A few weeks ago fellow Bluebird Man producer/director Neil Paprocki wrote a blog article about the installation of almost 40 new nestboxes along the Prairie Bluebird Trail. Much of this area burned last August in the Elk-complex fire and these new nestboxes were set up to replace boxes that were destroyed by the fire.
This past Saturday I returned to the Prairie trail with Al and got a chance to check up on the bluebirds that have returned to this seemingly desolate post-fire landscape. Despite the initial appearance of bleakness, this post-wildfire habitat is likely a welcome site for the bluebirds. Bluebirds thrive in recently burned areas for a number of reasons. Wildfire clears out high shrubs and grass, making it easier for bluebirds to spot their insect prey from atop of their hunting perches.
Wildfire also increases available nesting habitat. Wildfire can directly create nesting habitat for bluebirds by increasing the number of available tree cavities. Many woodpecker species are attracted to recently burned areas, and an increased density of woodpeckers will greatly increase the number of available nesting cavities as these birds hollow out recently burned trees in search of grubs.
So if wildfire increases the number of natural nesting cavities, will these new nestboxes get any use? The short answer is: yes! We documented lots of new nests being built in these boxes and even found a few nests that already had eggs! Of course not all of the new boxes were occupied and I suspect that there are at least a handful of bluebird pairs that have selected natural cavities over these human-made options.
Luckily we have 35 years of data with which to compare this year’s occupancy records. It would certainly be neat to see if there is any correlation between recent wildfires and nestbox occupancy! A project for the future… In the meantime Al will continue checking up on the bluebird families that choose to use his boxes and keep doing whatever he can to help their chicks fledge successfully.
Tags: al larson, bluebird man, bluebird trail, bluebirds, citizen science, conservation, mountain bluebird, nestbox, nestlings, prairie, western bluebird, wildfire, wildlife