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Recover bluebirds, one nest at a time

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bluebird enthusiast and volunteer Dana Robinson sprinkles meal worms on top of a bluebird box on Irene Dietzs property near Oregon City.It’s easy to fall in love with a western bluebird, says Nancy Fraser, a volunteer bird bander with the Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project.

Unfortunately, the bluebird’s habitat is decreasing, due to pesticides killing off the insects the tiny birds eat and the removal of downed trees and wooden fenceposts, which provide crucial nesting spots.

The all-volunteer Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project is trying to help sustain a healthy population of the birds in the northern Willamette Valley. 

To fulfill that mission, the project is holding a workshop next month to train volunteers to monitor the bluebird population. The group also recruits landowners who are willing to put bluebird boxes on their property to attract the birds.

When property owners remove downed trees or get rid of wooden fenceposts, that reduces the bluebird’s habitat.

“If someone can leave a snag down safely, all creatures will benefit,” says Dana Sue Robinson, a volunteer with the project.

There is lots of competition between bluebirds and other bird species for the cavities in trees, where they make their nests.

When property owners volunteer to host bluebird boxes, field workers first have to visit the site to see whether it’s promising for nesting bluebirds.

“The birds need nesting sites that are adjacent to a nice mowed yard with trees and shrubs interspersed. They also need perching areas near the nesting box and a birdbath nearby,” Fraser says.

If the landowner has used pesticides, there may not be enough insects for the birds to eat, Robinson says. Volunteer bluebird monitors often leave mealworms on the tops of bluebird boxes to augment the diet of the tiny birds.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF IRENE DIETZ - A bluebird enjoys a bath on Irene Dietzs property.Irene Dietz has hosted two bluebird boxes for five years on her property in Oregon City.

She sees the birds nearly every day, and says they look at her as if they are expecting her to feed them.

“We always have them, and I’ve noticed that the bird families hang around to help the next set of families,” Dietz says.

She always has been interested in bluebirds, dating back to when she was a child in the 1930s and had to bring in the cows.

“I walked past a fencepost with a nest inside, and I would always peek in there,” she recalls.

Volunteering with the recovery project is rewarding, Robinson says. “It provides another method to connect with nature in a whole new way. You get a sense of what the bluebirds’ life is like and how tough it is to beat the odds for these birds.”

Volunteers learn how to approach a nesting box and how to keep records of what they see. They monitor nesting sites, watching the birds build nests, lay eggs, and hatch their young. Volunteers work over the summer, and need access to a car, since they may be given a route that’s not in their own neighborhood.

Each new volunteer will be assigned a mentor and also will receive field training.

The ideal monitoring volunteer is someone interested in field work with native species, who is eager to get out in the country to help the birds, Fraser says. There are routes in Clackamas, Marion, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties, and the project tries to find a route that matches where people live.