The state Game Commission now is selling bluebird nesting boxes at its Harrisburg headquarters, 2001 Elmerton Ave. They cost $10.60, and customers can select assembled boxes or kits that can be assembled as a wood-working project.
"Bluebirds are early nesters, so now is the time to put up new nest boxes, as well as to clean and repair existing boxes," said Dan Brauning, Game Commission wildlife diversity division chief. "These box designs are proven to attract bluebirds and other native species, such as tree swallows and house wrens."
Bluebirds live in open country and are a beautiful songbird native to Pennsylvania. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and became less common due to a lack of suitable nest sites. Many nest sites have been lost through changing land-use practices, as well as to urban and suburban sprawl.
But the introductions of house sparrows and starlings in 1851 and 1890 were the primary reasons for the bluebirds' decline, as these non-native species took over native bluebird nesting cavities.
The bluebird boxes offered by the Game Commission include an opening that is the prescribed 1 1/2 inches in diameter. This prevents starlings from being able to enter.
To order by phone, call the commission's headquarters at 888-888-3459.
However, house sparrows still are able to enter the boxes. If this occurs, the house sparrow nest should be removed immediately. They're usually easy to identify; they fill up the whole nesting cavity with grasses and almost always include feathers and manmade materials in their composition. Native species such as tree swallows and house wrens should not be excluded from nest-boxes. Wrens construct nests with twigs; swallows build a nest with a distinct cup below the entrance hole.
Boxes should be erected on a free-standing pole three to five feet above the ground facing south, if possible and facing a nearby tree or fence where young birds can safely land on their initial flights from the box. To reduce predation and competition from other species, no perch should be placed on the box; bluebirds do not need one. Boxes placed in pairs, about 20 feet apart, may help reduce competition from swallows.
Sales will continue while supplies last, and office hours are Monday-Friday from 7:45 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Game Commission's headquarters is at 2001 Elmerton Ave., just off the Progress Avenue exit of Interstate 81 in Harrisburg. To order by phone, call the Game Commission's Harrisburg office at 1-888-888-3459. If ordering by phone, shipping and handling costs will apply depending on how many boxes are ordered.
For more information on bluebirds, visit the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on "Wildlife" in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, and then select "Bluebird" in the "Wild Birds and Birding" section of the page. Also, information about additional wildlife nesting structures can be found by putting your cursor on "Self-Help" in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then clicking on "Download Forms and Brochures" in the drop-down menu listing, and then clicking on "Wildlife Homes Order Form" in the "Agency Programs" section.