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Robert Trail Library class is for the birds

File Photo: An eastern bluebird perches on a broken aspen tree branch during a June bird survey in Beltrami Island State Forest. Beth Siverhus, an avid birder from Warroad, Minn., conducted a bird survey in the area of the Palsburg Fire and surrounding lands for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. (Beth Siverhus photo)

Nature lovers who want to help support Minnesota's bluebird population will have the opportunity to attend a 90-minute training session at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 22 at the Robert Trail Library in Rosemount.

Minnesota Master Naturalist David Schmidt, who serves as Dakota County Coordinator for the Minnesota Bluebird Recovery Program, will teach the course.

Schmidt said the push to place bluebird houses in the community began in the late 1970s and early '80s, when the songbird's population was in steep decline. Bluebirds return to Minnesota from Kansas and Missouri each spring and can nest up to three times a year between April and August. Schmidt said monitoring their nesting progress on a weekly basis helps keep the migratory birds safe from predators. It also protects them from competing species, such as sparrows, wrens, chickadees and tree swallows, which often try to seize their nesting sites.

"Once those boxes are put up, it's really important that they be monitored," Schmidt said. "Mother nature will take its course. These boxes are put in places where predators such as snakes, raccoons and feral cats can't access them. And if the nest doesn't get cleaned out, it attracts insects and gets nasty and has the potential for causing damage to another species."

Volunteer Engagement Manager Diane Erickson said she has noticed a big difference in bluebird numbers since implementing the program in Rosemount and Apple Valley last year. She said careful monitoring has allowed volunteers to prevent more assertive species from taking over the nests.

Schmidt said the time commitment for trainees can be minimal. Volunteers can sign up to monitor as many bluebird boxes as they like, and those wishing for less of a commitment can share a box with another family or simply clean out the boxes at the beginning of the breeding season instead.

Participants are responsible for checking their boxes at least once a week to see who is inhabiting them. They will track nesting progress, such as how many eggs are laid and how many fledglings hatch, and report their findings to to the Minnesota Bluebird Recovery Program at the end of the season.

During the training session, participants will learn how to identify different nest types and how to handle the various predators and competing bird species that can threaten bluebirds.

Schmidt said the volunteer program should appeal to a broad spectrum of people, from parents who wish to instill a love of nature in their children to school groups to retired couples who happen to notice the boxes while strolling through their local parks. He estimated about 80 percent of the boxes will end up with birds inhabiting them over the summer.

Erickson said the volunteer opportunity has proved to be a lot of fun for families that have participated in the past.

"It's really cool, and every time we got little babies it was very exciting," she said. "It's great for all ages to get out and enjoy it."

Nest boxes have been placed in Ailesbury, Bloomfield, Erickson, Innisfree, Schwarz Pond, Shannon, and Winds parks in Rosemount. They are also located in Delaney, Diamond Path, Huntington, and Tintah parks in Apple Valley. The county is looking for volunteers to monitor nest boxes in Hastings too.

Attendees are asked to RSVP by sending their name and contact information to bluebirdsafe@gmail.com.

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