HARRISBURG – As bluebirds are building nests throughout the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has launched this year’s live video feed from a bluebird nestbox on the grounds of its Harrisburg Headquarters. To view the live feed, visit the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and click on the “Bluebird Live-Feed” icon under the opening photo in the center of the homepage.
“This annual video feed has been one of the most popular additions to our website, which clearly demonstrates that the best way to get Pennsylvanians – in fact most Americans – excited about wildlife is to show them what makes wildlife so irreplaceable and priceless,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “This live webcast helps educate the public about the importance of wildlife and how to make backyards friendlier to wildlife, and also provides a way for folks to simply get closer to bluebirds.
“The nestbox camera provides the public a closer look at the entire nesting process of bluebirds. How many people have ever seen a bluebird form a nest by plowing the materials with its wings? Nest-forming is a fascinating example of nature at work. And it’s something you’ll never see unless you’re checking out our nesting camera.”
Roe noted that a bluebird is in the early stages of building a nest. In 2009, the bluebird camera was the agency’s first foray into the world of live nest camera feeds. It provides a color video and audio feed from the bluebird nestbox, which is situated directly behind the agency’s headquarters. Also, the infrared camera enables website visitors to tune in anytime of day or night. A live feed also is broadcast to a monitor in the agency’s lobby.
Steps are taken to deter house sparrows from using the nestbox by mounting monofilament fishing line from the roof over the entrance hole, which compels sparrows to stay away. Bluebird nestboxes placed close to buildings almost always attract competition from sparrows, which annually chase native bluebirds from nestboxes and nesting cavities.
“In the early 1960s, the eastern bluebird was hanging on for dear life,” said Dan Brauning, Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Division chief. “The species was suffering from a European invasion of house sparrows and European starlings. Today, it’s not hard to imagine the harm that would come from releasing starlings and house sparrows in New York City during the 1800s. But back then, at a time when people were trying to reverse declining songbird populations, it seemed like the right thing to do in New York.
“The starling spread quickly across America. Released in 1890 and 1891, starlings were building nests in California by the 1940s. What our forefathers didn’t expect, in addition to the rapid range expansion of these alien species, was that they would almost immediately begin competing with bluebirds and other beneficial songbirds for cavity nesting sites.”
Bluebirds were enjoying a satisfying existence around 1900. It is when some ornithologists believe Pennsylvania’s bluebird population was at its largest, because fully two-thirds of the Commonwealth was farmland. But the runaway populations of starlings and sparrows would begin to compete with and ultimately cripple the bluebird’s ability to secure adequate nesting.
The species’ problems would be further compounded by farmlands reverting to forestland or being swallowed by development, the increased use of pesticides, and the replacement of wooden fence-posts with metal posts.
By 1960, the bottom was ready to fall out, and the Game Commission and many other conservation agencies and organizations launched an aggressive campaign to rescue the species.
With the aid of its Howard Nursery, the Game Commission manufactured inexpensive bluebird nestboxes and bluebird nestbox kits for the public to place afield. Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts became involved, as well as 4-H Clubs, schools and Audubon chapters. Bluebirds became the poster child for efforts aimed at getting people to do something for wildlife in their backyards.
“Today, bluebirds are back in a big way, even in the southeastern counties, where they compete heavily with large populations of house sparrows,” Brauning said. “It’s fair to say that our bluebird population is stronger today than it has been in 50 years. With time and continued assistance from caring Pennsylvanians, it seems likely bluebirds will continue to prosper.”
For more information on bluebirds, visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on “Wildlife” in the menu bar in the banner, then click on “Bluebirds” in the “Wild Birds and Birding” section.