One House at a Time
Bluebirds in Kentucky are living well, thanks to one man's efforts.
By George Pike, Louisville, Kentucky
"I haven't seen bluebirds in years."
This single phrase changed my life 45 years ago. It was early spring in 1962, and I was helping my dad clear an overgrown fencerow on our old homestead in Kentucky. We uncovered a hollow fence post, and dad mentioned that bluebirds must have used it, though he hadn't seen a pair in years.
His comment reminded me of an article I'd recently read. It predicted that eastern bluebirds could become extinct due to a lack of nesting places and use of insecticides. When I placed the old post at the end of the garden, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't seen many bluebirds around either. To my surprise, bluebirds built a nest in that hollow post within a week.
Those birds had a hard time with predators robbing their nest, but they did end up raising two youngsters that fledged in early July.
Later that year, our local newspaper ran an article about a fellow named Bill Duncan who built and hung bluebird nesting boxes. I called Bill, and he gladly sent me a copy of his plans.
During the winter of 1963, I constructed 12 boxes with Bill's plans. Then in the spring, I placed them on my Dad's old homestead and neighboring farms. I checked the boxes during that nesting season and saw multiple bluebirds. From that point on, I was hooked!
The sound of their singing in the spring brought a smile to my face. I was determined to help reestablish this population of insect-eating birds.
Between 1963 and 1997, I built between 12 and 24 boxes a year, and I hung them anywhere I found a suitable site. One year, my aunt found spots for nearly 50 houses. She was a nun and offered extra credit to anyone in her science class who brought in a note from a landowner stating they would mount and maintain a nesting box. I certainly stayed busy that year!
About 10 years ago, I retired and found myself with even more time for building. I built 50 boxes in 1998, 100 in 1999 and at least that many ever since.
I'm not picky about the type of wood I use. My friends are always on the lookout for scraps that might work. My all-time favorite is wood from old fences, but I can adapt. Eventually, I had most of my area equipped with bluebird houses, so I turned to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to help me find more people who could use my boxes. Now, they collect names and dispense my creations throughout the year.
As I said, I'm hooked. I have enough wood to make birdhouses for the next few years, and I don't plan to stop anytime soon. Who would have thought that a simple comment, made 45 years ago, would turn into such a passion?