The Peaks have been volunteering to monitor bluebird nesting boxes for the Kentucky Bluebird Society at Lake Barkley State Resort Park and Land Between the Lakes for 17 years now. They also check the nests at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, where they live.
Since they began checking the boxes to cover for friends who were moving away, it has become like a part-time job for which they receive no pay. Judy said that their friends, George and Della Zimmerman, used to take care of the nests, but she and Bob took it over when the couple moved back to Cincinnati from Princeton. They naively thought that each time they came wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, but that turned out to be far from the case. Bob said that each time they come to Trigg County to visit Barkley and LBL, which they do once a month, they might spend anywhere from 15 to 20 hours total. It basically amounts to two full days and sometimes part of a third.
“It’s been a little more work than we thought it would be,” Judy said.
When they can, they try to come down when there’s a long weekend since Bob still teaches in Evansville, Ind., although Judy has retired from teaching. Occasionally, if he can, Bob will take off on a Friday so they can head down on a Thursday and camp at Lake Barkley. Luckily, the bluebird nesting generally begins sometime in March and ends around September, so about half of their work takes place in the summertime. Bluebirds will generally nest two or three times in a season.
There are now 41 nest boxes at Lake Barkley and about 160 at LBL, which are more than there were when they started. The Peaks drive to each box and Bob gets out of the car. He then opens the box and looks inside to check on the nest. They keep a tally on how many bluebirds have hatched and how many have fledged, or flown away from the nest on their own. They hope the birds survive after becoming independent of their mothers, but Judy said that only about half of them do.
If Bob looks in and sees that the nest has been vacated, he cleans it out. If he didn’t, future occupants might build a next on top of an old one, which would make them more vulnerable to predators because they would be closer to the entry hole. Judy keeps records of what he finds in each box.
“You might say she’s the brains and I’m the brawn,” Bob said.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Judy said laughing. “We’re a team.”
One of the reasons why the nest upkeep is necessary is that some of the bluebirds’ traditional nesting spots don’t exist anymore. Bluebirds always build their nests in cavities and some used to nest in holes on wooden fence posts, Judy said. There aren’t as many wooden fence posts as there used to be, though, since many people now use metal posts.
For the rest of this story, read this week's Cadiz Record.