Stonehill’s Bluebird Trail
A more than two-decade long effort has helped eastern bluebirds thrive on campus.
Fifteen bird boxes dotted across campus form a Bluebird trail that is cared for by Assistant Director of Educational Loans Eric Newnum, and Richard Grant, retired from Academic Services.
Dating back more than 20 years, the trail began as an effort to bring long-absent eastern bluebirds back to the area. Within a day of the first box being installed on a pole behind Holy Cross Center, bluebirds started returning.
“Bringers of happiness in all seasons, eastern bluebirds are small members of the thrush family that inhabit fields and clearings throughout Massachusetts," according to the Mass Audubon Society.
Hitting the Trail
“Soon after Stonehill’s trail was created, other local trails appeared, including ones at the Clock Farm, the National Resources Trust, Borderland, Queset House, Wheaton Farm, and elsewhere,” recalls Grant.
Today at the College, there are five bird boxes near Holy Cross Center, four near Holy Cross cemetery, four near Donahue Hall, and two near the President’s House on Washington Street.
With wear and tear, the boxes had fallen into disrepair. Earlier this year, Newnum and Grant embarked on an upkeep program, checking all the boxes, making sure they were clean and in good repair, and replacing damaged ones.
“We also wanted them to be well placed for the birds and reasonably safe and accessible for good human viewing,” explains Grant.
Newnum and Grant have kept records of the success or failure of each box, monitoring them at least weekly, but often daily, in the peak of brooding season.
Bluebirds return from their winter homes in late March and, after pairing off, start nest building in early April. Pairs might start nests in several boxes and ultimately decide on one to call home.
This season Newnum and Grant saw six different pairs of bluebirds raise families.
“Females lay one egg a day until there are four or five pale blue eggs. The female will sit on the eggs for about 14 days. Males support the females during this time of home-bound brooding. Once the eggs hatch, the parents are busy finding food (insects) and keeping their nestlings warm and clean,” says Newnum.
Newnum and Grant also support some of the pairs with dried mealworms, which they readily consume.
After the young birds fledge, they may stay nearby the box for several days or weeks helping their parents with the next brood, or not, as is often the case.
This year, the bluebirds and tree swallows (along with a few house wrens and sparrows), nesting in the boxes, produced and fledged 88 young birds right here on campus.
“While monitoring the boxes, we saw other very interesting birds, including red bellied woodpeckers, rose breasted grosbeaks, yellow warblers, hawks and several others,” notes Newnum.
Grant recalls that when the project started in 1998, the late Rev. Robert J. Kruse, C.S.C., a noted nature lover and resident of Holy Cross Center, provided critical support as did others on campus. More recently, Facilities Management and President John Denning, C.S.C. approved and encouraged the project.
Grant also highlights several neighbors who pitched in to help with the project.
“Bob Hurd, the recently deceased owner of the now-closed Wild Birds Unlimited Store, and his widow Kathy Hurd, were so generous. They provided all the nest boxes and poles and other supplies,” notes Grant.
“In addition, dedicated neighbors, such as Herb Everett, M.D., “Bluebird” Bob Benson, and Harvard University Entomologist Ardis Johnston, along with many others, helped in monitoring and maintaining the boxes,” he says.
In tune with nature and with their neighbors, Newnum and Grant have been faithful to their task of seeing the bluebird trail come to life again.
Note: Due to COVID-19-related restrictions, we are asking visitors not to come to campus in the interests of health and safety. Post pandemic, we look forward to welcoming our visitors and neighbors again.