The adage ‘if you build it, they will come’ isn’t coming true so far in Headingley as 10 new bluebird boxes are either vacant or attracting another type of bird.
But Les McCann, amateur birder and member of the Headingley Grand Trunk Trail Association, said there are still a few weeks left this spring for bluebirds to start building nests in the new boxes put up at intervals along the trail between the Perimeter Highway and Beaudry Provincial Park.
"We will be monitoring the development," he said, adding that no bluebirds had been sighted this spring at any of the many nesting boxes located from Brandon to Riding Mountain National Park.
While the distinctive birds usually return to Manitoba by the middle of March, this year’s unusually late spring and some severe weather in the U.S. may have delayed them, McCann speculated.
He watches for birds during nature walks along the trail that runs along the south side of the municipality and links to the east with Winnipeg’s Harte Trail. Last fall, he proposed that the committee consider building the small wooden nesting boxes in hopes of attracting bluebirds to the Grand Trunk Trail.
Bob Spice volunteered to construct the boxes with instructions from McCann, who said Spice was a good sport as he patiently made a few changes in the design. Each box is built of unpainted cedar with an interior space suitable for nest building.
McCann said all the boxes face east, away from the afternoon sun, and are placed close to a tall tree or wires upon which bluebirds like to perch.
One of the boxes is located close to a rail line, but McCann said bluebirds aren’t disturbed by nearby traffic. However, they aren’t city dwellers, preferring an open prairie environment.
A pair of swallows had moved into one of the boxes, and McCann said they are suitable tenants, but he plans to evict any house sparrows that attempt to nest in the boxes as they aren’t protected by law.
A movement to encourage bluebirds to nest and increase their numbers began a few decades ago as deforestation caused a drop in the North American population. McCann said the population is growing again.
He hopes the natural beauty of Headingley’s Grand Trunk Trail, and the wide variety of birds that can be spotted, will attract birders.