BUBBA SPEAKS #1  Jan 29, 2015    Welcome:

    As we enter a new year, I wish everyone good health and a bluebird year.  I would like to thank outgoing President Frank Budney for his leadership since our inception in 2011.  We are a small organization and Frank’s efforts significantly moved our organization forward.  Considering we started as 4 individuals we have come a long way.  I also extend my thanks to Nels Anderson and Ann Campbell for their efforts establishing our website.  Nels tackled developing a website and with Ann’s help made great strides.  We hope to improve on their efforts, making our website as informative as possible.

    I appreciate that Shelly Cucugliello and John Layton are continuing as officers, Shelly as Secretary and John as Treasurer.  We need their continued support and input as we strive to promote our mission.  I am pleased that Jim Newquist was elected Vice President.  Jim has a unique and different approach to stewardship.  Look to him for innovative ways to promote the NJBBS and instill an interest in bluebirds.  Newly elected to the Board of Directors were Glenn Roth (Jim’s sidekick) and Gary Pilling.  Glenn and Jim already work well together in Morris County, establishing new trails, educating the public and soliciting funding for the NJBBS.  I am most excited about welcoming Gary Pilling as our new webmaster.  I have known Gary for many years thru our local bike club, the South Jersey Wheelmen, where he is webmaster.  He and wife Mary have a strong interest in birds and we’ll be fortunate they are concentrating on bluebirds.

    While we have accomplished much since 2011, look for ways to improve.  I encourage all members to focus on ways to benefit bluebirds.  In reality, that is where our future lies.  Look for ways to erect bluebird boxes, start a bluebird trail (with a monitor), educate the public, or bring in new members. Our organization is only as good as our members.  New members bring in new ideas.  Do not be afraid to contact me to share your thoughts.  I am open to new ideas and believe together we can solve problems.  

    A main goal will be to increase our membership, ultimately with members representing all counties and a coordinator for each county.  While the bulk of our members may be from south Jersey, bluebird habitat is located throughout New Jersey and positive impacts to bluebird are only limited by member’s efforts to promote such.  Take advantage of our 3-year membership as well as NABS special membership offer extended to us as an affiliate chapter.  You get a quality periodical devoted to bluebirds.  I am a huge advocate of proper management and do not rely on what I learned yesterday.  There is always something new to learn.  I try to compliment what I learn in the field with information from memberships in other affiliate chapters.

    Please be patient as we restructure our website.  We plan to introduce informative and useful ways to manage bluebirds.  We have many talented individuals in our society.  Not surprisingly, bluebirds are managed differently throughout NJ.  As the habitat changes so do the problems.  Be open to the various problems bluebird landlords have to deal with.

    I will try to communicate by email as well as on our website.  Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or need assistance.

Allen Jackson, President New Jersey Bluebird Society     aljaxn@aol.com or 609  805-4073

Design&Webmaster: Gary Pilling,   Design Program: Serif WebPlus x6,   Host: iPage

BUBBA SPEAKS #3  Apr 1, 2015     ANSWERS:

    I telephoned Dan Sparks recently for some questions I had.  Dan is on the NABS Board of Directors and answers the phone if you call NABS.  He has most of the answers and can direct you elsewhere if he doesn’t know.

    While checking boxes for the upcoming nesting season, about 30 dead bluebirds have been reported.  Most all of the dead were males (over 90%) which seems strange.  Dan thought this was just a coincidence but will continue to investigate.  He has been receiving reports from other regions of birds dying from not being able to feed sufficiently because of the harsh winter in February and March.  Bluebirds become dehydrated and are not able to maintain body temperature, making the cold temperatures more difficult to deal with.

    Leaving boxes up during the winter does encourage bluebirds to use the boxes to roost in but does not deter them from migrating south.  In New Jersey, some of our bluebirds migrate and some overwinter.  Those that decide to overwinter take their chances with severe winter conditions.  Last year and again this winter, the bluebirds have taken a beating because of the harsh conditions.

    We also discussed the use of roosting boxes, a box with little ventilation used by bluebirds in the winter to get out of the severe weather.  Dan suggested building a smaller box with no ventilation other than the 1 1/2” entrance hole located in the middle of the front of the box.  The box should be about the size of a NABS style box, have a side opening door for cleaning, but should not have drainage or ventilation holes, and should not have dowels inside the box (some designs depict dowels for the birds to perch).  After the winter seasons is over, take the roost box down or plug the entrance hole.

    Some female bluebirds instinctively build another nest after the last young fledge towards the end of the August.  I have been asked if this nest should be removed.  You can leave the nest in thru the winter season and into the nesting season if the material is still clean in the spring.

    As I write this (April 1) bluebirds are just beginning to build nests.  While production will probably be down this season, enough bluebirds will survived the winter.  Expect less nests during the first nesting cycle and possibly less fertility in the eggs, ultimately resulting in less young fledging.  However, mother nature has a way to make sure enough birds survive.  During a warm season, the bluebirds will bounce back and produce more than normal.

