Driftless Prairies: Native Habitat Restoration

Nature inspires awe!

Eastern Bluebird Trail

Bluebird on NestThe comeback of the eastern bluebird in Wisconsin is truly an American conservation success story. The bluebird has long been a symbol for happiness, good health, and hope in America. Native Americans included them in their artwork and hung hallowed gourds around their refuse piles and meat cutting areas to attract bluebirds, which would eat the pesky bugs attracted to these areas. Early American farmers built and hung nest boxes for Bluebirds to help control insects harmful to their crops. In modern times the bluebird was featured in Disney’s song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” and in “Somewhere over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz.

But despite all this popularity, bluebird populations fell drastically from 1920 – 1970, so much so that some thought they might become extinct. The decline was due to loss of habitat, pesticide use, weather changes, and snag (dead tree) removal, but the main problem was the introduction of European starlings and house sparrows that outcompeted bluebirds for nesting sites.  The June 1979 Breeding Bird Survey by the United States Geological Survey observed only 22 bluebirds in the entire state of Wisconsin, and by the mid 1980s it was estimated their populations had declined by 90%.  Groups such as the North American Bluebird Society, Lafayette County Bluebird Society (LCBS) and Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW) were formed in the 1970s and 80s to combat this problem; they created bluebird trails and conducted nest box campaigns to provide more nesting opportunities for the bluebirds.  These efforts included the introduction of nest boxes designed especially for bluebirds that have smaller entrance holes to keep out the larger European starling. These boxes include the Peterson style box, North American Bluebird Society (NABS) box, and the Simple Box, which is the official box of LCBS.

The Driftless Prairies’ Bluebird Trail consists of 26 nest boxes utilizing all three box designs with 6 boxes in our prairies and 20 boxes along our county road, as the boxes need to be about 100 yards apart. These boxes are monitored weekly from April to September with a weekly report sent to LCBS and year-end report sent to BRAW. Our data is included with hundreds of other volunteer reports growing the Wisconsin data base to over 20,000 bluebirds being fledged and monitored each year, which is shared with NAB.

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box Data

Year # of Boxes Eggs Laid Eggs Hatched BB Fledged Fledglings per Box
2008 8 23 19 12 1.5
2009 12 39 33 31 2.6
2010 16 86 65 42 2.6
2011 24 122 92 86 3.6
2012* 26 169 125 114 4.4
2013 26 139 118 87 3.3
2014 26 145 123 103 4.0
2015 26 133 117 103 4.0
Total 164 856 692 578 3.5

*2012 was an early warm spring.