Wednesday, April 7, 2021

One Community’s Operation Bluebirds

After never having seen an Eastern Bluebird at the farm before, even the first year was a great success with a total of 19 bluebirds fledging, along with 21 House Wrens, and 10 Tree Swallows (photo by Glenda Simmons).
Some students with new nest boxes to install for their Operation Bluebird project.
The students of Operation Bluebird in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

We thought you would delight in the story of how the gift of a simple birdhouse transformed a community of students and interested birders into dedicated bluebird landlords and citizen scientists: It all started when Kate Anderson was given a bluebird nest box as a birthday gift from her mother. Kate lives on a 135-acre farm protected under a conservation easement for open space near Yellow Springs, Ohio. The bluebird nest box she was given made her think about ways to spark an interest for birds and conservation in her community – especially its young people – while allowing access to protected private lands. The only problem was that she hadn’t seen any bluebirds on her farm, and she didn’t really know much about bluebirds or other cavity nesting birds.

Enter Bethany Gray, who is a certified naturalist and a member of the Ohio Bluebird Society. She was looking for a space to install a bluebird trail when she approached the Tecumseh Land Trust for help. Kate happened to be a board member of the Tecumseh Land Trust and an education committee member. Bethany’s knowledge about cavity nesting birds and their preferences was exactly what Kate needed to help nourish an idea that had been forming since she received the original nest box from her mother. The stars aligned, and the 2 women began installing a few nest boxes at Kate’s farm. And like a wink from the Universe, the very first bluebird egg was laid in the nest box Kate received from her mother.


Learning by Doing

With a master’s degree in education and school-aged children of her own, Kate understood that for the next generation to take conservation action, they needed to have a personal connection with nature. In Kate’s words, “Awareness precedes transformation. If we want to change behavior, we need to start by fostering greater awareness and relationships with the outdoors.

“When things become up close and personal, we begin to care, and only when we truly care, will we take action.” With this in mind, Kate approached Tecumseh Land Trust and her son’s 7th grade science teacher at McKinney Middle School, Becca Eastman, with an idea for project-based learning and conservation education on her farm. By the following spring, students from the middle school were making nest boxes in shop class, many of which were installed at the farm and monitored for NestWatch. “Operation Bluebird” was officially off the ground!

During its first season, about 70 students visited the farm 3 times to check nest boxes. Bethany also taught the students about responsible nest monitoring, and each student became certified to monitor nests for NestWatch. Students had the opportunity to collect data and make a presentation about what they learned. As Kate said, “It took the land trust, school, and community really pulling together to make it all happen. It was a team effort, indeed.”

In its first year, the modest nest box trail had active nests where pairs of birds successfully fledged 19 Eastern Bluebirds, 21 House Wrens, and 10 Tree Swallows – an excellent start! As an educator, Kate delighted in watching the students’ awareness grow, as the students moved beyond asking “what’s in the box?” to more nuanced questions about what’s going on around nest boxes related to habitat, habitat loss, invasive species, and migration. Now the children want to come back more often, which Kate and Becca encourage.

Students will soon be back on the nest box trails monitoring birds and engaging in citizen science. Kate was inspired to launch this program because she really believes that “When you see a nestling bird, it stays with you. You don’t forget it.” That’s part of the power of transformative learning.

This article was written by Robyn Bailey and originally published in the NestWatch website at

To learn more about nest boxes, cavity nesting birds, and nest monitoring, visit the NestWatch website at

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