined more quickly."

However, over the last 15 years bluebird numbers have shown healthy improvement in many North American areas as people dedicated to preserving them have built nest boxes for them.

All bluebirds are classified as cavity nesting birds, which means their natural choice for nesting in the wild is a hollowed-out cavity in a tree. Natural tree cavities are scarce these days for several reasons including extreme development, landscaping methods that remove dead or dying trees, and competition from House Sparrows and European Starlings.

Bluebirds cannot create their own nesting cavities. They have to rely on natural decay or woodpeckers to create cavities for them.

Human-built nest boxes provide a good alternative. McDonald's boxes were placed in areas consistent with the bluebird habitat. They like fairly open habitats consisting of large, short grassy areas. Bluebirds usually require 1-2 acres of open territory around their nesting site in order to find enough food to raise their young.

Bluebirds prefer to eat soft-bodied insects, so they must be able to see their food on or near the ground.

Their typical feeding pattern is to perch on a utility line or exposed tree limb, watch the ground, then dart down to catch their prey.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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