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Kingsport Bluebird Society hopes houses have sent bird numbers skyward

Becky Whitlock • Mar 25, 2007 at 12:27 PM

KINGSPORT - The Kingsport Bluebird Society will learn Monday if its efforts during the past year have resulted in an increase in the number of bluebirds in the city or if the work of vandals has had a detrimental effect.

The society will hold its annual meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in Room 239 of the Kingsport Renaissance Center, 1200 E. Center St.

In addition to tallying the number of bluebird fledglings society members have seen in the past year, the group will hear from Dr. Fred Alsop, a professor of biological sciences at East Tennessee State University.

The meeting is open to the public at no charge.

"This is an excellent program, especially for home-school kids," said Zellie Earnest, a member of the society. "Dr. Alsop is an unbelievably entertaining, funny and knowledgeable speaker."

Alsop will talk about bird calls, how birds make their calls, how their calls change during the year, and how some birds can make non-vocal calls. He also will teach the audience how to identify birds by the sounds they make, because that is the most accurate way to identify them, Earnest said.

The Kingsport Bluebird Society began in 2001.

"Kingsport is listed as a bird sanctuary," Earnest said. "But (prior to 2001) there was no organization that addressed that. The Greenbelt committee (of which Earnest is a member) authorized me to begin an organization that focused on bringing back bluebirds and increasing the population of bluebirds in the city. ... Since that time ... we've had a very loose organization whose purpose was to increase the population of bluebirds in Kingsport. I think we've done that to a fair degree."

The first year bluebirds were counted in Kingsport, they numbered 300. In 2005, which is the last year for which the society has data, there were 1,100 observed fledglings.

The increase in population is due in large part to the bluebird houses the society set up along the Greenbelt and at the Cattails at MeadowView golf course.

In doing that, the society members also have increased their knowledge. For instance, they learned this past year that placing two bluebird houses in close proximity is better than having a solitary house.

"When we have two boxes within four to six feet of each other, we get a bluebird and a tree swallow," Earnest said. "With a single box, we just get a tree swallow. Bluebirds are ground feeders, and tree swallows are air feeders. They both will tolerate the other species because they're not competing for food. If we pair boxes, we increase the population of both bluebirds and tree swallows, which is a beautiful, highly desirable bird."

The society sells bluebird houses to the public at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium, at Bays Mountain and through Earnest's home by calling 245-3792. The sales fund more bluebird houses along the Greenbelt as well as support the society's programming.

New birdhouses that the society will set up along the Greenbelt will include predator guards to keep snakes, raccoons and cats from getting into the boxes and killing the fledglings.

But the society hasn't found a way to stop another type of predator - thieves who have stolen seven bluebird houses and vandals who have destroyed four to five others. One vandal put firecrackers in a birdhouse that contained live birds.

"We're anxious to get people to report (the vandalism). Also, people need to know that it's a federal offense to disturb migratory songbirds, and bluebirds are in that category. Only people who are trained in monitoring should look into the boxes. We don't want the birds to come out of the box prematurely."

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