On Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, a sunny, beautiful fall day, twelve nestboxes for bluebirds were installed by Charlie Thacker, 12,  of Boy Scout Troop 387 in Galena at Ohio State’s Waterman Farms.  He efficiently led a team of 18 people to complete his project.  I work at Cardinal Health with his father, Dana, who asked if I had a service project his son Charlie could do.  I can almost always find a service project and this one became something special in short order.  

The Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory (WANRL), commonly referred to as Waterman Farms, located on the campus of The Ohio State University at the northwest corner of the intersection of Kenny Road and Lane Avenue. I knew the area but I had never been back to the 260 plus acres. I learned about it from Melanie McFadin, who is the student president of the OSU Ornithology Club.  We worked together on an earlier October Eagle Scout project at Chadwick Arboretum.  The club members heard a presentation by OSU student Will Wilbur, Paula Ziebarth and I and the OSU students agreed to monitor the boxes starting in early March.  We thought it would be good to compare 2 locations, Chadwick Arboretum and now Waterman Farms were the sites they selected.

Facilities and features of the Waterman Farm include the Turfgrass Foundation Research & Education Facility, the Waterman Dairy Facility, the Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Research Lab, the Waterman Headquarters Building (including the Wittmeyer Conference Room), the SENRL Woodlot and acres of irrigated and non-irrigated plots.

The facilities provide comprehensive research, teaching and outreach opportunities in the areas of turf science, dairy management and research, entomology, ecological engineering, agricultural systems management, sustainable agriculture, food science, agronomic and horticultural production practices. We choose the Turfgrass facility for our project location.

On an early evening in late September, good friends, Paula Ziebarth, Leslie Sours, a birder and neighbor who walks at the farm, and I scouted the area to put in flags for 12 box sites.  Paula and I are both Area Contacts for Ohio Bluebird Society and we are very active setting up new bluebird trails or repairing old ones. Right after we got out of the car, Leslie and I were distracted by 4 Common Nighthawk’s dancing in the sky over us for the 2 hours we spent at Waterman Farms. There were many Killdeer, two Cooper’ s Hawks exchanging words, two Red-tailed hawks, one who was dining, Chimney Swifts, a great Blue Heron and many Song Sparrows and crows were flying about.  Paula stayed on task and we called back and forth about locations for the flags marking sites for the new nestboxes that Charlie would soon be putting up. There was a large pond and a beautiful, partly treed site, that was about to become home for Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows in the spring of 2017.

On Saturday October 29, eighteen people came together to install 12 nestbox set ups and in less than 2 hours the project was completed.  There were 9 from the Boy Scout troop including some parents and a couple helpful siblings. Seven OSU Ornithology students helped, our photographer was co-worker Aaron Lewis and myself.  The boxes were numbered, and GPS’d and all data has been entered in Cornell Nestwatch. In early March, students will begin monitoring and they will add collected data weekly to the website.

[divider height=”30″ style=”default” line=”default” themecolor=”1″]

I asked Charlie to write his thoughts about the bluebird box project.  In his own words:

On a beautiful Fall Day in Columbus, Ohio I helped lead a group project focused on bluebird conservation.  I did this not only for a Boy Scout service requirement, but also to learn more about wildlife.  I was able to attend a seminar at OSU about bluebirds and learned where they like to live, what they like to eat and how they compete in nature against predators and other birds.  I also learned that there are many people who love to study and find the best ways to help birds.

Our day assembling the bird boxes (the supplies were already available thanks to Darlene Sillick) went quickly and efficiently.  We had more than ten people helping and the teams worked well on their individual tasks.  Whenever I visit the spot where we put the bird boxes, I will always think, “Hey – we did that!”

Charlie (age 12) and Dana (his father)

The Boy Scout team who participated in the project were:  Matt Young, Kyan Young, Jana Hankins, Charlie Thacker, Dana Thacker, John Henry, Christopher Russell, Ryan Russell and Jeanine Russell.

The 12 nestbox set-ups were donated by Charlie Zepp and I.  The boxes were built by Paula Ziebarth’s son Gregory, who is an amazing 27 year old young man with Autisim.  He loves to build boxes for us and has built close to 200 for many projects. We were able to obtain donations for the pole/ baffle and hardware and Charlie Zepp, a friend of 30 some years prepared the poles and baffles.  What makes these conservation projects so special is the people who come together to get the job finished. How interesting watching college students working alongside the Boy Scouts. Charlie and his dad organized the work teams and I demonstrated the first set up to install then I watched as it all came together.

We got together for Aaron to take a group photo and all of a sudden I said ‘listen’. Back in an area where a box was installed, I heard a male bluebird singing.  I wanted the group to hear his song. I wanted them to be excited that bluebirds, in short order, were finding new homes the group had just set up.  Another special citizen science project by our next generation will be helping breeding bluebirds and tree swallows in just a couple months.

Darlene Sillick

Ohio Bluebird Society, Franklin Country Area Contact

Ohio Ornithology Society, conservation committee

[divider height=”30″ style=”default” line=”default” themecolor=”1″]

I asked Melanie to explain what this project meant to the OSU Ornithology Club members:

The replacement of the bluebird boxes on OSU’s campus fill a couple of very important roles.  I believe that any successful conservation story blends a strong community and love of nature; in this case the Eastern Bluebird.  As president of the OSU Ornithology Club, I was proud to be able to present a project that all the club members could be enthusiastic about and participate in years to come.  This wouldn’t have been possible, though, without the collaboration of Darlene Silick and the Eagle Scout and Boy Scout youth.  Being able to collaborate with young people and the community on positive projects like this spurs not only others to do the same, but also a lifelong excitement of the hobby.

Other than community interactions, I am hoping that we will see successful broods fledge from the repaired boxes.  After such a strong decline in population, it is an amazing conservation story to see this species proliferating so successfully.  One of the primary causes to this successful return has been because of conservationists nationwide providing bluebird box trails.  Darlene has been enormously successful in getting youth involved in trails throughout Columbus. The students here at OSU can’t wait to contribute to Cornell’s database and watch the continued success of the bluebirds in our area.

Melanie McFadin

OSU Ornithology Club President


Ohio State students who participated in the project were:  Melanie McFadin (Ornithology Club president), Matt Bell (Ornithology Club vice-president), Kandace Glanville, Riley Young, Amy Luo, Alex Eberts, and Tyler Ficker.