Two courageous groups of high school students braved the cold December weather to learn how to maintain and monitor the bluebird boxes on the park’s Cottonwood Trail. Mr. Jim Kenney and two of his advanced placement Environmental Science classes from Skyline High School in Front Royal, have volunteered to take on the task of adopting the boxes along this trail.
There are ten nesting boxes located on this loop, which need to be cleaned out and prepared for spring. The students walked the trail to see the location of the boxes, as well as to evaluate which need repair and renumbering. Once spring migration begins, the students will keep a record of what species inhabit the boxes and monitor the number of eggs and hatchlings.
The installation of bluebird boxes has been instrumental in increasing declining populations over recent years. Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, which means that they rely on finding ready-made nesting cavities, since they cannot create their own. Birds such as woodpeckers are primary cavity nesters, because they are able to use their becks to peck wood and make their own nesting sites. Bluebirds, on the other hand, have to rely on finding hollowed-out dead and rotting trees, fence posts or cavities made by other birds such as woodpeckers. Opportunities to use these sources have been reduced for several reasons. Old wooden fence posts are often replaced with modernized metal posts and many land owners now remove dead trees from their property, which decreases the number of suitable habitats. Additionally, like other wildlife, the bluebird suffers habitat loss caused by deforestation and the construction of new buildings and expanding suburbs.
Other major threats to bluebirds are the House Sparrow and European Starling, which are non-native to this area. These birds will aggressively attack and take over bluebird nesting sites, often killing the birds and their eggs. One of the tasks that the students will undertake during spring monitoring will be to remove the nests of either of these two species, if found in the boxes. This will increase the student’s knowledge of the types of nests built by different birds, as well as the types of eggs laid by each species.
This project is just one of the projects that Mr. Kenney’s classes will take on here in 2011. The students arealso interested in the ‘Adopt-a-Trail’ program and will come out to the park to pick up trash and maintain a particular trail. They plan to come out to do water testing and macroinvertebrate, frog and salamander counts. Additionally, many of the students expressed an interest in helping to present programs to younger classes, whovisitVirginia State Parks website.