Bluebirds are flourishing in the region; nearly 300 fledged
If empty nest syndrome counts as a measure of success, Hubbard County is a shining example of Minnesota's Bluebird Recovery Program.
Almost twice as many bluebirds "fledged" in 2009 as they did the previous year.
Fledging is when a fledgling bird grows up and leaves the nest.
Ron Jensen, the local coordinator of the BRP, monitored 100 boxes this year, in which 283 young birds hatched, grew up and flew the coop.
"We had an unbelievable year," he said modestly, standing in his garage workshop where he's stockpiling houses, feeders and tinkering on new projects.
But he credits the local populace for keeping the program's dream alive. People have stepped forward to volunteer their services to monitor certain clusters of houses, or asked if Jensen would help them locate new homes in their yards.
The BRP issued an all-out request last year for the public to take down unmonitored, unused homes. They were breeding grounds for disease and inattention by the birds.
"A lot of people would love to have bluebirds but they don't know how to go about it," he said. "You can open the boxes and it doesn't scare them away."
And he recommends the "Peeping Tom" approach to keep watch on the home's interiors. Bluebirds will bypass a home they deem uninhabitable.
The generally timid birds actually love a crowd. Jensen has located birdhouses on area golf courses and in more populated areas so the public can enjoy the birds, monitor their breeding and clean the homes when necessary.
Dead birds and unattended nests should be removed. Bluebirds won't return if their neighborhoods aren't in good repair, and that's why Minnesotans are trying to repopulate them. Homes that dotted the landscape became hostile territory when they fell into disrepair.
The Conservation Club
As an example, Jensen gave a talk last summer to members of the Mantrap Valley Conservation Club, an activist group that promotes wildlife habitat and education.
Jensen opened the clubs' many birdhouses, all perched on poles, as a visual aid.
Club members were horrified to see they didn't have a single nesting bluebird. Instead the houses contained a bee's nest, two nests of unhatched eggs, the remains of a sparrow's nest, debris and disarray inside.
Club members and Jensen cleaned out the homes, making them inviting for habitat once again.
A cold summer didn't seem to bother the hatch, but tainted insects and predators did affect one spot near the softball complex in Park Rapids, where many eggs died.
Bluebirds generally lay four to five eggs and can have as many as three hatches a summer, although subsequent hatches run the risk of being infertile, Jensen said.
The success stories
-At Blueberry Pines Golf Course north of Menahga, 52 bluebirds fledged. A high school senior, Betsey Olson, monitored those nests on her own, Jensen said, with minimal input from him.
-At Century School in Park Rapids, one of the first public sites for a mass population, 54 bluebirds fledged, along with some chickadees and tree swallows.
-At Fair Haven Golf Course south of Park Rapids, 48 birds fledged. Jensen checked those nests in between rounds of golf. He plays there.
-Three volunteers, Polly Boggs and Julia and Jim Hopkins monitored the nests on the Heartland Trail from Nevis to Akeley, even though the brush is full of poison ivy.
"We don't expect them to monitor them past July 1" when the poison ivy attains full strength, Jensen said, so hatch counts are a bit sketchy there.
-At Headwaters Country Club, 37 birds fledged.
-Jensen has enlisted Eagle View Golf Course on Highway 71 North as his next bird mecca, where volunteer John LaFrance has already signed up for the oversight duties.
It is this public-private partnership that is the successful lynchpin, Jensen believes. And Jensen believes the educational campaign is working -- last summer people heeded the call, removing dilapidated birdhouses in the region.
"Taking them down is completely better for the birds," Jensen said. "It's better for them to get in a good, safe house."
Jensen meanwhile has mounted a chair on a wooden platform so he can observe the birds in his own yard from his garage window seat. He feeds hem mealworms as a "dessert." Bluebirds normally like to perch overhead on wires and swoop down to the ground to catch insects.
Throughout the state, as coordinators send in their reports, Jensen said he has heard populations of bluebirds are up throughout the state.
If the public can locate and care for bluebird homes, the rest is for the birds.