Mountain Bluebird Nestbox Trail Project Background

Jackson Hole, Wyoming is known for its beautiful mountains and abundant wildlife. Visitors to the valley are awed by the thousands of elk that winter on the National Elk Refuge. Not visible to visitors is the fact that the high concentrations of elk have destroyed significant amounts of bird habitat. The Bluebird Nestbox Project is designed to mitigate for this habitat loss.

When elk are concentrated in an area with aspen stands they eat the young shoots, thus preventing new aspen growth. The elk also eat the bark off of the older aspen causing them to die. This entire process may take decades,but the end result is that trees necessary for cavity nesting birds disappear, causing a dramatic drop in breeding cavity nesters. Aspen trees have suffered the same fate on cattle ranches in the valley.

100 nest boxes are monitored every year once per week from April through July by approximately 12 dedicated volunteers. These data are entered into the Nature Mapping Jackson Hole database and will be given to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as well.

Tracking bluebird and other species’ nest success helps us gauge the health of our ecosystem in Jackson Hole and contributes valuable data to nationwide efforts to follow the impacts of a rapidly changing, human influenced landscape.

–Chuck Schneebeck, Birdscope, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Project Objectives

The program has three primary objectives:

1. Mitigate for lost habitat of cavity nesting birds in Jackson Hole.
2. Educate the public about the plight of cavity nesting birds.
3. Involve individuals in monitoring the boxes so they will become vested in sharing the message with others.

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Mountain Bluebird Life Begins

Tag along with the happy happenings of a mountain bluebird nest box on the Nature Mapping Jackson Hole trail along the National Elk Refuge via images from Shelley Sundgren. (Click to enlarge each image) Read more from Frances Clark about the 2016 bluebird nest box project at the JHWF blog.

The Challenge

A variety of human activities have had a significant impact on the cavity nesting bird species of Jackson Hole. Management of large herbivores on cattle ranches and the National Elk Refuge has significantly reduced the number of young cottonwood and aspen trees, and other riparian vegetation that is necessary for many cavity-nesting birds, such as mountain bluebirds.

Overgrazing in concert with the policy of fire repression has interfered with the natural process of succession in aspen forests, resulting in old and dying groves with few trees reaching a level of maturity that can support cavity nesters. Additionally, many property owners remove dead trees from their land for safety and/or aesthetic purposes further reducing nesting opportunities for these birds.

The Solution

Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation’s Nature Mapping Jackson Hole program monitors mountain bluebird nest boxes along the perimeter of the National Elk Refuge with its Bluebird Nest Box Project. The purpose of the project is to mitigate for habitat loss by providing nesting sites for cavity nesting birds and to provide an educational tool to raise awareness of the ecology of cavity nesters in Jackson Hole. This project also provides the opportunity for the community to gather information that may contribute to management decisions regarding herbivores and fire in the area.

The project is part of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Birdhouse Network Citizen Science Project called NestWatch. People across North America are collecting similar information about the cavity nesting birds where they live. All of these data are entered into a database at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and are used by scientists there to learn more about cavity nesting birds. If you volunteer for the Bluebird Nest Box Project, you will be doing real science.

Mountain Bluebirds Benefit from Young Eagles

On October 21, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation was helped by a prospective Eagle Scout from Utah, named Maclain Smith. For his service project in working towards official Eagle Scout status, Maclain built 52 new Mountain bluebird nestboxes and installed them on our trail that spans the western boundary of the National Elk Refuge.

Lucky for us, two more prospective Eagle Scouts are constructing additional nestboxes to be installed this coming spring. Read on for more detail.

“Every bird is its own little miracle and has value.”
— Bert Raynes

Bluebird Nest Box Monitoring Goals

The overall goal of the bluebird nest box monitoring program is to observe the use of the nest boxes without impacting nesting success. Monitors must take great care in not causing excessive disturbance to the nest while trying to obtain the following data:

  • Nesting attempt number in each box
  • Species using the box
  • Report nesting by House sparrows or Starlings to coordinator
  • Fate of the nesting attempt
  • Apparent cause of failure
  • Estimated first egg date
  • Clutch size
  • Estimated hatch date
  • Hatch within 24 hours?
  • Number of nestlings
  • Fledge date
  • Number of fledglings
  • Number of unhatched eggs
  • Blowfly evidence
  • Comments & observations
  • Need for maintenance.
Enter Your Observation
Bluebird Nest Box Project

Record Your Bluebird Nestbox Project Observations

Log in to the Entry Form

If you’re a certified nature mapper, simply sign in to the Nature Mapping Entry Form via mobile or website.

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Record Your Bluebird Nest Box Observation

Click on Nest Box Project and record your observation. Find your location on the map, or plug in the UTM coordinates.

Add to the Body of Knowledge

The data you record go into a database that helps biologists track bird breeding and if it changes from environmental concerns.

Nestbox Monitoring Protocols:

Monitoring usually begins near the beginning of May. Nestboxes should be monitored at least once a week or more often, if possible. In all approximately four to six trips to a box should be made with observations on species, eggs, nestlings, and fledglings. All observations for each box should be recorded on the Field Worksheet with pertinent information also recorded on the Nest Attempt Worksheet. Monitors will need the following equipment in the field:

Tree Swallows are often found on the Bluebird Trail.

Bluebird Observations in Teton County 2009 – 2016

Separate from our Mountain Bluebird Nestbox Trail Project, Nature Mappers enter observations of bluebirds throughout the valley. Bluebirds prefer mountain meadows and burned areas for foraging with tree cavities nearby for nesting. Little is known about their natural nest sites. Most research has been on behavior around artificial nest boxes so information on nesting behavior is valuable.

The large circles on the map indicate flocks of bluebirds, mostly observed in early spring and again in late September.

In asking Bert Raynes about this phenomenon, he said, “Early flocks seem to be mostly males in migration, with a few staying if they can.  They are catching early hatches – bugs. Fall, I don’t know. Somehow birds find each other and travel together. How they recognize each other is an interesting question, although they do grow up with adults.  Still you do kind of wonder.”

Wyoming is out of range for Western Bluebirds. We have one verified report. As with any rare species observation, please thoroughly document the ID and behavioral details. Our biologists will then contact you for verification.

Photo Credits:

Henry Holdsworth
Mark Gocke
Steve Morriss
Sava Malachowski
Leine Stikkel
Tim Griffith
Jon Mobeck

Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation

330 N. Glenwood Street
Jackson, WY 83002
(307) 739-0968
All rights reserved.

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