A good year to be a bluebird
It's been a banner year for bluebirds at Flint Hills Resources.
Ten years ago a Flint Hills employee installed a few bluebird houses on the refinery's property. Process engineer Joel Mielke, an avid outdoorsman, recognized a need to monitor the houses and volunteered to help do it.
This year the company had a record 89 bluebird hatchlings. Mielke said all 89 bluebirds left the nest, which will add to the area's population.
"This is by far the best year we've had," said Mielke.
Volunteers and staff members at the plant monitor 20 artificial nesting structures located on a prairie ecosystem near the facility and report annual data to the Minnesota Bluebird Recovery Program. Mielke said half of the houses are located in the Pine Bend Bluffs area and the other half are on the refinery property.
Over the past 10 years Flint Hills has averaged about 50 fledglings per year. Bluebirds typically fledge from 16 to 21 days after hatching, according to a press release from the refinery. Fledging is the first flight away from the nest box and is an important step in their maturity.
"It's been a good year for bluebirds in general. It was a record year for the whole state," Mielke said.
The bluebird program began about the same time Flint Hills got involved in restoring the Pine Bend Bluffs area. According to the Mississippi River Field Guide the Friends of the Mississippi River, the Department of Natural Resources, The Trust for Public Land, Great River Greening, Flint Hills Resources and the Malcolm Family Estate have been working to preserve the area from development and to return vegetation to pre-settlement conditions.
Mielke said the success of bluebirds is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem. The Pine Bend Bluffs include white pines, oak forests, oak savanna, sand-gravel prairies and wildflower fields.
"Our 500 acres of restored native habitat on the Mississippi River have proven to be excellent sites for bluebirds," said Mielke.
Mielke said preserving natural areas is important to him and he sees a lot of value in the work.
Director of public affairs Jake Reint said employees of Flint Hills care about the environment, not only at the refinery but in general. He said the bluebird program is a good example of an employee-led initiative to preserve the environment
"Thanks to Joel and other employees this turned into a really great program," said Reint.