by Mitch Linne, and Gail Linne

Bluebird Houses at Lost Trail – Photo Credit: Gail Linne

In late March, 2018 I took the initial steps toward establishing a bluebird trail at Lost Prairie, west of Marion, Montana. I built seven bluebird-specific boxes from a design provided by Dennis Olson. The original design came from Marty Fregerio. The houses were mounted on existing posts along the Lower Lost Prairie road which runs basically north – south. I attempted to orient each house so that the openings pointed north and south.

Because I didn’t have a good distance measuring device at the time of installation the houses were installed at least 200 feet and as much as 400 feet apart. I attempted to place them near existing bird houses which were being used primarily by swallows. The pairing of the bluebird-specific boxes and the original boxes allows the intra-species territorial behavior of both the bluebirds and swallows to protect each site. Bluebirds have been nesting in this area in pipes and under eaves for many years so I hoped to entice them to use these new houses. Swallows appear to commandeer most available standard-style houses on the Prairie.

Because the new houses were installed well into the bluebird nesting season, only two appeared to be used by bluebirds this year. The houses were built during the winter of 2017/2018 so the wood was relatively fresh and unweathered. This may have also contributed to vacancy. None of the new bluebird houses were used by swallows.

I was only able to make one visit to the site this summer so have no real data to provide on numbers of bluebirds in the area or observations of interaction with the houses. I do believe that some modification of placement is due. I suspect that houses placed too near a cross rail on the fence might have allowed a predator to crawl to the vicinity of some houses. There was no sign of predation but the existence of possible access may have turned birds away. Some modification of spacing and orientation may also help. I built several standard bird houses to pair with the bluebird houses so that a swallow could use the standard houses, but many of my placements were paired with existing houses.

Work for the future should include closer monitoring of use, especially after the houses have gone through one winter, and a good survey of bluebird numbers and nesting pairs. An area further to the south along the Lower Lost Prairie Road might also provide for extension if numbers warrant. The fence uses steel posts in this area rather than the round wood posts I used, so some other method of mounting may be needed.

We hope that in the future bluebirds will occupy all of the new houses and give us a reason to extend the Lost Prairie bluebird trail.