(Photo Taken by Chuck Price)
The USI campus has many unique and beautiful features, including the bird boxes on the USI trails. There are currently 38 bird boxes along the trails between Reflection Lake, residential apartments and the baseball field. These bird boxes have been in the area since 1972 when local residents John Bonar, Virgil Eicher, and Richard Buck decided to add them to USI’s campus.
The need for these bird boxes was due to the decreasing number of Eastern Bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds during this time. This happened because people were removing dead wood from trees and making fence posts out of metal instead of wood. In the late 1960’s, people across the country decided to establish Bluebird Trails where artificial nest boxes were added to trails to monitor the Eastern Bluebirds and other cavity-nesting birds. After residents decided to establish the Bluebird Trail on campus, the boxes were monitored between1973-1982. In 1996, Chuck Price, Professor of Education, re-established and monitored these bird boxes until 2009. The torch was then passed to Jim Bandoli, Professor Emeritus of Biology, from 2010 to 2016. Now, bird boxes are monitored by Dr. Alex Champagne, Associate Professor of Biology, who educates student volunteers on monitoring practices so they can gain fieldwork and data entry skills.
The boxes are made of cedar and require minimal maintenance. Students remove old nests and get rid of Paper Wasps when necessary. Beginning in March, the bird boxes are checked twice a week for signs of nesting activity and/or the presence of chicks or eggs. This continues through the Spring Semester with monitoring reducing to weekly in the summer
The efforts of all involved in the Bluebird Trail have yielded amazing results for the Eastern Bluebird population in the Evansville community. The long-term data shows bluebirds are laying eggs earlier in the year. In the last 50 years, bluebirds have laid eggs in early to mid-March, when before, they were laying eggs in late March or early April. This indicates bluebirds are adapting to climate change in the area, says Champagne. “The boxes and data collected provide a concrete example of the effects of climate change right here in our community,” he says. "Although there are many dramatic examples of climate change’s effects around the world, being able to see a local example can transition climate change from an abstract concept into a tangible reality in people’s minds.” Next time you are on the USI trails, look for these bird boxes that have helped boost the Eastern Bluebird population in our region.