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Birtle birders take bluebirds under their wing

Manitoba organization has a long history of preserving bluebird population

Eastern bluebird fledglings in a nesting box.

Two Birtle bird lovers are flying high in the Friends of the Bluebirds organization, a group that has saved a couple of species from possible extinction.

As woodlands continue to be cleared, nesting boxes help keep bluebird numbers up across the province. Roberta Hutchison and Pat Farquhar watch over 14 of these boxes.

Friends of the Bluebirds formed in 1975 to carry on the work of John and Nora Lane, who formed ‘The Brandon Junior Birders’ and worked faithfully to stop the decline of eastern and mountain bluebirds in Manitoba in the early 1960s.

Hutchison describes herself as a birder and first became interested in bluebirds about three years ago. Both types of bluebirds live in the Birtle area.

Her first nesting box wasn’t a success. Farquhar, a fellow bluebird enthusiast, stepped in with a new suggestion.

“Pat suggested her pasture north of town would be ideal,” Hutchison said. “Suitable habitat and location are important for success, as we both have come to learn, while checking our fenceline boxes and monitoring the plus-minus facts of each numbered nesting box.”

Other members of the group take their birding much further.

Hutchison spoke of Shoal Lake couple Ray and Barb Pettinger who maintain over 70 boxes and band chicks to track migration habits. They have 25 years of experience with bluebirds.

Members of the club are a cross-section of the community with most having a passion for wildlife and migrant songbirds. There are more than 2,200 bluebird boxes across western Manitoba.

While there is no fee to become a member of the Friends of the Bluebirds, there are responsibilities.

“As a member, there is more required than simply implementing a box,” said Hutchison. “You must count and record the eggs, record when they hatch, watch for predators, record when the chicks fledge, compile the data and forward it to the organization in Brandon.”

Last year, Farquhar and Hutchison had two boxes with eastern bluebirds and seven with tree swallows. While bluebirds are skittish and fly away as the women approach, the swallows sit close by and watch as they peek inside to inspect.

For each person involved, helping the bluebirds means giving back to society. The Friends of the Bluebirds’ volunteer efforts have results that go far beyond Manitoba, assisting wildlife professionals in North America that track bird populations.

Darrell Nesbitt writes from Shoal Lake, Manitoba.

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