Volunteer and Castle Pines resident Doug Moen opens and cleans out a bluebird box at Cherokee Castle & Ranch.
Article and photos by Steve Baska
Protecting the lovely bluebird was a passion for Tweet Kimball, late owner of the historic Cherokee Castle & Ranch off Daniels Park Road, and that project continues today. About 200 nesting boxes for bluebirds and tree swallows were maintained this year on the ranch by 10 volunteers who walk five trails weekly during the nesting time from March through August.
The volunteers open boxes to count eggs and chicks and to clean out nests of sparrows or house wrens that invade. The volunteers also repair the wooden boxes that are destroyed by bears seeking to eat the eggs or birds.
Jill Freeman has been the project director of the Cherokee Ranch and Castle Foundation Bluebird Nest Box Project for 14 years. “We do an annual report on the number of eggs laid, the number of chicks fledged (flown away), the egg and chick mortality, and so on,” she said. “This year the numbers were down because a Mother’s Day storm killed many chicks and froze eggs, but over the last five years, the bluebird numbers have remained stable,” she said.
Volunteer Doug Moen, of Castle Pines, said he enjoys opening the boxes during his weekly rounds. “You never know what you will find,” he said. “Sometimes it is eggs, or chicks ready to fly, or you find a box that has been torn apart by a bear.” On a recent walk, Moen opened boxes while he pointed out Mountain bluebirds, Western bluebirds, and tree swallows that flew nearby. Volunteers come from all over the Denver area.
Bluebird nesting box projects are popular across the country, and Colorado was second only to California in the number of nesting boxes in 2012, Freeman said. There are bluebird boxes in the Chatfield State Park area, Durango, and others.
“Tweet Kimball brought a love of bluebirds with her from Virginia when she bought Cherokee Ranch in 1954, and she established the bluebird project soon afterward,” Freeman said. In the 1980s, Glen Savage helped Kimball repair boxes and improve the program. Then in 1998, Lee Thormalen set up the first walking trail between bluebird boxes, which was later expanded to five trails.
For more information or details on guided bird watching hikes at Cherokee Castle & Ranch, visit www.cherokeeranch.org.