When Curtis Phipps donated the Diamond X Ranch to the City of Billings, it had in place a number of established Mountain Bluebird nesting boxes. In 1993, George Mowat of YVAS took over maintenance and monitoring of the boxes. While a formal agreement with the City of Billings wasn’t enacted until July 2017, YVAS was committed to maintaining the Bluebird nesting habitat in what has become known as Phipps Park for more than 20 years.

In 2017, when Jim Wiggins took over management of this project, there were ten established nesting boxes, a fourth of which had successful fledging in recent years.  Following the guidelines published by the Mountain Bluebird Trails and North American Bluebird Society, Jim rebuilt the nesting boxes including those destroyed by vandals, weather and fire, then placed them on predator guard designed posts. He also added YVAS’ website address on the guards to identify the boxes in the event that someone would need to contact us.

Beginning in early March through mid-July, each box is monitored every 5 days and data recorded for the success and loss of fledglings. Part of the monitoring involves photographs with iPhone pictures of the nest, eggs and chicks.

In 2018, there were 11 boxes all of which were placed on poles with the predator guards. Jim did not observe Bluebirds in Phipps Park until April 20 and nesting began April 24. The heavy snowpack and late run off in the area may have been the cause for the late arrival that year. Only four adult Bluebirds were observed in the area through spring and early summer. In contrast to 2017, no second broods occurred. However, there was no predator loss presumably due to the predator guards. Of the 11 boxes, two were occupied by Mountain Bluebirds with a total of 11 fledged birds. House Wrens occupied two boxes, with 7 eggs each – all fledged. Tree Swallows successfully nested in 4 boxes.

YVAS is working with other volunteer groups in the city (Montana Audubon Center, Yellowstone River Parks Association, City of Billings, BLM, Wild Birds Unlimited, and private land owners) to expand Bluebird nesting habitat and perhaps that of additional birds in other areas where feasible.

Photo by Jim Wiggins

Mountain Bluebird House with Predator Guard – Photo by Jim Wiggins