The Bluebird Trail Program : Cubscouts in Conservation!

Over the past several years area Cub Scout Packs in the Delmarva Council BSA have been involved in a partnership with the Delmarva Ornithological Society (DOS) and several Delaware state agencies. This partnership, referred to as “Cub Scouts in Conservation”, provides young Scouts a hands-on experience in the creation and/or maintenance of bluebird box trails on state property.

Overview

Once a year during the winter, DOS members are invited to visit area Cub Scout Packs and teach young Scouts the plight of the Eastern Bluebird. We explain how they can participate in conservation activities for the benefit of this species. With DOS-supplied materials in the form of a Bluebird Box Kit, many Cubs construct bluebird boxes for later placement on trails. Still others scouts join DOS Members in the field and walk an established bluebird box trail. Scouts learn to open boxes, perform basic maintenance and gain an understanding of the bluebird’s nesting requirements. During this same time, older Webelos Scouts often replace damaged boxes or place new boxes if a trail is expanded. In addition to the hands on field experience, these boys and their parents learn to work a Bluebird Trail. This project also meets specific advancement requirements for Cub Scouts working on badges and awards in the Scouting program.
In these efforts over 75 boxes have been placed in bluebird trails at 7 locations. The cleanout days have been well attended with groups ranging for 15 to 75 in a group. We have had the chance to work with a diverse group of kids from suburb to inner city Cub Scouts. Each fall the Packs enthusiastically place this program on their calendars.

Bluebird Boxes in the Field (maintained boxes in 2006)

Lums Pond State Park (DNREC, Parks & Rec)
Camping side 10 boxes
Headquarters side 10 boxes
Dog run 6 boxes

St Georges Bridge (DELDOT)
(South side exit ramp) 6 boxes

Ft. Dupont State Park (DNREC, Park & Rec)
Grassdale side 13 boxes
Historic side 2 boxes

Delaware Turnpike SR 1 (DELDOT)
Mitigation stump marsh 6 boxes

Cedar Swamp WA (DNREC, Fish & Wildlife)
Lookout Tower road 7 boxes
Collins Beach road 7 boxes

St Jones Research Reserve (DNREC, Soil & Water)
Education Center 2 boxes

Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge
Bluebird box trail 10 boxes

Participating Area Cub Packs
Pack 97 Wilmington Pack 72 New Castle
Pack 3 Middletown Pack 351 Townsend
Pack 125 Middletown Pack 269 New Castle
Pack 47 Wilmington Pack 414 New Castle
Pack 39 Middletown Pack 506 Wilmington
Pack 123 St Georges

Observations

Location and timing

  1. The primary species we find using the nest boxes are Tree Swallow and Eastern Bluebirds. House Wren and Carolina Chickadee usage is much less due to box placements in open fields. The presence of House Sparrows has been very rare.
  2. In general, Tree Swallows tend to occupy boxes at locations closer to the Delaware River.
  3. Carolina Chickadees (early nesters) frequent boxes near shaded wood lines.
  4. House Wrens (later arrivals) tend to occupy nest boxes closer to a wood line and often build over other species’ nests.
  5. We often see House Wren nests built on top of Bluebird or Tree Swallow nests.
  6. Mice appear to frequent the same boxes year after year.
  7. With those nest boxes that are located back-to-back on the same pole, we often find dead adult birds inside when the boxes are cleaned out. These boxes were placed by other individuals, not DOS/Cub Scouts.
  8. The use of wax crayons on the nest box ceilings during construction has considerably reduced the presence of paper wasp nests at cleanout time.
  9. Over time, if open fields along bluebird trails are not mowed or maintained, nest boxes must be moved, as the presence of bluebirds in the boxes will decline.
  10. Red cedar nest boxes far outlast pine or plywood boxes.

Working with youth

  1. Cub Scouts like being involved in opening boxes and cleaning out old nest material.
  2. Scouts have no problems working with 5’ high boxes (6’ steel fence poles).
  3. Youth clean-out days should not exceed 2 hours. Beyond that time window, the kids lose interest and become bored with the clean-out operation.
  4. New box placements are ideal for older Webelo Scouts (9-10 years) who do well with hand tools.

For more information, please contact John Janowski or Bruce Lantz.