May 23rd, 2024

Bluebird conservation society celebrates 50 years

By Lethbridge Herald on April 5, 2024.

Photo courtesy MBTCS - Mountain Bluebird Trails Conservation Society president Jim Leitch works on a nest box along his Bluebird Trail in Lethbridge. The society is celebrating their 50th anniversary at their Annual General Meeting this Saturday.

The Mountain Bluebird Trails Conservation Society is celebrating a 50th anniversary milestone at its upcoming annual general meeting Saturday at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre.

Mountain Bluebird conservation in Southern Alberta was pioneered by the late Duncan Mackintosh of Lethbridge who started setting out nest boxes in spring of 1974.

In the fall of 1973 a student from Manitoba attending Lethbridge College brought a bluebird nest box and presented on the impacts of habitat loss to the Lethbridge Naturalists’ Society (presently known as Nature Lethbridge).

From this meeting the ‘Lethbridge Naturalists’ Society Bluebird Project’ was created with Mackintosh as the coordinator. He was provided with $14.35 for supplies to construct 40 nest boxes based on the Manitoba design.

The naturalists were motivated to take action in response to the immediate impacts that starlings and English sparrows had after their introduction in North America. The new species quickly became fierce predators and competitors of native nest-cavity bird species like Mountain Bluebirds. The decline of prairie grasslands and increasing habitat loss due to disturbance from agriculture compounded pressures on native bird species.

Mackintosh’s initial nest box design was based on blueprints primarily focused on the eastern bluebird. As a result, early efforts were not as successful as he had hoped. After careful observation, Mackintosh recognized that the nest boxes were not ideal for the Mountain Bluebird and set about to redesign them for our region. The new design had a larger hole size, larger floor space, and thicker plywood walls. This greatly increased the effectiveness of the nest boxes in supporting mountain bluebirds.

In 1978, the North American Bluebird Society (NABS) formed and Mackintosh was designated as a trail operator manager. That same year he obtained a Masters Permit from the Canadian Government and began banding bluebirds.

By 1984, just 10 years after starting the bluebird project, Mackintosh’s annual report indicated 1,390 nest boxes were placed; 304 occupied by mountain bluebirds producing 1,931 bluebird eggs of which 1,797 successfully fledged. Mackintosh and 33 volunteers banded 1,293 mountain bluebird fledglings and 58 adult bluebirds.

This core group of volunteers called itself Mountain Bluebird Trails. Their efforts extended beyond Southern Alberta into Montana. Mackintosh led the Alberta cohort, which was officially renamed Mountain Bluebird Trails Conservation Society (MBTCS) in 1995 when they became a registered charity.

At the time of his passing in 1995, Mackintosh and more than 50 volunteers were looking after thousands of nest boxes spread out over 31,080 square kilometre area across southwestern Alberta.

Despite their best efforts, it is recently estimated that there are 2.9 billion fewer birds in Canada and USA than in 1970. Bird population decline is not limited to endangered or species at risk, but includes common species like sparrows, warblers, and bluebirds.

In an attempt to slow or perhaps reverse this decline, the Mountain Bluebird Trails Conservation Society continues to install and maintain over 2,700 mountain bluebird nest boxes throughout southern Alberta. Over the past 50 years MBTCS volunteers have been dedicated to studying, conserving, and helping restore the natural range of the mountain bluebird.

MBTCS works to bring together Trail Monitors from across Southern Alberta – spanning Medicine Hat and Cypress Hills area in the east to Pincher Creek and Oldman River headwaters in the west, and north from the Calgary Area Nestbox Monitors Society to the southern Montana Bluebird Trails in Montana.

“Our team of 110 plus volunteers maintain a vast network of Mountain Bluebird trails, increasing habitat and restoring the natural range of these beautiful birds,” says Jim Leitch, President of MBTCS in a press release,

“We rely on support from our members and the community to continue to build, renovate, and maintain cavity nest box habitat that supports thousands of bluebirds each year.”

MBTCS offers support in maintaining a healthy and productive Mountain Bluebird Trail. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to learn more and do their part for our wonderful bluebird neighbours.

Those interested can attend the AGM) which starts at 1 p.m.

The AGM will feature a presentation by Myrna Pearman, a biologist, enthusiastic nature writer and photographer. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Pearman has authored/co-authored several books (including: Winter Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide; Nestboxes for Prairie Birds; NatureScape Alberta: Creating and Caring for Wildlife Habitat at Home; Water Gardening: A Prairie Guide; Mountain Bluebird Trail Monitoring Guide; Children’s Bluebird Activity Booklet; Charlie, Winnie and the Bluebirds). Her presentation will feature amazing photography and anecdotes from her new book ‘Beauty Everywhere: Volume II’.

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