Study Conclusions on Hot Springs Village, AR Bluebird Deaths
Written with permission from Carolyn Minson
Subject: Study Conclusions on Hot Springs Village, Arkansas Bluebird Deaths
The following article was written for the local newspapers by Les Daniels who is chairperson of the Hot Springs Village Audubon Bluebird Monitoring Program which involves 40 monitors or assistants. Dan Scheiman and Bill Shepherd suggested that we share this information.
Hot Springs Village Audubon
Hot Springs Village, AR
Study Conclusions on Village Bluebird Deaths
The Hot Springs Village Audubon Society was dismayed to find 240 dead Bluebird babies this spring in the 300 birdhouses monitored on the Village golf courses. The deaths all occurred between April 15 and June 7, scattered across all 9 golf courses. This was by far the most fatalities experienced in over 20 years of Bluebird monitoring in the Village. No additional deaths have been reported since June 7.
Research began immediately on what caused our problem. Arkansas Game and Fish sent two groups of the dead babies to the National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.
This lab performs wildlife mortality studies for the whole country.Their initial report on the first group of babies reported signs of starvation. From this we
concluded that the normal food supply of insects was probably greatly reduced by the unusually wet and cool weather in late April. A similar shortage of insects was reported elsewhere in Arkansas this spring by the Forest Service.
The lab's subsequent report on the second group of babies and further studies on the first group came up with a different conclusion. No poisons or diseases were found. Researchers found evidence of lesions and other damage indicative of Buffalo Gnats. Buffalo gnats are small, biting, blood sucking black flies, about half the size of a house fly. They can viciously attack birds, poultry, domestic and wild animals, and humans. Lifestock, chickens, and deer are sometimes killed by swarms of the gnats. Allergic reactions to their bites are often the cause. The gnats usually live for about one month in the spring and die when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Buffalo gnats are a common pest in Arkansas and are reportedly worse than usual this year. None of our 40 monitors saw any gnats near our Bluebird houses, but this may be because they normally monitor early in the morning before the golfers tee off, while the gnats tendency to bite increases toward sunset. Buffalo gnats have been seen elsewhere in the Village this spring.
The lab concludes that Buffalo gnats caused the deaths of our Bluebird babies. It may be possible that the cause was a combination of Buffalo gnats and a shortage of normal insects to adequately feed the babies. We may never know for sure.
We are still studying what can be done to prevent a repeat of this problem in future years.The experts say area sprays and premise treatments are not very
effective against Buffalo gnats. More detailed record keeping of temperatures, rainfall totals, etc. has been suggested.
Please call Carolyn Minson at 915-0669 or Les Daniels at 922-6504 if you have any suggestions or comments.
We want to especially thank Karen Rowe of the Wildlife Management Division of Arkansas Game and Fish and Anne Ballman of the National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin for their invaluable assistance in determining the cause of our Bluebird problem.