Hudson River Audubon Society Announces
Eastern Bluebirds Breed in Yonkers for the First Time in 50 Years

The pair of Eastern Bluebirds successfully reared the first bluebirds in Yonkers in over a half a century! At least two young birds fledge from box #13 on July 25. Below are pictures of the male and female about a week earlier when they were brining food to the nest.

Both the male (pictured left) and the female (right) feed the young.


NEW RELEASE  - August 11, 2003

YONKERS, NY: For the first time in at least 50 years, Eastern Bluebirds have successfully nested in Yonkers. On Friday, July 25, at least two fledglings left their nest box at Lenoir Preserve, overcoming less than ideal breeding conditions to become the first bluebirds born in Yonkers this century. Pictures of the birds on the nest boxes at Lenoir can be seen at the Hudson River Audubon Society's web site, www.hras.org.

"It's great that we have returned the Eastern Bluebird to the City of Yonkers," says Michael Bochnik, president of the Hudson River Audubon Society, which erected and monitored the nest boxes at the Westchester County park. "It's encouraging to know that it's possible to bring back a species that was in decline." 

Bluebirds are cavity nesters with a preference for open spaces such as fields and orchards. As Yonkers and lower Westchester became more developed over the years, bluebird breeding habitat disappeared. As a result, beginning in the 1950s, nesting bluebirds were no longer found in southern Westchester. The New York State Breeding Bird Atlas of 1980-1985 documented the continuing absence of the species below Tarrytown. Bluebirds, however, have been counted on occasion in the area on winter surveys, such as Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count. 

The Hudson River Audubon Society decided to identify remaining tracts of appropriate nesting areas and erect nest boxes at the sites in an attempt to attract the bluebird back to Yonkers. The objective would prove especially difficult as the chapter avoided golf courses because of their use of pesticides and the resulting threat to birds. The chapter also avoided sites that would be exposed to vandalism, and instead, focused its attention on the 40-acre Lenoir site and residential properties, erecting a trail from Irvington to Yonkers that now numbers 50 nest boxes. Though only the nest box in Yonkers has successfully fledged bluebirds, other species, such as Tree Swallows and House Wrens, have also used the boxes to breed young. 

"We are gratified that the bluebirds finally returned to successfully nest in our home town of Yonkers, says Joe O'Connell, who with his wife, Ellen, chaired the chapter's initial Bluebird Committee and built about 60 bluebird houses for the project. "We are very fortunate that Westchester County maintains a commitment to preserving and protecting open space that provides the habitat needed by this native species." 

The odyssey to bring back the bluebird began in 1998, with the placement of several boxes at Lenoir Preserve. For the first three years, bluebirds moving through the area during the fall were seen checking out the nest boxes, but the birds failed to return in the spring breeding season. Late in 2001, while cleaning out the boxes, chapter members found bluebird eggs in one of the houses, which indicated a nesting attempt. What prompted the parents to abandon the nest is not known; one theory held that the field was subject to too much human activity and disturbance, including periodic visits by film crews. The following year, in an effort to protect the site, chapter members erected fencing around the field as a barrier to those who might wander too close to the nest boxes. Bluebirds showed up and selected a box, but then moved on without nesting. 

This past spring, bluebirds showed up again but didn't seem to stay. Then in July a chapter member noticed a pair of bluebirds flying around the field and observed them entering box #13 with food, indicating that nestlings surely had been hatched.

"The bluebird is beloved for its beauty, but like many bird species, it is also beneficial because it eats lots of insects, thus providing natural pest management," says Carol Capobianco, past president of the chapter who conceived the idea of returning the bluebird to Yonkers.

Three species of bluebirds live in North America - the Eastern, Mountain and Western. The one we know here is the Eastern Bluebird, the official bird of New York State. Bluebirds were abundant in New York at the last turn of the century. The bluebird population increased readily as forests were cleared for farms and open fields, providing favorable habitat. However, by the late 1800s, two nonnative species that would become the bluebird's fiercest competitors - the house sparrow and the starling - were introduced to this country. The effect of these aggressive cavity-nesters began to show by the 1930s. Bluebird numbers decreased further in the next three decades because of shrinking habitat and decreased availability of nesting sites - farms and open spaces were subdivided and developed, old apple orchards disappeared, wooden rail fences that provided knot holes for nests were replaced with metal poles and barbed wire. In addition, pesticide use was on the rise. The bluebird was in grave trouble, suffering a huge decline. The notion of providing nest boxes for bluebirds began in the 1930s and gained steam in the '60s and '70s. The creation in 1978 of the North American Bluebird Society (NABS) greatly expanded this conservation effort, and the bluebird population has since rebounded.

The Hudson River Audubon Society of Westchester is a chapter of the National Audubon Society. Hudson River Audubon's mission is to foster protection and appreciation of birds, other wildlife, and habitats and to be an advocate for a cleaner, healthier environment. The chapter realizes these goals through sponsorship of educational activities; involvement in local, regional, and national environmental issues; presentation of field trips and guest lectures; and publication of a newsletter, Rivertown Naturalist. For more information about Hudson River Audubon and its programs, please call Michael Bochnik, president, 914-785-3840 (day) or 914-237-9331 (evening).

Other sighting at Lenoir Nature Preserve recently  include many Wild Turkey. Female and immature Baltimore Orioles are also present in the Butterfly Garden along with a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. 

     

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