Sharon tended 537 native birds along the Bluebird Trail at Como for 11 years!
How did you get started?
My neighbor Val got me started. I got to know here when I learned she was a fellow member of the Audobon Society. She was taking care of a Blue Bird trail on the Como golf course and asked me to start up a new trail. I didn’t know much when I started, so I followed her for a year and filled in when she was on vacation to learn the ropes.
What is a year on the Blue Bird Trail like?
In March or April when the birds return, I put up the boxes on their posts.
Once a week I open them up to take a look.
At the end of nesting season, I take down the boxes, clean them out and store them in my garage.
Working the Blue Bird Trail has been a great way to get outdoors and hone my observation skills.
Tell us about the impact of your work on the bird population.
Monitors are trying to help the Blue Birds get a fair chance. The population was declining for years as their habitats were reduced and as non-native bird took over their nesting spots.
During the year, when I see a non-native bird nest, I remove it to keep the boxes open for Blue Birds. The boxes are also used by other native birds like tree swallows, cow birds, chickadees, and house wrens.
As a monitor, I kept records to report to the Blue Bird Recovery Program of Minnesota. They collect from multiple sites across the state. During my years volunteering from 2008-2020, 378 Blue Birds fledged in my boxes and a total of 537 native birds fledged along the trail. I’m happy knowing all those birds had a better chance because of those boxes.
What did you enjoy most about your work as a Blue Bird Trail monitor?
I learned a lot about those birds. Before I started birding, I didn’t know how many birds were around all the time. There are always Blue Birds in the park – even this morning.
I was particularly amazed at how I could recognize particular birds from year to year because of their behavior or attributes. Blue Birds usually lay 3-4 blue eggs 2-3 times each year, although they sometimes lay white eggs. I recognized one pair every year because they always laid 6-7 white eggs. It was neat to think they were coming back every year to the same trail to nest.
Many Blue Birds are docile and just fly out of the box when I open it to check. A few dive bombed me, though. Even though I’m much bigger than they are, it does work. Hearing their wings clicking as they dive in – they were able to scare me off. They definitely have their own personalities.
Did you ever find anything surprising in a nesting box?
Once I opened a box around July 4. I saw a little white packet. I figured I was reading too many mysteries, but it looked to me like a little packet of drugs, so I emailed Adam Robbins at St Paul Parks and Rec Natural Resources to check it out. He laughed and told me it was a little fire cracker.
Of course, even items from nature that folks drop in the boxes – like a pinecone – can ruin a nest. I did sometimes relocate boxes if they were attracting too much human interference.
Did you meet new people during your years of volunteering?
People are definitely interested in the boxes. It was fun to meet walkers or families on my route and have them ask what I was doing.
The Audobon Society also sponsored a few a few classes along the trails. I enjoyed taking children along the trail and showing them what I was looking for.
And now you’ve passed the torch to the next volunteer?
I believe the best way to learn is to follow someone who is doing it, so I mentored the new volunteer for a year before retiring from it. Como is a good habitat for Blue Birds, full of wide-open spaces to find insects, but it doesn’t have enough natural homes. The increase in Blue Bird trails has really helped them come back from decline. This is fun, important work. I find now I enjoy the whole of nature, not just birding. I just love to be outside and observe.
Volunteer in Saint Paul parks! From Wildlife Monitors to Park and Garden Stewards, there are ways to make a difference that connect you to nature. Learn more