Bluebird Monitoring in Maryland: Resources for Beginning Monitors
A female eastern bluebird guards her nest. Credit Bonnie Simpers.
This week is going to the birds, literally. Sunday marks the beginning of the Accokeek Foundation’s Bluebird Monitoring season as the faithful Bluebird Monitor volunteers return to repair and prepare the trail of 20+ boxes on the Ken Otis Bluebird Trail. After Sunday, these volunteers will be performing weekly nestbox checks until August to ensure Piscataway Park has a thriving native cavity nester population, and to help collect nesting habit data.
In preparation for the kick-off, I’ve been doing some research. A lot of research. And there’s something I’ve discovered in the process. People LOVE bluebirds. People love bluebirds so much, that a lot of people want to write about them and the virtues of monitoring a bluebird box. In looking for some information about best practices of monitoring, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of literature, articles, websites, groups, books, and packets that exist on the subject. You could read about bluebird monitoring until you were blue in the face, and that’s just the first website you looked at.
So I’ve compiled a list. Below are websites and books about monitoring a bluebird nest, and the resources on those sites that are most helpful in-the-field. These resources have excellent information about what to pack in your monitor bag, how to deal with pests and predators, how to identify different nests, how to estimate the age of nestlings, how to collect data, how to build boxes and predator guards, and much, much more. So without further ado…
Virginia Bluebird Society
But we’re monitoring in Maryland? I know, but I can’t help that I love the resources provided by the Virginia Bluebird Society. Their website is easy to use and navigate, and has information or links to just about everything you could possibly need. I found most helpful their “Nestbox Monitor Protocol“–which clearly lays out the expectations of a bluebird monitor, and the links they provided to excellent photos of hatchling development and nest identifications. I was particularly happy to find the latter two after searching countless websites for something concise with clear pictures that I could take out on the trail with me. I also recommend their data collection sheets for keeping track of the number of eggs, hatchlings, fledglings, etc–we’ve been using them for years and prefer them for their simplicity.
BluebirdConservation.com is another website that has just about everything you could possibly want to know about monitoring a bluebird box. I recommend their article, “How to Monitor a Bluebird Box or Trail,” for a straight-to-the-point and informational guide for beginning monitors. It covers pre-season prep, predators, and other best practices, and has a really comprehensive list of what to pack in your monitor kit or have handy when monitoring a backyard box.
The NABS Fact Sheets
NABS, or the North American Bluebird Society, is a must-visit site for anyone interested in monitoring. Their fact sheets on nest boxes, monitoring, and predator control are clear, accessible, and contain a lot of pictures–something that is super helpful when “out in the field.” I plan to share the fact sheet “Monitoring Bluebird Nestboxes” with the volunteers to help them identify nests and eggs by species–all of the usual tenants of our boxes are covered in it: Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow, Chickadee, and Tufted Titmouse.
Another all-encompassing bluebird website, Sialis is impressively complete, and kept pretty up-to-date (something I find not all bluebirding groups are good at doing). If you’re having a problem with your bluebird box and you need to troubleshoot, this website most likely has information about it. I recommend their “Predator/Problem Identification and Solutions” page for a chart on how to deal with everything from a wet nest to bears (oh my!).
Nestwatch.org is a website run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where you can register the nests you are watching and report your data directly to the ornithologists and scientists that need it most. You have to read the Nest Watch Code of Conduct and take a short quiz before you begin to enter your data, but it’s definitely worth it. Once you have entered the information you’ve collected for your nest site, Nest Watch can generate reports for you based on your data. I also recommend their “Nest Monitoring Manual” if you’re interested in monitoring any type of native birds, not just bluebirds, and their “Features of a Good Birdhouse” infographic for making sure you choose or build the best house for your cavity nesters.
Maryland Bluebird Society
If you want to see events and connect to other bluebird monitors in the state, check out the Maryland Bluebird Society’s Facebook page. They post fairly regularly and provide information about local monitor trainings, box-building workshops, and wildlife rescue organizations.
The Bluebird Monitor’s Guide to Bluebirds and Other Small Cavity-Nesters” by Cynthia Berger, Keith Kridler, and Jack Griggs helpful in preparing for this season. They reached out to monitors all over the country to get insider tips from the people who know best.
And if all else fails? Contact us! I’d be happy to connect with local bluebird monitors to share tips and experiences, failures and successes. We’re all in this together, right?