More bluebirds are singing their song from the nests of Camden County.
The New Jersey Bluebird Society and local birdwatchers are working to increase the population of the beautiful rare birds, whose population has been dwindling for decades.
"They're spectacular to look at," said Chuck Kanupke, a bird enthusiast who is organizing Camden County volunteers to place specially designed boxes to attract them. Kanupke's interest in bluebirds started more than five years ago. He placed the boxes at the Tavistock golf course near his home in Haddonfield.
Sure enough, male birds arrived, collected twigs and feathers, and built nests in the boxes. They sang their song to attract females, and before long, baby birds arrived. The birds also began nesting in boxes placed several miles away at the ultra-exclusive Pine Valley Golf Club.
These songbirds, it turns out, are picky about where they live. They observe the basic rules of real estate — location is everything and neighbors matter. They prefer being near the greens of posh golf courses.
The fastidious little creatures, however, don't like living near sparrows because they invade bluebird nests and peck their babies to death. The bluebirds prefer to live near wooded areas with little underbrush to avoid predators, such as snakes and raccoons, that raid their nests for the eggs. They also need cavities, or boxes, with waterproof roofs near fields with a buffet of insects.
Across the country, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, grassroots efforts have been catering to their needs. It's working to increase the population, birdwatchers say. With the right habitat, the perfect box, and protection from predators, more of the songbirds are keeping their broods alive.
"There's a renewed interest nationally to increase their population," said Kanupke.
(Those who want to participate in the program may contact Kanupke at 856-795-5810 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Kanupke is hoping schools, homeowners, and other bird enthusiasts will help place boxes throughout the county. In addition to the Bluebird Society, Kanupke is also working with the Audubon Wildlife Society in Camden County. Donated boxes are available for volunteers willing to place them, maintain them, and document activity. Most backyards, Kanupke said, will not attract the birds. Wooded areas near athletic fields, or walking trails are appealing to bluebirds.
For those who want to purchase their own box, Kanupke is working with Wild Birds Unlimited in Cherry Hill, a retail store he said is showing "birding enthusiasts how to turn their landscape into bluebird habitat that not only brings song, color and life to their home, but also benefits the bluebirds and the environment in their area."
Lisa Herman, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, said the store carries a variety of boxes that start at $50, and she will help customers determine the best places to install them.
Kanupke said experienced volunteers will also visit locations and offer suggestions to new volunteers. Golf courses are ideal. And those who operate golf courses welcome bluebirds because of their colorful feathers and because they help control insects.
"Some people don't care if we just have sparrows and starlings," said Kenneth Schwarz, president of the Camden County's Audubon Wildlife Society. Songbirds bring color and sing as they go about their routine collecting nest materials and trying to attract mates. "They are really beautiful birds," he said.
They are also sensitive birds, he said.
For decades the population of songbirds has fallen as development has infringed on their habitats. In the 1960s, bluebirds, like many species, struggled to survive because strong pesticides, such as DDT, were used at the time. Bluebirds are also sensitive to cold weather and cannot survive extremely low temperatures.
The good news is that bluebirds are native to North America and they respond very well to management. Allen Jackson, president of the New Jersey Bluebird Society, said the songbirds do best when nesting boxes are attached to metal poles that include cones to prevent predators for climbing up and into the nest. With ample food, and moderate weather, birds will sometimes produce three broods throughout the spring, Jackson said.
"Bluebird populations in many areas have rebounded," he said. "But house sparrow and European starling threats remain. Bluebirds will always be heavily dependent on artificial nest boxes and still desperately need your help."
If they like their accommodations, as Kanupke's bluebirds do at Tavistock, they will return to the same location.
Over the years, various states have created organizations to help the birds. Jersey's society formed in 2011. In South Jersey, 800 boxes were strategically placed and monitored to keep track of how many birds came to the area and how many fledglings survived and flew from the nest.
The Bluebird Society's most recent report shows that the program is working. In 2016, the group reported 2,228 fledglings compared with 3,386 last year.
Jackson estimates that 70 percent of bluebirds survive only a year.