Can Blue­birds learn to be bet­ter house­keep­ers?

Stanstead Journal - - LENNOXVILLE NEWS - Vic­to­ria Vanier

A fas­ci­nat­ing lit­tle ex­per­i­ment that could have big reper­cus­sions for the re­cov­ery of the East­ern Blue­bird, a favourite among bird-watch­ers, is now be­ing con­ducted by Ma­gog or­nithol­o­gist, An­dré Dion. Mr. Dion set up twelve Blue­bird nest­ing boxes at Bleu La­vande, six reg­u­lar boxes and six that con­tained sprigs of laven­der and had laven­der at­tached to the top of the box, to see which nest­ing boxes, if any, would at­tract a nest­ing pair of Blue­birds.

Mr. Dion first read about birds us­ing laven­der in their nests to ward off par­a­sites in an ex­ten­sive ar­ti­cle that ap­peared about ten years ago in the French pub­li­ca­tion L’Ex­press. “When the nest­ing chick­adees used laven­der in their nests, they had no mag­gots, fleas or any other par­a­site. In a sec­ond ex­per­i­ment, when the laven­der was re­moved from the nests, the chick­adees quickly re­placed it with more. This in­spired me to do an ex­per­i­ment like this with chick­adees at Bleu La­vande,” ex­plained Mr. Dion in an in­ter­view with the Stanstead Jour­nal.

Al­though a first ex­per­i­ment that be­gan ear­lier in the sum­mer with twelve nest­ing boxes for chick­adees, six with laven­der and six with­out, did not at­tract any chick­adees, prob­a­bly be­cause of the tim­ing of their place­ment, Mr. Dion de­cided to try the same ex­per­i­ment with nest­ing boxes for East­ern Blue­birds, a bird that is much rarer than the chick­adee. “If the chick­adee uses laven­der, why not try it with the Blue­bird which is known for hav­ing very ‘dirty’ nests,” com­mented Mr. Dion.

So far, to the de­light of Mr. Dion, one of the ‘laven­der’ blue­bird nest­ing boxes was cho­sen by a nest­ing fe­male. “The male Blue­bird finds the houses and it usu­ally takes about a week be­fore the fe­male agrees to one. She is al­ways very ret­i­cent at first; she likes to make him beg. And as David Thoreau wrote, it’s a cel­e­bra­tion when the fe­male chooses the cabin.” But what’s more in­ter­est­ing is whether the Blue­birds will learn to use laven­der in their nests to give their young ones, of­ten threat­ened by par­a­sites, a greater chance of sur­vival. “Can we teach our Blue­birds? This ex­per­i­ment could be very en­rich­ing for them,” said Mr. Dion.

Photo cour­tesy

Laven­dar filled Blue­bird nest­ing boxes may prove

help­ful in the re­cov­ery of the East­ern Blue­bird.

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