    We also have a branding iron “NJBBS BOX PROGRAM”  which can be burned onto a wooden box to promote our organization.  Contact Allen Jackson (aljaxn@aol.com) if you have the desire to use it.  You would need a propane torch to heat the iron sufficiently to brand the insignia onto the wood.

Bubba Speaks #2   Mar 20, 2015    EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED:

    Now is the time to check your boxes, making sure they clean, repaired and ready to go for the nesting season (it may also be a good time to relocate boxes that are not productive).  During the winter a small percentage of boxes will be used by bluebirds to roost in, leaving their droppings behind.  A simple cleaning with a scraper to remove the old droppings will improve conditions in the box for nesting.

    Some of our bluebirds overwinter, some migrate.  This past winter has been colder and more severe than usual.  Colder than normal weather on the overwintering grounds result in significantly more stress the birds have to deal with.  It has been documented that reproduction is suppressed in the spring, meaning the bluebirds will probably skip their first nesting cycle until they are healthy enough to breed.  Last year we saw less nests in April and May followed by a very noticeable increase beginning in early June for the second nesting cycle.  However, we still saw less eggs being laid, less eggs hatching and less young fledging.  The success of our nesting season is directly related to the health of the bird and climatic conditions that influence their health.  2014 saw less young fledging even though we had more boxes erected for our bluebirds.  Expect more of the same in 2015.  There obviously is more involved with the success or failure of our bluebirds but weather plays a significant role in population dynamics.

    To date, I have only checked some of the boxes in southern NJ but have already documented 14 dead bluebirds, most being males.  It is not uncommon to find dead birds this time of the year but expect to find more following severe winters.  Please keep track of the number of dead birds you find, look for any banded birds and report your findings to either your county coordinator or myself (aljaxn@aol.com).

BUBBA SPEAKS #4   June 8,  2015     THE IMPORTANCE OF COUNTY COORDINATORS:

    How much the NJBBS benefits bluebirds can be directly related to the involvement of our members within their respective areas.  Identifying County Coordinators who are interested in helping bluebirds may produce significant results by simply increasing the lines of communications and knowing what can be accomplished or who to contact.

    A County Coordinator is basically a person who knows the area, can answer questions, and  provide technical assistance as appropriate.  Conducting on sites is necessary to understand and make sound recommendations.  Many times that personal involvement pays bigger dividends further down the road.


What does a County Coordinator do?  Responsibilities are self fulfilling and can include:

* providing technical assistance by simply answering questions

* working with others to identify and establish bluebird trails

* properly locating a bluebird box in someone’s back yard

* promote building boxes that meet design standards

* showing someone how to monitor a trail

* speaking to organizations interested in bluebirds

* summarizing bluebird production in their counties

* determine that training sessions may be needed


    NJBBS is pleased to announce we have 3 new County Coordinators: Dave Gilcrest (Gloucester County), Gail Fisher (Cape May County) and Dr. Laura Stone (Ocean County).

    Dave lives in Richwood and has had bluebirds and purple martins in his back yard for many years.  He has added more boxes near his residence and is now assisting others in his area.  The Gloucester County Nature Club had a vendors table at the eagle festival in Mauricetown in February.  They were aware of numerous sites that either needed improvements or were good locations for bluebird boxes.  Dave met some of them at Alcyon Park in Pitman in April and put up 4 boxes.  Adding boxes at Chestnut Branch Park soon followed and the potential at other sites are being investigated.

    Gail has been an outspoken advocate of both purple martins and bluebirds for a number of years.  Her activities with her garden club and contact with local residents have paid dividends in her area.  Besides finding people who are interested in having a bluebird trail, she also identifies people in other areas who have great habitat for bluebirds.  One such family is the Clemenson Farm Native Nursery in Estell Manor, Atlantic County.  We hope to complement their production of native berry producing plants as a commercial company to provide berry producing shrubs for bluebirds.

    Dr. Laura Stone lives in Jackson and has had a bluebird trial for many years.  Her experience and knowledge of landowners and trail monitors will significantly help us expand into an area that offers great bluebird habitat.  Her knowledge of the area and personal contacts has already identified a centrally located place to meet at the Forest Resource Education Center (FREC) in Jackson.  She maintains a bluebird trail there and we were able to set up another bluebird trail at Patriots Park, not far away.  Laura is an outspoken advocate on bluebirds and gives frequent talks to interested groups.

Bubba Speaks #5    July 22, 2015    GLOUCESTER COUNTY COORDINATION - AN OVERVIEW:

    I would like to share our 6 month progression in Gloucester County.  It provides a nice overview of the importance of County Coordinators and what can be accomplished with good communication and a desire to benefit bluebirds.

    The Gloucester County Nature Club (GCNC) manned a table in February 2015 at the Eagle Festival in Mauricetown.  I approached them to see if they had any interest in bluebirds within their county.  They were extremely interested and looking for new opportunities for their club to pursue.  A couple of potential sites were discussed.  

