Connecting People with Nature
Northeast Region
Brekale Washington holding a purple martin chick.
Brekale Washington holding a purple martin chick

Hands-on nature!

Iroquois volunteer teaches youth about Eastern bluebirds

Thirteen years ago, Carl Zenger (72), said goodbye to an old Eastern bluebird trail he had been maintaining on some private land near his home in Lockport, New York. Because of a change of ownership, the land had become unavailable for his use and, eager to continue his work, Carl soon discovered that there was another such trail not far from his home at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

At the time, the refuge’s bluebird trail was in disrepair which, in the words of Carl Zenger, made the relationship a “natural match.”

With over 13,000 volunteer hours now under his belt more than a decade later, Carl has gone beyond his original role of being a steward for the local bluebird population. Over the years his interest in these birds has given him the opportunity to help maintain recreational access to the refuge, work with biologists to collect bluebird population data and serve as a mentor to people in his community. Carl enjoys teaching visitors about his beloved bluebirds and the import roles that they play in the local ecology.

This year, the Friends of Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Inc., a community non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the refuge, worked with Carl to implement the Take a Kid Along project (TAKA). Seven children from the local community, ranging in age from six to 16 tagged along with Carl throughout the summer to monitor and manage bluebird nesting boxes on the refuge.

Tanner Elam and Josh Wells checking a bluebird box.
Tanner Elam and Josh Wells checking a bluebird box

The children received a small backpack filled with field tools such as binoculars and bird identification guides. They wrote and illustrated their experiences in journals.

According to Carl, journaling helps children reflect and “learn the behavioral activities of the wildlife that they are studying…. It helps them with their writing and their schoolwork.” Participants in the program also kept detailed weekly records on all aspects of the bluebird population including parasite frequency, age and size of clutch and success rate of each nesting site.

Because parasites are such a problem for fledgling birds, children in the TAKA program learn how to safely change nesting box material, giving them a chance to hold and interact with baby bluebirds. According to Carl, many fledglings that would not have otherwise survived made it to adulthood because their nesting material was kept clean.

When the birds became old enough, the children secured small identification bands to the legs of the fledglings so that they can be tracked during the next breeding season.

Beyond bluebirds, families involved in the TAKA program were actively encouraged to make the most of their time in the woods. This time outside interacting with their environment helps teach children about local animals and plants and why they are important to the local ecology. If you or your children are interested in helping local wildlife, click here to find a national wildlife refuge near you.

Story by External Affairs Intern Christopher Poulin

Last updated: October 4, 2010
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