Bluebird platform has become popular attraction at Osoyoos Desert Centre

A platform where people can observe bluebirds nesting has become a popular attraction at the Osoyoos Desert Centre since it was built nearly a year ago.

Last week Sarah Trudeau, a representative of the organization that provided much of the funding, was taken for a look.

Trudeau is the manager for grants and community initiatives with the Community Foundation of South Okanagan-Similkameen, which provided $3,144 for the platform that was completed in October 2017.

Last year the non-profit organization provided more than $400,000 in community grants throughout the South Okanagan-Similkameen. This project was funded from an Osoyoos community fund.

Also on the tour was Sherry Linn, a local member of the Southern Interior Bluebird Trail Society, who is that group’s past president and is a committed bluebird lover.

Wearing a blue top and a bluebird pendant, Linn professes her affection for these little harbingers of spring.

“They just tug at my heartstrings,” she says. “I just love them. They are cheery. They’re hard little workers… To have them around it just lightens my heart. I can sit and watch them for hours.”

Linn made a personal donation to the platform project in memory of her mother, Marion Linn, who died in 2015 and also loved these little birds.

“My mother instilled in me a love of nature at a very, very early age,” said Linn. “She was very involved with the bluebirds and she went on many trail checks with me.”

To bluebird enthusiasts, a “trail” is a network of bluebird nesting boxes, built to help these little birds survive as the natural cavities they depend on become more and more rare.

For example, a woodpecker may create a hole in a rotten tree as it feeds on bugs. The bluebirds lack the powerful beak of the woodpecker, and can’t create their own holes, but they may move into the holes the woodpecker creates.

As humans remove these rotten trees, the bluebirds lose a place to nest. And, increasingly, they face competition for such cavities from larger invasive birds such as starlings and house sparrows.

“Those species will come and actually destroy eggs, kill parents on the nest, and then nest over the top of the carnage,” said Linn.

The nesting boxes are built on a design pioneered by the late Vern Johnson, founder of the Southern Interior Bluebird Trail Society in the 1980s.

They feature a slot at the top of a front door, large enough that a bluebird can enter, but small enough to keep out most predatory birds.

The viewing platform provides a front-row seat for one of those boxes and there are others scattered around the Osoyoos Desert Centre’s 67 acres.

That box is roughly 30 feet from the boardwalk. The platform has a bench next to an interpretive sign where bluebird fans can sit and watch the birds in action.

Lee McFadyen, president of the Osoyoos Desert Society, was also along on the tour and she says she’s used the platform to observe these little birds herself.

“They’re quite charming to watch, going to and from the nest,” she said. “If you sit quietly, they get very used to you very, very quickly. They go about their business of rearing their young, coming and going. It’s just a wonderful experience with something of the natural world for our guests.”

Most of that activity is in the spring and early summer, and the boxes now sit empty.

Linn also highlights the comfort bluebirds have when people are around.

“I think in some ways they seek out the comfort of humans,” she said. “They see us as safety… They don’t mind human activity.”

Denise Eastlick, executive director of the Osoyoos Desert Society, said her organization provides data from the nest boxes at the centre to the bluebird society, which tracks data from other boxes in the region.

McFadyen added that data collected by citizens throughout North America has become “extremely important,” not only for tracking bluebirds, but other cavity nesters such as house wrens, tree swallows and nuthatches.

And, for those who want to observe these little birds on their own property, Eastlick said the Desert Centre plans to have boxes available in the spring for people to purchase.

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