Havre Daily News
What started as a man with a dream and five boxes has now turned into a statewide effort with about 600 members.
Art Aylesworth, who lived west of Ronan, wanted to restore bluebird populations back to the large numbers he saw when he was a child. He recruited volunteers and in 1974 formed Mountain Bluebird Trails, an affiliate of the North American Bluebird Society.
Since then, its members have recorded the hatching of more than 300,000 bluebirds in Montana.
The president of Mountain Bluebird Trails, Bob Niebuhr of Great Falls, was in Havre on Wednesday night to speak about his group.
At the beginning of the presentation, Conrad Nystrom, chair of the Hill County Conservation District, was the sole member of Mountain Bluebird Trails in the county. By the end of the meeting, about seven families had joined the effort, receiving their nesting boxes on the spot from a stack of about 75 boxes in the back of one of the speaker's trucks. About 35 people attended the meeting.
Aylesworth died in 1999. Mountain Bluebird Trails continues Aylesworth's efforts by conducting education programs, disseminating educational materials, gathering nest box data and helping members develop nest box trails.
Montana is the only state in the U.S. where all three types of bluebirds nest: mountain, western and eastern.
Members receive a bluebird monitoringguide, a newsletter and five nest boxes. Niebuhr said some members have a couple of boxes on their land and others have hundreds. He said the average member monitors about 20 nest boxes, usually placed on top of poles.
Nystrom has eight nest boxes on his land south of Havre. He has been with the bluebird group for two years.
Niebuhr recommends checking the nest boxes once a week to monitor the population, and cleaning them out once a year. The wooden boxes have a lid on the top that can be opened to check on the nest.
He went over the guidelines of bluebird nesting, including location. Wooden fence posts work well. He suggested putting the box at a height so a person could easily open the lid and look into the box.
Reid Stuart of Conrad, area coordinator for the group, said he created a trail of bluebird nests that ended at his house after seeing bluebirds about six miles south of where he lives. The birds followed the path and now he has the bluebirds around his place.
Niebuhr told the story of a Mountain Bluebird Trails member who would strap a few nests to his back everytime he would go hiking around St. Regis and mount the boxes as he went along.
Males usually return to the same area, if not the same nest, after migration. After returnng, they look for a mate.
“They get a girlfriend and take her to the house to see if she likes it. If she goes in, and I have only witnessed this a couple of times, he dances around the top of the box and sings,” Niebuhr said while showing a slide show of the courting. “It's really kind of a romantic story.”
A bluebird can build a nest in the box in a day and sometimes start to lay eggs that same day. The birds average an egg a day to a total of about six. Incubation time is 14 days. After the eggs hatch, the fledglings can eat a total of more than 3,000 bugs in 18 days, Niebuhr said. He added that a 3-day-old bird can eat a whole grasshopper.
They need to eat that much because at 18 days old, the birds are nearly full size and ready to venture out on their own.
Niebuhr said that now is the time to join because the birds are expected to return to Montana in about 30 days.
A monitoring guide and instructional video will be available at the Havre-Hill County Library and the Vande Bogart Library at Montana State University-Northern.
On the Net: www.mountainbluebirdtrails.com