Environment

Bluebird spycam a hit at Warwick Academy

  • Bird’s-eye view: Warwick Academy primary school students sit in rapt attention as they view several bluebirds hatch via video link provided by the school’s Natural History Club (Photograph by Lee-Ann Perry)
  • Fellow Bermudian: a newly hatched eastern bluebird, endangered by loss of habitat and attacks from invasive species, is down to a population of hundreds

Warwick Academy students now have a window on to the world of Bermuda’s threatened bluebirds, including their battles to survive.

Thanks to a hidden camera, students and staff were treated to a live feed of chicks hatching in the school’s bluebird box.

But “disaster struck” as the third chick emerged, according to Rosalind Wingate, the school’s science lab technician.

Ms Wingate said: “A male sparrow dropped down onto the nest, snatched up one of the chicks and exited.”

Moments later the raider returned to turf out an unhatched egg.

Bermuda’s native eastern bluebird, endangered by loss of habitat and attacks from invasive species, is down to a population of hundreds. The birds depend on nesting boxes to survive.

Ms Wingate kept watch until nightfall, but the chick inside the ejected egg died.

“Successful hatching is the result of impeccable timing on the part of the chick,” she said.

Chicks will perish if the shell is cracked even an hour too early, Ms Wingate added, making it critical “not to help a chick that appears not to be hatching”.

Staff learnt a variety of tricks, courtesy of Stuart Smith from the Bermuda Bluebird Society: they mounted two more boxes nearby to distract sparrows from the nest. They added dangling foil strips to the nesting pole, which can deter attackers.

Bluebirds also fall victim to ants, and Ms Wingate said the mother bird took fright and bolted as she coated the pole with vaseline to keep away the insects. She kept the babies overnight under a warm lamp, returning them in the morning.

Another chick succumbed — but four out of the brood survived. The “bluebird spycam” delivering students a live feed of the drama is in its second year, courtesy of the school’s Natural History Club.

The same nesting pair of bluebirds has returned for its third year.

Staff played the live feed on classroom monitors as the chicks hatched, with “shouts of dismay and shock, followed by cheers” after the hatchling was rescued from attack.

Ms Wingate said three years of guarding the birds, including sharing their losses, had revealed “how many human inflicted threats bluebirds face”.

She added: “Habitat destruction, introduced predators and competitors, insecticides, traffic — the list goes on.

“It’s incredible that there are any left.

“The irony is that humans are simultaneously their worst enemy and their only chance for survival.”