Peter Evans is bursting with the pride of a new parent as he sets out on a hike through Reservoir Woods to check on some of the park’s newest hatchlings.
The retired teacher is monitoring and tending to a dozen bluebird houses tucked into the grassland areas of the 120-acre natural area. He checks weekly to see which houses have attracted families of bluebirds. He started in the spring counting courting couples, then their bright blue eggs, chicks, and eventually fledglings.
“What could be happier than a bluebird,” said Evans as he navigates the trails with an old friend and fellow birder Mark Palas on a warm spring morning.
“I feel like I should be giving out cigars,” Evans jests, as he flips through his clipboard where he keeps track of all the new eggs and hatchings.
Evans is a City of Roseville volunteer. He’s also a member of the nonprofit Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota, which has helped this songbird recover and flourish after the previous century of decline.
While Evans may feel the pride and joy of a new papa, his work more closely mirrors that of a housekeeper and handyman. Evans clears out old nests that dissuade bluebirds from occupying a house. He shoos away wasps and invasive house sparrows known to build their nests right on top of bluebird nests.
Evans makes repairs to the houses, which are perched on metal poles about six feet off the ground. He uses building techniques and materials that gently foil raccoons and other predators.
This is Evans’ first year tending the city’s bluebird trail.
“I have always been interested in birds but I have gotten more serious about birds since I retired,” Evans said. “I really love Reservoir Woods. I love that it has all these different habitats. I have walked there for years and I’ve always seen the bluebird houses.”
Last winter, he approached parks and recreation staff and proposed that he’d maintain and monitor the houses that were falling into disrepair. City leaders agreed.
“I thought it would be something good for me to do. I walk there almost every day,” Evans said.
Bluebirds, with their rust-color breasts and blue backs, are a symbol of joy and happiness but for nearly a century the Eastern Bluebird species was struggling due to habitat loss and competition from other cavity-nesting birds, especially invasive starlings and house sparrows. Bluebirds like to nest in dead and decaying trees in grassy, open areas.
In the 1970s, the Minnesota Bluebird recovery program was created by the Minneapolis Chapter of the National Audubon Society to promote the placement and maintenance of bluebird houses across the state. It was the first state bluebird organization in the nation. It’s now spun off as its own nonprofit with hundreds of members, many of whom, like Evans, count eggs and fledglings. Last year alone, members reported 9,101 fledged bluebirds.
Palas monitors a bluebird trail in the southern suburbs and he’s helping his friend with his new Roseville route while snapping photos and siting other bird species along the way.
In a couple of the houses, they find chickadee nests, which are full of soft mosses and bunny fur. Chickadees are also native to this area and are warmly welcomed by Evans even though he’s courting the bluebird.
They approach a birdhouse in a clearing in the woods. Evans gently taps on the house.
“It’s always polite to knock,” he said. Two bluebirds perch nearby as Evans gently peeks inside the house and sees five blue eggs in the center of a neatly constructed nest.
They check another house and they find a mother bluebird sitting
on several eggs. So far, he’s found four of the houses occupied by nesting bluebirds.
Both Evans and Palas say they plan to report their counts to the recovery program.
“It’s a little success in the suburbs,” Palas says. “You don’t have to be in the wilderness to have wildlife.”
Roseville volunteers also help remove invasive species, plant trees, collect and plant native seeds, and other activities that restore and preserve our natural habitats.
Contact Rachel Boggs, Rachel.firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.