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Volume 15, Issue 22 ~ May 31 - June 6, 2007

Green Team Lends Bluebirds a Hand

Kids’ nest boxes put roofs over heads

by Bethany Rodgers

In a gesture of politeness, 10-year-old Maddie Buckley knocks on an Eastern bluebird house to let possible residents know she’s about to enter. This bluebird box is one of 10 erected around Mount Harmony Elementary in Owings by the school’s environmental club, the Green Team. Maddie, a fifth grader, is a member of the team headed up by Michelle Daubon, a PTA chairwoman, and Judy Mansfield, a second grade teacher at Mount Harmony.

The band of a dozen-plus youngsters is one reason Mount Harmony was recently named a Green School by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education. Maryland has 263 Green Schools, including Mount Harmony with 12 more in Calvert and 11 in Anne Arundel A Green School keeps the environment in mind, both in how it deals with waste management or landscaping and how it approaches education.

“You make a connection to what things mean in the real world,” says Jeanne Armacost, chairwoman of the Maryland Green Schools Committee. Thus the Green Team learned science lessons by studying bluebirds and their habitats.

These lessons are permeating. They filter through knowledge to world views.

“Before I joined the Green Team, I wasn’t environmentally conscious,” Maddie says. Now, she says she realizes “how in trouble” the earth is. The team seems to share a sense of ownership, which is reflected in their slogan, The Earth is in Our Hands.

Attitudes like Maddie’s are much needed, according to Karyn Molines, a naturalist at nearby Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, on the Anne Arundel-Calvert-Prince George’s border.

“Our entire life depends on the environment, no matter how remote it seems,” Molines says. Because the members of Mount Harmony’s Green Team are now miniature experts on bluebirds, perhaps they will feel more responsible for their fate, Molines says.

Bluebirds can use the empathy. After a few hard winters that cut deeply into their population — down as much as 17 percent from 1960 numbers. The birds are also losing their natural nesting places, which are hollow trees. Dead wood, seen as a hazard, is often cut down, and imported bird species steal the remaining nesting spots, leaving many bluebirds homeless.

With warmer winters, the birds may be recovering, according to Andy Brown, senior naturalist at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, deeper in Calvert County.

Nest boxes support recovery. “It’s almost to the point where the majority of nesting occurs in boxes,” Brown says of the bluebirds. He calls the Green Team’s project commendable.

The bluebird trail invites more than one species, though, which means kids can learn, sometimes painfully, that nature is about give and take. A raccoon broke into one of the boxes, eating the bird eggs inside. However, everyone needs a meal.

If predators could speak, Molines imagines they might say, “I’m not mean, I’m just hungry.”

Molines says that after seeing bluebirds fall prey to other animals, students are upset that humans, too, harm the birds.

Maddie, wearing a necklace of clover flowers, leads her mom to box five, located past the ball field near the edge of the woods. On the way, she explains how she and her teammates worked together to assemble the boxes, dealing with glitches along the way. “My group’s box didn’t end up so well,” says Maddie, adding that the completed birdhouse was a bit crooked and had a drill bit stuck in its side. They couldn’t use that box, but Maddie still had fun making it.

Arriving at the birdhouse, Maddie first taps on the door, then gets ready to look inside. Daubon helped open a box earlier, revealing a bluebird nest to a happy Green Team. Here, in box five, perhaps another bird couple is starting a family. Or there could be nothing at all inside, maybe even a raging wasp.

With her mother, Linda Buckley, watching in anticipation, Maddie takes out the screw and opens the unvarnished flap.

When she looks inside, all she sees is a wooden box. For now, it’s just a house, not a home. But Maddie and her mom don’t seem disappointed. They seem proud of how much Maddie has learned and accomplished. After all, she knew to knock.

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