Press-Republican

April 5, 2014

Early bluebird experience captures nature lover for life

By CHRIS FASOLINO Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — His love of bluebirds began as a boy, when his father helped him make his first nest box. 

Now, John Rogers is visiting Plattsburgh to share his expert knowledge of these colorful creatures.

He still remembers the family of bluebirds that came to live in that first nest box when he was 10 years old or so. 

“The beauty of the bluebirds captured my fascination as a youngster.”

Over the years, Rogers has maintained a trail of bluebird nest boxes near his home in central New York. He has “fledged” more than 13,000 bluebirds, monitoring them from the time they hatch to the time they leave the nest. 

Rogers is also a co-founder of the New York State Bluebird Society.

PREDATOR BAFFLE

At times, his work has led to some surprising experiences. 

“I once opened a nest box and had a flying squirrel jump out and hit me in the shoulder,” he said. “I can still remember that.” 

To avoid such surprises, Rogers said, do not place nest boxes too close to wooded areas. The ideal habitat for bluebirds is open to semi-open rural country, with short vegetation like mown lawn. 

“A good-size lawn with a scattering of trees, away from dense woods” is the kind of environment where bluebirds thrive, he said.

It is also important to place the nest boxes on metal poles. Putting them on trees might seem easy to do, but it also makes it easy for predators, like cats and raccoons, to get at the nests.

For further protection, Rogers recommends putting a “predator baffle” on the metal pole. 

A baffle is made with a 2-inch length of 9-inch stovepipe, connected lengthwise to the pole. 

‘NO TOUCHING’

Once a family of bluebirds occupies a nest box, Rogers suggests checking on them once a week — “quickly and quietly, with no touching.” 

Avoid cold early mornings, as the female is likely sitting on the eggs then.

Such discreet monitoring will not cause the bluebirds to abandon the nests, as some people fear. 

This also allows people to take a quick peek at the blue eggs, and, finally, the baby birds. It’s one of the rewards of setting up nest boxes and can be inspiring for children, Rogers said.

“They can look in a nest box and see the babies, and it opens their mind to nature,” he said. “Kids these days are always looking at a computer terminal — they don’t get out in nature.” 

NEST BOXES HELP

In addition, setting up nest boxes is a way that people can genuinely help bluebirds. Bluebirds nest in the holes of dead trees, and there is now a shortage of such sites. 

Rogers calls this an environmental problem that “amateurs can do something about.”

He noted: “You can’t do a lot for some species in decline, but you certainly can help bluebirds, just by putting up nest boxes.”

Rogers will give a presentation about bluebirds and bluebird nest boxes on Sunday, April 6, in Clinton Community College’s Stafford Theater. 

It’s a talk that he has presented more than 500 times, all over the East Coast and as far afield as Nebraska.

BUTTERFLIES

Rogers’s presentation uses images and sounds to describe the lives of bluebirds. A few wildflowers and butterflies are thrown in for good measure — for example, a butterfly known as the mourning cloak (also called the grand surprise and the Camberwell beauty), which is a harbinger of spring.

Unlike many butterflies, mourning cloaks hibernate as adults and awaken in the spring. Thus, the sight of their brown wings, marked by purple-blue iridescent spots, is a sign that spring is here.

And when spring is here, bluebirds will be nesting once again.

IF YOU GO WHAT: "All About Bluebirds -- And More," by John Rogers, a presentation hosted by the New York State Bluebird Society. WHERE: Clinton Community College's Stafford Theater, Plattsburgh. WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 6. COST: Free. Refreshments available. Nest boxes and mounting poles available for purchase at special rates.