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UF wildlife ecologists teach public to help boost bluebird population

As pest-eaters, Eastern bluebirds benefit Florida farmers. Not only that, they’re cute. Two good reasons Hance Ellington has started a program to preserve them.

As a UF/IFAS assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation, Ellington started a bluebird nest-box building program. A faculty member at the Range Cattle Research and Education Center (REC) in Ona, Florida, he conducts in-person and online webinars to teach the public how to build better bluebird nesting boxes.

On July 10, from 1 to 2 p.m., Ellington will be joined on a webinar by Katie Sieving, a UF/IFAS professor of wildlife ecology and conservation, who works from the main UF campus in Gainesville. Register here for the program.

“Dr. Sieving’s research focuses on avian ecology and behavior and how it relates to interactions between birds and the human environment,” Ellington said. “Eastern bluebirds are a frequent study species in her research program, and she will talk about some of the fascinating bluebird research her lab is conducting.”

At the same webinar, Ellington will give a brief research update on the bluebird pairs at the Range Cattle REC. The birds are currently raising their second and third nests of the year.

The guest appearance by Sieving is part of Ellington’s educational video program called “Become a Bluebird Watcher.” Through six sessions, more than 600 people have participated. You can click here to view prior sessions.

In the previous sessions, the UF/IFAS researcher covered topics including:

  • Bluebird biology and ecology.
  • How to build a bluebird nest box.
  • Where to deploy the nest boxes.
  • How to safely monitor them.
  • The roles of birds in rangeland ecosystems.

Bluebirds are called “cavity nesters.” That means they compete for nests with native birds such as chickadees, tufted titmice, nuthatches and Carolina wrens as well as nonnative birds such as house sparrows and European starlings.

Natural nesting cavities have declined over the years because of habitat loss, the removal of dead trees and limbs and a shift from the use of wooden fence posts to metal posts, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Ellington is combining a research program with his outreach effort.

“When we try to help the bluebirds’ habitat by deploying nest boxes, and we combined that with a scientific study, it can also become a learning opportunity for people of all ages,” Ellington said. “Thus, we developed our nest box research program in conjunction with an Extension program.”

Results of the bluebird nesting study won’t be known until late this summer and will likely be published in a scientific journal by late this year.

Ellington stressed the support of the Florida Bluebird Society in the success of his program.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS