Saturday, March 8, 2003

Bluebirds' warble returning

Gardener to gardener

By Peg St. Clair
Enquirer contributor

More than any winter I can remember, a continual blanket of snow has been the norm this year rather than the exception. As temperatures have begun to rise a bit and only patches of snow remain, I cannot remember longing for spring to such a degree.

The songs of birds outside my window have been especially appreciated. One in particular has caught my attention. The eastern bluebird, according to Thoreau, "carries the sky on its back and his soft warble melts in the ear, as the snow is melting in the valleys around."

Bluebirds require a specific habitat, which has been deeply affected by the efforts of mankind. In the 1700s and 1800s, when a lot of forested areas were being cut for farmland, fence posts were driven into the ground and many apple trees were planted. Bluebirds used these rotting fence posts and apple trees for nesting sites.

When two species of birds - the house sparrow and the starling - were introduced to the United States from Europe in the mid to late 1800s, the result was devastating for bluebirds. The aggressive newcomers liked to nest in the same places.

Then, wooden fences began to be replaced by metal posts and barbed wire. Meadows in rural and suburban areas, where bluebirds prefer to live, gave way to housing developments with little green space.

In the 1960s, as the bluebird population had plummeted as much as 90 percent, a national conservation organization was created to protect the bluebirds. In 1978, the North American Bluebird Society was formed. Members educate, conduct research and provide literature on bluebird trails and nesting box monitors.

Due to these efforts and volunteers who monitor nesting boxes and bluebird fledglings, the bluebird population is on the rise.

For example, volunteers Roger and Lois Rager of Rockford, in Mercer County, started with one nesting box in 1985 and "fledged" four bluebirds that year. Today, they manage nearly 85 boxes and, over the years, have given 3,169 bluebirds to the citizens of Ohio.

The Ohio Bluebird Society, also formed in 1978, has many volunteers in middle and northern Ohio, but it needs help in southwestern Ohio, an area offering the best habitat of any in the state, says Bernard Daniel, society president.

A bluebird installation will be included in Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's 18-acre site in College Hill. The College Hill Gardeners, a civic community group sponsoring the bluebird trail, will host a bluebird class 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Twin Towers, 5343 Hamilton Ave., taught by Daniel. Class fee: $5. Information: 681-1326.

Contact Peg St. Clair by phone: 541-4680; Web site:

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