Local News

Couple banking on communitywide initiative to bolster bird’s numbers

LAKE PLACID - Jean Warren knocked on a wooden bluebird nesting box on the Royce Ranch bluebird trail to announce her presence. No bird flew out, but there was a "complete nest" sitting in a container the size of a small cup. In a couple of weeks Warren expected the mama bird to return and lay some eggs. For Jean and Bud Warren, what started off with five eastern bluebird boxes in the mid '90s on the Lake Placid ranch, has become what they hope is a communitywide initiative to bring back these tiny songbirds that once flew everywhere in Highlands County.
In 1995, Bud Warren set up about five boxes on the ranch to see if bluebirds would nest. They did. Then the number of boxes kept growing and the number of fledglings kept increasing. Bud Warren has since turned over the project to somebody else, but he and his wife, Jean, wanted to involve Highlands County into resurrecting the area's bluebird population. They are inviting people to set up bluebird nesting houses on ranches and backyards. Bluebird boxes have to be designed in a certain way, and the Warrens will supply the houses through the Audubon Society of Highlands County and the Lake Placid High School shop class. The town of Lake Placid is one entity that is trying to show some support. Its council recently issued a proclamation declaring Lake Placid as an eastern bluebird sanctuary, and the town is setting up donated bluebird houses within town limits. Jean Warren feels a collective effort will help to bolster the bird's numbers, which have started to improve. "We've destroyed their habitat," she reasoned, and we owe it them to make a comeback. Bluebirds are friendly but docile and don't like the aggravation of dealing with more competitive and more aggressive birds. "They would never beat out another bird for a nest," Jean Warren explained. Having a protected place they can call home helps, even if it is not a cavity in a tree but a man-made house on a pole or a tree. Audubon's Howard Frum, a prolific bird house maker, is the one who fashions bird houses for the area's avian lovers – from wood duck bird boxes to bluebird houses. Since 1985, when he started keeping score, Frum has made more than a 1,000 bird houses, he estimates. In his experience, the location of a bird house is more important than the box itself. From what he's seen, bluebirds, for instance, prefer open room, "at least half an acre of open grass land" and no trees, he added. Turns out, space is not the only consideration. Bluebirds are picky and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why they will choose one house over another, although it appears they prefer to have choices. "The female bluebirds have their own idea how to set up housekeeping," Jean Warren said. One man who has single-handedly made Sebring's golf courses a bluebird colony is Tony Reinhart. When he came to the area and started golfing here, he remembered seeing no bluebirds or bluebird houses like he had on other golf courses. In 2004, he set up 10 bluebird houses and 20 birds fledged there. Last year, 224 birds fledged in Reinhart's 100 bluebird boxes installed on both of Harder Hall's golf courses and the Sebring Municipal Golf Course. He monitors the bird houses at least once a week and keeps data. About 40 of these bird houses are active, he noted, including one in his backyard that is the full-time home of bluebirds that come and go. Can the efforts of one or two people make a difference in reversing decades of loss? Reinhart believes so. "I built a colony here," he said. "There was nothing here eight or nine years ago." To contact Jean or Bud Warren, call 465-3864 or email jeankwarren@yahoo.com or ggwarren@alumniNCSU.edu.