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Kanawha State Forest program to tell bluebirds’ story

By John McCoy, Staff writer
Photo from clipart.com
Visitors to Kanawha State Forest this weekend will get the chance to learn more about Eastern bluebirds. Master naturalist Rob Bailey will conduct a presentation on the species Saturday at 2 p.m.

Everyone loves bluebirds.

For that reason alone, Kanawha State Forest officials expect a nice crowd for today’s Bird of the Month presentation at the forest’s swimming-pool area.

Master naturalist Rob Bailey will conduct the 2 p.m. presentation, which will delve into the Eastern bluebird’s natural history, its recovery from a sharp population decline, and tips for attracting bluebirds to one’s property.

Bailey said he can remember a time when bluebirds were downright scarce.

“Bluebirds like to nest in small cavities, and there were no cavity-nesting areas near where I lived,” he recalled. “A lot of people burned wood back then, and all the trees with cavities in them had been burnt down or cut down.

“Another thing that hurt bluebird populations was the presence of starlings, which were brought over here from Europe. They will nest anywhere and eat anything, so they sort of pushed bluebirds out of their habitat.”

While in the third grade, Bailey started building nest boxes that mimicked the natural cavities missing from the landscape. He nailed them to trees and fence posts on the family farm, and before long bluebirds started coming back.

Bluebirds like open fields, and in the 1930s and 1940s Thomas Musselman of Quincy, Ill., developed a concept for creating “bluebird trails” of nest boxes located 100 yards or more apart. The idea caught on, and soon bluebird trails started popping up throughout the eastern U.S.

In the 1980s, the U.S. Geological Survey carried the concept to the nation’s Interstate highways. To this day, bluebird boxes can be seen on freeways throughout the bluebird’s natural range.

Today, Bailey said, bluebirds are doing quite well.

“They’re gaining ground,” he added. “I’m not going to say they’re at a [population] peak, but they’re in pretty solid shape.”

Kevin Dials, assistant superintendent at Kanawha State Forest, expects Bailey’s presentation to be one of the more popular ones in the forest’s Bird of the Month series.

“We’ve been doing these for more than a year now,” Dials said. “We have a lot of different birds here in the forest throughout the year, and birding is popular here, so it seemed like a natural fit to have a regularly scheduled, bird-themed program. Overall, the program has been pretty well received.”

The presentations, which are free and open to the public, have attracted up to 40 people.

“For a Saturday bird program, that’s pretty good,” he said.

Because so many species of birds call the forest home, Dials doesn’t anticipate running out of material anytime soon.

“We’ve had programs on cerulean warblers, Louisiana water thrushes, crows and wild turkeys, just to name a few,” he said.

“One of the more popular ones was in February, when we had a golden eagle bait site operating. We didn’t get an eagle, but we got to learn about them, to go through the process of how bait sites were set up and how the trail cameras were put out. That one was a lot of fun to do.”

The presentations were originally handled by the forest’s resident naturalist, but are now done by members of the Brooks Bird Club and by people who have earned the Division of Natural Resources’ master naturalist certification.

Dials said Saturday’s program will take place in the old snack bar building at the forest’s swimming pool. The building has been converted into a nature center.

For more information, contact Kanawha State Forest at 304-558-3500, or click on the Bird of the Month link in the Events section of the forest’s website, http://www.kanawhastateforest.com/events.html.


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