When Don Bonett of Towamensing Township saw the bluebirds near his new home he thought they would take him to the next level of photography.

He brought many of his photographs of bluebirds and other avian visitors to the April meeting of the Palmerton Area Historical Society.

Bonett is a member of the Palmerton Camera Club and was accompanied to the meeting by fellow club members Bob and Connie Reinhart.

When Bonett moved to Pheasant Hill Estates, he and his wife, Sandy, chose the highest lot available alongside a wooded area. It turned out to provide a bonanza of birds.

"We are really enjoying the bluebirds," he said.

They are members of the same family as the American robin. Bluebirds have a bright blue back with a rust-colored breast.

With the advent of sprawl and the increased use of pesticides these birds that feed on insects were declining. Putting out trails of bluebird houses at least 100-feet apart has helped reverse the decline.

Bonett and his wife joined the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania where they are the coordinators. Information about the Society can be found on the Web.

There are three types of bluebirds, the Eastern, Western and Mountain. It is the Eastern that attracted Bonett and lives in this area.

Bluebird houses must be placed in an open area and the houses should be monitored about once a week. The birds start nesting the second week of March.

Other birds that like bluebird houses are the tree swallow, chickadees, Carolina wren and the tufted titmouse.

Two non-native species that are a danger to the bluebirds are the house sparrow and European starling. Bonett said if there are many house sparrows in the area it is better not to put up bluebird houses. He showed a photo of nestlings that had been killed by house sparrows.

The starlings will destroy both the nest and the young if they have been born when the nest is found.

Predators are the screech owl, redtail hawk, raccoon, bobcat and snakes. Bonett has never seen predators other than the owl and hawk.

House cats kill 40 million birds annually.

In the dangerous world of bluebirds, blowfly larvae will attach themselves and suck blood. If they are found during a regular check of the house, he suggests removing the nest with its eggs or young birds into a cardboard box, build a new nest and return the young birds to the house.

Bonett raises his own mealworms. Carrots make a good food for mealworms.

His own yard is bird friendly birdscaping the yard. A bluebird house needs a 1-1/2 inch opening. There are directions for building one at www.bygpub.com/ [2] bluebird/.

The boxes should not be painted on the inside and no perch is needed. It is best to place them on a metal post though wooden posts are also recommended. It should have the equivalent of a squirrel guard such as those used at bird feeders to help keep predators out. It should be three to five feet off the ground and face away from the afternoon sun and away from the general direction of bad weather.

The female does most of the nest building using fine grasses or pine needles. One egg a day is lain until there are three to six eggs in the nest, called a clutch. It takes 14 to 16 days for the eggs to hatch. The nestlings are naked when born but grow rapidly.

The parents share the feeding chores and in 16 to 21 days they are ready to fledge leave the nest and fly. They will be fed for another week and then the female starts a second family.

Bonett said he uses props to attract the birds. Some people will whistle when they put food out such as the mealworms he raises. He has bushes that provide berries for winter food. Some migrate but there are always some that overwinter. A water supply also attracts them.

"We put out the welcome mat for finches. Their winter food is berries," said Bonett.

The program ended with a series of bluebird pictures shown to the song "Zippity Doo Dah" which includes the words "Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder." He said that section of the program was "just for fun."

He credited the Reinharts with putting it together.

One of his photos of a bluebird with wings flared took first place in a major nature photography contest.

The Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania is an affiliate of the North American Bluebird Society.