If you’ve ever encountered a baby bird fallen from its nest, you probably recalled your mother warning you to stay away for fear of imparting your human scent. But when it comes to bluebirds, it turns out mom was wrong.
Keith Radel, chair of the Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota, has watched the rules of bluebird care change greatly since he became an enthusiast in the 1980s.
“We were even told, ‘Don’t even look at them, because [the parents] know you were there and they’ll abandon them,’” Radel said. “Not true.”
The taboo of rescuing and viewing chicks is one of the misconceptions Radel and his fellow members will try to dispel at the annual Bluebird Expo, which will be held this year at the Cambridge-Isanti High School on Saturday, April 16, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The expo will feature Jim Gilbert of WCCO’s “Nature Notes,” as well as live birds from the Minnesota Raptor Center and several presentations on bluebird care.
The Bluebird Recovery Program was founded in 1979 in an effort to rehabilitate the population after habitat loss and competition with non-native species such as starlings and house sparrows nearly wiped out the bluebirds.
In its first year the 11 founding members fledged 22 bluebirds, meaning they housed and monitored them from the time they were eggs until fall migration. Last year, members statewide fledged 21,000.
In Isanti County in 2009, members housed 186 eggs and successfully fledged 159 bluebirds, not counting all the unregistered houses in the area.
Helping the bluebirds repopulate is important, Radel explained, because of the fragility of the species: a bluebird has a maximum lifespan of three years, and the rigors of migrations take a heavy toll on the population each year.
But Kim Crandall, of East Bethel, is quick to point out the benefits are not just for the birds. Her parents were among the original members of the Bluebird Recovery Program, and Crandall herself joined 10 years ago “to carry on the tradition.”
Her husband, Roger Cheyne, jokes that he simply married into the hobby, but he admits he now enjoys caring for the birds in his own right.
“I think one of the neatest things about them is that they allow humans to interact, to check on them,” Cheyne said. “Because a lot of times in the wild it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, don’t touch it, don’t get near them, don’t do whatever, because you’re going to kind of throw Mother Nature’s cycle off or something and something bad will happen. But not with the bluebirds.”
Unlike Crandall, bluebirds were new to Radel when he joined the program in 1982. Radel didn’t see his first bluebird until he was in his 30s, but when he began putting up bluebird houses, he did so in a big way.
“I made 25 and put ‘em up on five acres,” Radel recalled. “Four would have been plenty.”
But Radel is eager to pass on what experience has taught him. Most important, he says, is to pay attention: know when bluebirds are nesting, when they lay eggs, and when the nest is in trouble.
According to Radel, a bluebird house is no longer a beginning woodworking project to build and forget.
“When you put up boxes,” Radel said, “there’s a responsibility that goes with it.”
Other presenters at the Bluebird Expo include:
• Al Batt With His Wonderful Humor
• Keith Radel – “Beginning Bluebird Trail with Fledging Tips.”
• Mary Roen, Wisconsin Bluebirder – “House Wren Guard & Pole Baffles”
• Carmalita Nelson, Non-game DNR – “Bluebird Chicks in Trouble”
• Minnesota Raptor Center from St. Paul with several birds
• A field trip to a bluebird trail.
For more information on the 2011 Bluebird Expo or to find tips on caring for bluebirds, check out www.bbrp.org or call 507-332-7003 or 507-210-0961.
There is a $ 10 registration fee, and $11.75 lunch cost per person, to attend the Expo.