Chattanoogans wowed by the first confirmed visit of a snowy owl to the area last month may want to expand their interest to a more common sighting.
On Tuesday, Don Hazel, president of the Tennessee Bluebird Society, will lead a Zoom webinar on attracting eastern bluebirds to your yard. With enough local interest, there's even a chance to start a Chattanooga chapter of the organization, whose members would do more than just enjoy these colorful songbirds.
"What a club does is monitor bluebirds," Hazel said. "Once a week, you go out and check on bluebird boxes that are in place to record information and send it in to keep track of how bluebirds are doing in the United States."
Conservationists have tracked the loss of nearly 3 billion wild birds in North America since 1970, a 29% drop in population attributed to habitat loss and competition from invasive species. At one time, the population of bluebirds dropped by 90%, Hazel said, leaving experts fearing the species faced extinction.
"They didn't have a place to live because of house sparrows and [European] starlings," Hazel said.
Hear the song of an eastern bluebird at tnbirdingtrail.org.
Like bluebirds, those invasive species nest in cavities, including holes in trees, but are more competitive and aggressive than bluebirds. The introduction of nesting boxes, multiplying the number of places for bluebirds to raise their young, has helped to regrow and stabilize the population of bluebirds, Hazel said.
The Tennessee Bluebird Society has four local clubs around the state, with leaders based in Shelby, Loudon, Putnam and Cumberland counties. Bill Hartman, of Loudon, leads the Valley Chapter, which covers all of East Tennessee, from Chattanooga to Johnson City. Hartman said he's new to the role, but he inherited no contacts from the Chattanooga area.
Hazel, a Crossville resident, leads the Cumberland County Bluebird Club and has been president of the state society since November 2019. He's heard from "a couple of people from Signal Mountain" interested in starting a local bluebird chapter, he said. "But you can't have a 'club' with two or three. You need eight or 10 to get started."
Rest assured they're out there, said Ray Zimmerman, newsletter editor of the Tennessee Ornithological Society's Chattanooga chapter.
"We have a lot of people who maintain bluebird boxes, and they are active in promoting conservation of bluebirds, but they may not be doing it through any organized group," he said.
Members of the thrush family, eastern bluebirds are year-round residents recognized by the blue on their back, wings and tail, orange chest and white belly, especially the brighter males.
They live in open habitats with little or no groundcover, such as orchards, open woodlands, clear-cuts, parks and large lawns in suburban and rural areas. Their nesting boxes need to be placed within these habitats, at least 100 feet apart.
“Bluebirds: An American Success Story,” led by Tennessee Bluebird Society president Don Hazel, will be presented by the University of Tennessee Arboretum Society as a free Zoom webinar at 7 p.m. EST Tuesday, Feb. 23. Register at https://utarboretumsociety.org/rsvpmaker/ to receive the link to access the program.
"Here in Cumberland County, every single golf course and, I think, every city and county park have bluebird boxes — 320 of them," Hazel said.
Monitoring the boxes typically lasts from April to August. During those five months, the birds will nest two to three times, raising four to six babies in each brood.
Ready-made nesting boxes and DIY kits are widely available from retailers. The society also has simple plans available for do-it-yourselfers.
"It's very easy and very inexpensive to make them," Hazel said.
Contact Lisa Denton at 423-757-6281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.