    About the same time Dave Gilcrest, a Gloucester County resident, agreed to be NJBBS’ County Coordinator.  He was already improving bluebird boxes at his residence and church plus investigating the placement of boxes at a local sports complex.  We began communicating with the GCNC, conducting on-sites and discussing possibilities.  I attended a GCNC meeting and spoke about how we could partner on projects - they providing sites and volunteers, we providing boxes and expertise.

    Our first site was Alcyon Park in Pitman, a combination sports complex and recreational area.  After an initial onsite and approval from the Park Superintendent, we erected 4 boxes in locations that did not conflict with the primary functions of the Park.  One box was bluebird active but failed due to house sparrow problems which we will correct next year.  Off to one side was an unmaintained 3 acre field.  It had a small pond that can act as a vernal pool and various native fruit-bearing shrubs but was being taken over by invasive plants.  I saw an opportunity for the GCNC to do much more than just monitor a few bluebird boxes.  We are presently gaining approval to remove most of the non-native plants, thereby releasing the growth of native plants which are more beneficial to wildlife. We will also plant important fruit-bearing shrubs such as elderberry and arrowwood.  The work will be done in October.  Trees have already been flagged for removal.  The GCNC is excited about the project and has already scheduled a picnic at the site for next June to showcase the project.  I will speak at the picnic.

    Additionally in Gloucester County, Dave Gilcrest and I placed two bluebird boxes at Chestnut Branch Park in Sewell. One box was successful with young bluebirds banded in July.  We banded 2 clutches of bluebirds at a GCNC member’s residence; gained new NJBBS members; and identified 4 additional sites to start bluebird trails or make significant improvements to existing setups.  More importantly, we have found a group to partner with on projects who have an interest in many things including bluebirds.

    I see this as having huge benefits for our organization.  I urge our officers, board of directors, and the general membership to consider this approach.  Most of the southern counties already have County Coordinators.  My goal is identify coordinators for all counties within the State.  Are you up for the challenge?

BUBBA speaks #6  Aug 9, 2015      THE IMPORTANCE OF NATIVE FRUIT-BEARING SHRUBS TO SONGBIRDS:

    I reviewed a study comparing, in part, the nutritional values of fruit-bearing berries of native vs. nonnative plants in New York.  The implications should be of value in New Jersey, not only for many migrating songbirds but especially our bluebirds that overwinter.   The research, The Value of Native and Invasive Fruit-bearing Shrubs for Migrating Songbirds, found that the fat content and energy density of 5 native berries [Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa),  Silky Dogwood (Cornus amonum), Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), Arrowwood (Virburnum dentatum), and Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)] were significantly higher than berries from 4 nonnative plants [Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), European Cranberrybush (Virburnum opulus), and bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.)].  Nonnative berries averaged 1% fat, while the native berries averaged 32% fat (6.57 to 48.72% fat and 18.83 to 28.68 kJ/g of energy).  The research noted that birds also consumed the native berries at a significantly higher rate.  Although the study involved only a few plants, it certainly points out the importance of native shrubs.

    In 2015, 60 bluebirds were reported to me found dead in their boxes from winterkill, some areas experienced more deaths than others.  I am trying to figure out why and identify ways to lessen impacts in the future.  Two areas that had productive bluebird trails in previous years (18 boxes at Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area in the Villas, Cape May County and 20 boxes at Harmony Valley Nursery/Haven Hill Farm in Deerfield, Cumberland County) did not produce a single bluebird nest this year.  My observations are that lack of forest cover with an adequate food supply (in late winter) and exposure to excessively cold weather in February and March were the primary reasons.  Other areas experienced reproductive suppression (delayed nesting), however,  production increased as the nesting season progressed.

    NJ bluebirds that overwinter can experience extreme weather in late winter when they are at their most vulnerable and the food supply least available.  The 60 bluebirds found dead were using the boxes for winter roosting.  Bluebirds need to feed on a regular basis, only having enough fat reserve to survive a few days.  Not being able to feed causes dehydration, making them more vulnerable to climatic conditions like snow and excessive cold.  When insects are not available, bluebirds depend on berries to supplement their diets. The higher fat content provided by berries of native plants is being identified as significant for fall migrating birds and is likely even more important for overwintering birds.

    I am working on 2 environmental improvement projects that include removing invasive vegetation and planting native shrubs from the accompanying list of summer/fall and winter fruit-bearing plants (Native Plants that Benefit Bluebirds in New Jersey).  A number of nurseries produce native plants on this list, including Clemenson Farms Native Nursery in Estell Manor.  I anticipate coordinating an order in 2016 for NJBBS - think about adding native plants for your projects for the benefit of bluebirds. While any berry producing plants on the list will benefit bluebirds, concentrating on winter-bearing fruits is a logical selection that will pay dividends for overwintering bluebirds.

Reference:  Smith, S.B., S.A. DeSando, and T. Pogano.  2013.  The value of native and invasive fruit-bearing shrubs for migrating songbirds.. Northeastern Naturalist 20(1): 171-184