by Barbara Walvoord
At Lathrop, we build houses not only for humans, but also for bluebirds. Karen Clark took this picture of bluebird babies in her bluebird house on Mulberry Lane on the east campus.
Bluebirds once were as common as robins, but they declined, as development destroyed the hollow trees in which they nest, pesticides poisoned the bugs they like to eat, and alien house sparrows drove them out of their nests.
But in recent years, scientists say, the increase in bluebird houses has helped to raise bluebird numbers–one little way in which humans can help combat species extinction.
The competition with house sparrows has been played out on our own Lathrop land. Nancy and Herb Steeper have had bluebird houses behind their house on Huckleberry lane for a number of years, always with bluebirds. But for the past couple of years, bluebirds would arrive, look over the houses, put down a deposit, plan to move in, and then the house sparrows would come and drive them out. House sparrows not only break eggs and kill chicks, but they also kill adult bluebirds, sometimes decapitating them in the nest box and building their own sparrow nest on top of the corpse.
In Karen’s successful nest are two babies. Usually the mom lays 3-7 eggs, so either she only laid two this time, or some of the eggs or babies were eaten by a raccoon, starling, mouse, rat, squirrel, or cat.
Ordinary folks can help gather scientific data. In 2013, a “nest-watch” volunteer photographed a clutch of 3 ordinary-sized eggs and one larger egg in a nest. Couple of days later, there were five babies in the nest–the first ever documented bluebird twins! http://blog.allaboutbirds.org/2014/03/25/first-ever-bluebird-twins-found-via-project-nestwatch-plus-more-opportunities-to-discover/
Karen’s little ones will soon fledge, but Dad will continue to feed them for a couple of weeks, while Mom starts another nest, and then maybe even a third.
Mom and Dad have to catch hundreds of bugs–more than 80% of these babies’ diets is insects, which provide the needed protein. Native plants support many times more insect life than alien plants do. Pesticides can kill insects or make them into little poison balls. So as we nourish our native plants and reduce our pesticides, we also nourish our bluebirds. Lathrop’s human homes meet our needs as seniors. Lathrop’s bluebird homes provide what these beautiful, hard-working parents need to raise their young.