New Jersey Eagle Scout Makes a Difference for the Eastern Bluebird
The rank of Eagle is the highest achievable status in the Boy Scouts of America and perhaps the most difficult to attain. In order to become an Eagle Scout, one must demonstrate outstanding dedication, merit and leadership ability. In addition to this the Scout must also design and implement a meaningful service project that benefits their community. The Boy Scouts of America have a long standing partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and so it is always a pleasure to see scouts engaging in projects that help conserve and protect the natural world. The work of Gregory Allan (17) and his troop in Sparta, New Jersey is a prime example of the contributions that America’s youth have made to help further the Service’s mission.
Working with volunteers Sue and Stan Murrell, Gregory took point on organizing his troop to build 45 bluebird boxes for the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge, replacements for older less well made nesting structures already in place.
“When the boxes were falling apart it was impossible to get anything done” Stated Sue Murrell, thankful that Gregory had taken such an interest in working with the bluebirds.
At the refuge, Mr. and Ms. Murrell donate their time once a week to checking the boxes, making sure that they are in good form and free of parasites. Sometimes it is also necessary to remove the nests of competing species of bird that try to take up residence in the bluebird nest boxes.
Stan and Sue also collect data on the bluebirds so that refuge biologists can keep tabs on how successful the population is. Without its volunteers, Wallkill may not have had the resources to monitor the bluebirds so thoroughly.
Gregory explained to me the condition in which he found the previous bluebird boxes “…they were over 10 years old and made of pine which doesn’t resist weather or infestation. The new boxes are made of cedar.” This means that the new nesting boxes should last much longer and provide superior protection to future generations of bluebirds.
Bluebird boxes come in several different styles but are most commonly simple rectangular boxes with a hole drilled in one side big enough for the bluebird to enter. Bluebirds prefer to live in crevices such as those found on standing dead trees. This style of nesting box is an acceptable alternative when forest management practices do not favor bluebird-preferred habitat.
Bluebirds face predation from a number of different sources. From house sparrows to raccoons, bluebirds have to be on constant guard if they want to survive and are often most vulnerable when in a nesting box. Therefore, boxes with long slits may also be used in order to give parent bluebirds the chance to slip past predators that try and corner them on the nest.
“…It is like a miracle every time you see the babies; it is very rewarding knowing that you have a hand in keeping the bluebird population going,” said Sue Murrell who admittedly had never even seen a bluebird before signing up to help maintain the boxes. When asked why she enjoyed volunteering for Wallkill she simply responded “It is just something about being in nature”.
In order to meet the requirements of becoming an Eagle Scout, Gregory had to complete at least 100 hours of public service. Aside from constructing the boxes, much of his time was spent obtaining the materials to build them. As an extra challenge, Greg also managed to complete his project solely from donations made by local businesses.
“I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot about local wildlife” Said Gregory, reflecting on his experience. Now an Eagle Scout, a lifelong title in the Boy Scouts of America, Gregory will undoubtedly find himself acting as a mentor for some of the younger scouts in his region.
Once considered “critically endangered” as a result of habitat and nesting site loss, the Eastern bluebird has made a strong comeback in the last few decades, mostly due to the work of people like Greg Allan and the Murrells. It goes to show that small groups of dedicated individuals really can change the world. In the case of the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge this means that visitors, photographers, birders and tourists will have the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful bird. On a larger scale, the success of the Eastern bluebird is a refreshingly positive story that gives hope for the recovery of many other endangered species. The take home message here is that it doesn’t take a degree in biology to help protect the natural world. Anybody with the desire to make positive change, no matter what age, is capable of making a difference.
To learn more about the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge, visit their website at:
To find a refuge near you go to: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/