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Bluebird project spans the generations

Bluebird houses are great projects and two or three generations to enjoy. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

In the early 1990s the Park Rapids fifth graders began building bluebird houses in science class. The project was designed as an activity to benefit one of our more colorful seasonal songbirds, and although it has accomplished that goal, the benefits go way beyond bluebirds.

This is a project of partnerships involving the school, parents, the Mantrap Valley Conservation Club, and members of the Department of Natural Resources and the Soil and Water Conservation District.

Months before the students walk to the Environmental Education Building at the Fairgrounds to build the houses, members of the Conservation Club gather to cut out all the pieces that will be needed.

Then on the spring building event, parents, grandparents, and volunteers from MVCC, DNR, and the SWCD join the fifth grade teachers and students as the Environmental Education Building comes to life after a winter of inactivity.

To me, the most effective education stems from a combination of traditional classroom lessons and hands-on experiences. It involves a three-way partnership including school, home, and community. All of those can be accomplished through the simple activity of building a birdhouse.

Most of the houses are taken home where we hope that parents and kids will find a good location to put them up and then monitor the activity around the bird house during the nesting season.

There are several bluebird trails in our area. One of them is located on the acreage surrounding the Century School. Some of the houses built by the fifth graders are used on the trail.

Ron Jensen has become the caretaker of that trail and last summer a few of the bird houses produced three families of bluebirds. Even though we have had students checking the boxes in the spring and cleaning them out in the fall, the first hatch usually takes place as school dismisses for the summer.

Therefore, the boxes were not getting cleaned out to allow bluebirds to begin another nest. Ron is making sure that each house is ready for a second and even a third nesting.

Cornell's Ornithology Lab has done extensive research on birds and they have study guides on their Web site. Do you know how to tell a bluebird nest from a swallow nest or a wren nest from a chickadee nest just by looking at the nesting material? Well, the charts and descriptions are right there at

When we bring two generations together to benefit wildlife, everybody wins. When parents see the smiles created by an activity such as this, it helps initiate other natural activities they can share with their kids.

The bluebird partnership that began in the early 1990s is still going strong. I think this will be the seventeenth year. The most houses built in a single day totaled 161. The average has fluctuated between 112 and 120. With some quick math that comes out to over 2000 bluebird houses.

Partnerships can be a pretty positive thing.

Steve Maanum can be reached at sdmaanum@