The Dawes Arboretum 100-Box Bluebird Trail

Eastern Bluebird - Photo Earl Harrison

Thanks to the Columbus Audubon Conservation Grant program, Dawes Arboretum received a grant award late in 2013 to reset the 100 Peterson bluebird boxes throughout The Dawes Arboretum public grounds. This project was completed by Gus Workman from Boy Scout Troop 117 for his Eagle project. Darlene Sillick and the then Conservation Director, Lori Totman, worked together to re-site the nestboxes and Gus moved them into better habitat. He put them on taller, studier poles with PVC baffles to prevent raccoons and other climbing predators from predation of the growing families of Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Carolina Chickadees and House Wrens.

The Columbus Audubon Conservation Grant funds paid for all the poles, PVC and hardware supplies including paint for the baffles for the 100 boxes.  Dawes has high marks within the bluebird community for their great program to help the native secondary cavity nesters.  They have a wonderful team of monitors who go out each week from March to August to gather data and compile citizen science data from the fledging native birds.  They enter their data on Cornell Nestwatch which can run reports from year to year.

Buying supplies at Lowes

Buying supplies at Lowes

Darlene had been training volunteers for several years and noticed some numbers were going down. That was when she showed monitors that predators were getting into the boxes and that it was time to re-site the boxes due to habitat changes.  She and Lori talked and they wrote up the project and she met Gus who was looking for an Eagle Scout project.

Pipes and poles cut to size

Pipes and poles cut to size

Upon being awarded the grant, the work began for Gus, a sophomore at Dublin Coffman High School. He worked with Lowes to buy the supplies.  The Boy Scouts were then led by Gus to cut the poles and prepare and paint the poles.  There is an active birding club at Dawes and they helped him too.

Gus had to plan his project using the Peterson Nestboxes at Dawes and he had to plan carefully to make sure the installation would be sturdy and efficient and keep the birds and the monitors safe.  Using nestboxes already being used at Dawes kept the returning birds familiar with a design used there for years and kept the cost of the project down and made an impression with the grant reviewers that the project was recycling the existing nestboxes.

Detailed nestbox plan

Detailed nestbox plan

One of the existing nestboxes

One of the existing nestboxes

Cutting and preparing nestbox components

Cutting and preparing nestbox components

Drilling holes for attachment

Drilling holes for attachment

Several weekends in January 2014, the scouts worked to prepare the poles and baffle to his specs.  Several parents were happy to offer their workshops to help Gus and the Boy Scouts.

The three-step process to paint baffles

The three-step process to paint baffles

The work on the baffles took the most time and painting the baffles the forest green preferred by Dawes staff was a 3 part process.

Gus with Bill Brown, nestbox monitoring volunteer

Gus with Bill Brown, nestbox monitoring volunteer

Gus and Darlene went out and flagged many of the new sites so he understood the spacing needed to keep the birds safe.  When we were there, he met Mr. Bill Brown, a long time nestbox monitor and Gus learned from Mr. Brown why all monitors were excited for spring and the new system Gus was installing to help his beloved bluebirds.“The baffles will be a lot better. For one thing, the grease is messy, and I think [the baffles] might help [the predator problem]”, Bill noted.

Old nestbox compared to a new one

Old nestbox compared to a new one


A future nestbox inhabitant watches installation

A future nestbox inhabitant watches installation

On several weekend days in February 2014, Gus and scouts and parents from troop 117 completed the project with snow on the ground.  The goal was to finish the project before the native birds started to nest.  Even though there was snow, they saw and heard bluebirds eagerly watching.

Project day at Dawes

Project day at Dawes


The project team celebrates a job well done

The project team celebrates a job well done

Gus Workman presented his project to the Columbus Audubon board during June 2014 at a board meeting held at Columbus State.  He had to create a powerpoint at the request of his advisor Darlene Sillick. In February 2015, Gus also presented his project to the Ohio Bluebird Society annual meeting in Wooster, Ohio.  Gus did a wonderful job speaking to over 100 bluebirders.

In Gus’s words when asked what we can do:

  • The future of these beautiful birds rests in the hands of the next generation. The best action you can take to protect them tomorrow is to “push the first domino” today.
  • Many members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other youth volunteer organizations are looking for these opportunities
  • Youth bring energy and resources that would otherwise be inaccessible to the project
  • It can be personally rewarding and it gets you outside
  • Reach out to youth in your community and introduce them to birding.
  • Develop a project in which youth take a leadership role to complete it.
  • Lead public bird hikes at local parks, and meet more young adults interested in birding
  • Introduced over 25 people from Dublin to The Dawes Arboretum and birding
  • Who knows where it goes from here???

Gus is one of 28 Boy Scouts led by Darlene Sillick to take the charge to do conservation projects in Ohio.  She has guided students from the Ohio Young Birders Club to do conservation projects too.  It is a win-win to see our youth giving back to the earth and our environment in the age of smart phones and x-boxes.  This project and more have planted seeds for our future leaders who will hopefully help all living things in our planet for their families and many more to come.The Dawes Arboretum was founded in 1929 by Beman and Bertie Dawes who gifted 293 acres to establish a place of research, recreation and education.  With more than 1,800 acres, The Dawes Arboretum offers free admission to the public and more than 250,000 people explore our trails, forests, wetlands, meadows and horticultural collections each year.  We also serve more than 18,000 people of all ages annually through their educational and outreach programming all provided at no or low cost.  The Arboretum is the founding member and lead partner of the Ohio Native Plant Network, a collaboration of organizations dedicated to conserving local genotypes, enhancing native plant biodiversity, and restoring native plant communities in the Ohio River Valley.