A few weeks ago we saw eastern bluebirds along a pasture fence line where mules were grazing in northern Florida. Male bluebirds are elegant small birds with a royal blue back and rusty red chest. Females have tinges of blue on the tail and wings on gray plumage. We were also snowbirds down in Florida enjoying the relatively warm weather this winter. Bluebirds go there to survive. Their winter range is in the southeastern tier of states from Kentucky south and down into Mexico. They live on insects and small fruit so there’s not much here for them in winter and they have to migrate south. Last weekend the first returning bluebirds visited us east of River Falls. The males fly north to stake out and defend nesting sites. They are adapted to nesting in tree cavities on the border of open areas where there are plenty of insects for the young birds. Bluebirds have suffered major loss of habitat due to development, highways, agriculture and deforestation. The invasive species European starling and house sparrow have competed with blue birds for natural nesting cavities. Although bluebird populations decreased in the early twentieth century, since 1966 people placing out nest boxes have helped to increase the bluebird population to over 22 million. A bluebird trail is a series of nest boxes along a route where it is relatively easy to monitor and maintain the nest boxes. Bluebird nest boxes placed about 500 feet apart along the border of perennial grassland or open cover attract nesting pairs. Sighting some early returning bluebirds last weekend led to us building a few replacement Peterson-style nest boxes. Our ten or so older boxes have deteriorated over time due to weather and gnawing squirrels. When squirrels chew out the entrance holes, I screw on a new block of wood with a 1?-inch by 2¼-inch vertical oval hole. By the time the squirrels chew out the replacement entrance hole, it’s time for a new nest box. In an hour last weekend, we built three new Peterson-style bluebird boxes out of scrap wood following a fairly simple design from the North American Bluebird Society (www.nabluebirdsociety.org/nestboxes/peterson.htm). We used rot-resistant red cedar lids that should repel ants and other insects. We mount the boxes on steel poles or fence stakes to limit raccoon predation. Our bluebird boxes have had quite a few bluebird renters over the years. It’s a treat to see bluebirds roosting on the boxes on the edge of our garden, where along with the swallows, dragonflies and bats, they are part of the homeland security insect patrol. Some of the boxes along our planted prairie up on the hill are occupied by tree swallows, but tree swallows are also elegant small insect-eating birds with an iridescent blue back and white front. Providing housing for bluebirds is a hands-on project that wood-workers and bird watchers of all ages can enjoy. If you want to build and set out some boxes, do it soon so the returning bluebirds can find a home. Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at rfjsports@rivertowns.net. --Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist

A few weeks ago we saw eastern bluebirds along a pasture fence line where mules were grazing in northern Florida. Male bluebirds are elegant small birds with a royal blue back and rusty red chest. Females have tinges of blue on the tail and wings on gray plumage.We were also snowbirds down in Florida enjoying the relatively warm weather this winter. Bluebirds go there to survive. Their winter range is in the southeastern tier of states from Kentucky south and down into Mexico. They live on insects and small fruit so there’s not much here for them in winter and they have to migrate south.Last weekend the first returning bluebirds visited us east of River Falls. The males fly north to stake out and defend nesting sites. They are adapted to nesting in tree cavities on the border of open areas where there are plenty of insects for the young birds.Bluebirds have suffered major loss of habitat due to development, highways, agriculture and deforestation. The invasive species European starling and house sparrow have competed with blue birds for natural nesting cavities.Although bluebird populations decreased in the early twentieth century, since 1966 people placing out nest boxes have helped to increase the bluebird population to over 22 million. A bluebird trail is a series of nest boxes along a route where it is relatively easy to monitor and maintain the nest boxes. Bluebird nest boxes placed about 500 feet apart along the border of perennial grassland or open cover attract nesting pairs.Sighting some early returning bluebirds last weekend led to us building a few replacement Peterson-style nest boxes. Our ten or so older boxes have deteriorated over time due to weather and gnawing squirrels. When squirrels chew out the entrance holes, I screw on a new block of wood with a 1?-inch by 2¼-inch vertical oval hole. By the time the squirrels chew out the replacement entrance hole, it’s time for a new nest box.In an hour last weekend, we built three new Peterson-style bluebird boxes out of scrap wood following a fairly simple design from the North American Bluebird Society (www.nabluebirdsociety.org/nestboxes/peterson.htm). We used rot-resistant red cedar lids that should repel ants and other insects. We mount the boxes on steel poles or fence stakes to limit raccoon predation.Our bluebird boxes have had quite a few bluebird renters over the years. It’s a treat to see bluebirds roosting on the boxes on the edge of our garden, where along with the swallows, dragonflies and bats, they are part of the homeland security insect patrol. Some of the boxes along our planted prairie up on the hill are occupied by tree swallows, but tree swallows are also elegant small insect-eating birds with an iridescent blue back and white front.Providing housing for bluebirds is a hands-on project that wood-workers and bird watchers of all ages can enjoy. If you want to build and set out some boxes, do it soon so the returning bluebirds can find a home.Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at rfjsports@rivertowns.net.--Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist

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