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Try to attract wildlife to your garden

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New company: Christian Chin-Gurret with one of his bluebird boxes (Photograph supplied)

Dear Heather,

We have just bought a house and would like to encourage more birds into our yard, particularly bluebirds. Do you have any ideas on how we can do this?

Bird Lover

Dear Bird Lover,

The eastern bluebird (sialia sialis) is native to Bermuda, one of the few locations outside North America where this species breeds.

Recognised as a distinct subspecies, our bluebirds are totally dependent on artificial nest boxes for breeding success and their survival here can only be guaranteed with human help.

Fortunately, we have two organisations that promote the wellbeing of this beautiful little bird — the Bermuda Audubon Society and its affiliate, the Bermuda Bluebird Society.

Research suggests that bluebirds found their way to Bermuda in the 1600s. An absence of predators allowed for rapid colonisation and early settlers described flocks of 50 or more feeding on coastal grasslands and nesting in old cedars and cliff cavities. However, in the last 70 years, a combination of factors has caused severe decline in the population, which is now estimated to be about 500.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, there was an extreme loss of nesting habitat when our cedar forest was wiped out by insects, while more recently there was a loss of habitat due to land development.

There was also nest-site competition from the non-native, invasive house sparrow (introduced in the 1870s) and the European starling (in the 1900s).

Both will evict bluebirds from their nests and kill chicks and adults. The kiskadee (introduced in 1957) will also predate on young bluebirds, while there has been a large increase in the number of feral cats and increased use of pesticides, which can poison bluebirds when they eat contaminated insects.

Bluebird nesting boxes are available from the Audubon Society and also from The Happy Bird Co, which was recently started by Christian Chin-Gurret, a 20-year-old entrepreneur.

Christian is studying product design at Bangor University in North Wales, UK. On one of his projects, he found himself with a lot of leftover wood and started thinking about what he could make with it.

He hit upon the idea of bird boxes and came up with a unique design that requires no glue or nails. Back in Bermuda for the summer, he met with Stuart Smith of the Bermuda Bluebird Society to examine his design and make necessary changes specific to bluebirds’ needs — most importantly smaller entrance holes, which help keep out predators.

He got help from the Summer Student Entrepreneurship Programme run by the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation. Look for The Happy Bird Co on Facebook and Instagram; the boxes are for sale at Harbour Nights and in the Washington Mall every Saturday until September 15.

They’re made from marine grade plywood, which is resilient to weather. Christian encourages people to decorate them with ecologically-friendly paint on the outside only. I managed to put one together in under five minutes, not bad for a novice! One of my favourite parts of Christian’s design is that the interior front of the box is ridged, so that the fledgelings can climb their way out when they are ready, a little ladder if you will.

Boxes cost $45 each, and should be mounted anywhere between four and six feet off the ground, on a metal or plastic pole rather than trees or fences. This makes it more difficult for predators, such as rodents, to access. In order of preference, bluebirds like boxes that face East, North, South and then West. It’s never too late to put up a nest box, as they may be used for a subsequent nesting or roosting and are also often checked out in the autumn by birds that may return the following spring.

Put up nest boxes in semi-open grassland habitat, such as golf courses, large lawns, hotels, resorts, cemeteries, orchards, roadsides and areas with scattered trees and short ground cover. Areas with fence lines, some medium-size trees or telephone lines provide perches for hunting and nest-guarding. If no native birds use the box for two years, try a different spot.

Bluebirds lay between three and five eggs up to three times a season (spring and summer). These hatch about 12 to 14 days after incubation and are then raised for 20 days before leaving the nest. Happy Bird Co boxes are easily accessed for viewing — just not too often.

Don’t touch though, as oils from the skin, etc, will contaminate the eggs and prevent them hatching. Also, don’t open the box after the birds are 13 days old as they will fledge prematurely.

Twenty-eight-day-old babies can fly really well and can feed themselves by day 30. Once they have left the nest, clean it out with water and eco-friendly soap, no Clorox. A subsequent brood may start within days. Good luck with your bird box, and may you get many hours of pleasure from observing your new bluebird families at work and play in your garden.

Heather Chilvers is among Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty’s leading sales representatives. She has been working in real estate for nearly 30 years. Contact her at hchilvers@brcl.bm or 332-1793. All questions will be treated in confidence. Look for Ask Heather Real Estate on Facebook

Bermuda wildlife: the eastern bluebird (Photograph supplied)