|A Western bluebird guards its box in Mission Viejo. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
LAGUNA WOODS – Earl Garrison is in the real estate game.
Except the houses he has on the market aren’t luxury single-family homes in the suburbs.
The 87-year-old Laguna Woods resident repairs and flips nest boxes for bluebirds.
“I call it building and flipping ‘cheep’ houses,” Garrison said.
Garrison is continuing the work started by his friend and fellow Audubon Society member Manny Ackerman, who died in 2013.
Ackerman had built and hung boxes for Laguna Woods residents for a small donation to the Audubon Society since 1984.
“I was working with Manny Ackerman, and he was building boxes for our club,” Garrison said. “Manny died in August of 2013, so I wanted to carry on his work.”
It was a successful program. There are more than 1,100 boxes in Laguna Woods Village; most of the boxes were made by Ackerman.
Garrison said he has overhauled more than 200 boxes.
Garrison and Ackerman were a part of the Laguna Woods Audubon Society, a club focused on environmental conservation, specifically reintroducing bluebirds into Southern California.
“It started with a guy named Dick Purvis hanging nest boxes up in north Orange County and it kind of grew,” Garrison said.
Ackerman was inspired by a presentation by Purvis and hit the ground running building nest boxes.
“I built boxes, but not like Manny did,” Purvis said. “Manny loved the wood shop, and he really wanted to do something meaningful.”
Purvis has hung nest boxes since he was 7 years old. He is a board member on the California Bluebird Recovery Program and the Southern California Bluebird Club. Since 1984, the 87-year-old has built and hung more nest boxes than he can count.
“I have no idea how many boxes there are,” Purvis said. “I do know that the last three or four years our club has reported producing a growth in bluebirds.”
There were fewer than 100 bluebird nests in Orange County when Purvis started, as recorded by the Sea and Sage Audubon Society in Irvine. There are now more than 8,000 bluebird nests in Orange County.
The nest boxes have been essential in reintroducing bluebirds into the area, Purvis said.
Bluebirds are cavity nesters and need a dead tree – known as a “hollow snag” – to nest, Purvis said. “When we (Southern California) became civilized and built up, we eliminated the snags when it was developed.”
Purvis said the nest boxes provide a similar habitat for birds as a snag.
Not only has Purvis’ effort impacted bluebird populations, he set a precedent for monitoring the bird species in Southern California and the California Bluebird Recovery Program has recently become the largest contributor of nesting data to Cornell University’s lab of ornithology.
“This is the largest source of acquisition of breeding data that anyone has ever accumulated,” said Robyn Bailey, project leader of NestWatch at Cornell.
NestWatch is a nonprofit organization devoted to understanding and conserving birds.
“It enlists the public or any interested people to report what they see in the nest for science,” Bailey said. “What we’ve been doing for the last 50 years is tracking trends in the status of different birds and their reproductive success across the United States.”
Bailey said Nestwatch looks at things like changes in the timing of nesting, locations of nests and the success of reproduction.
“Typically what we are looking at are changes across the country on a large scale,” Bailey said. “That is why we need members of the public to report their nest in their back yard; because they can collect far more data then any one scientist ever could.”
Bailey said more than 1,000 researchers, teachers and government agencies use the data collected by monitor groups such as Laguna Woods Audubon Society.
“A ton of observations have been made,” Bailey said. “The biggest contribution has been to the scientific knowledge of the species. The more we know about a species the better able we are to conserve them.”
Bailey said the data shows the efforts of Purvis, Ackerman and Garrison have had an impact on the bluebird population.
“In California, the trend is definitely positive,” Bailey said. “An addition of 18,000 nests for all of California, that is huge.
Orange County in particular reported 8,177 nests, she said.
Garrison is retiring from monitoring the nest boxes, and is asking for volunteers to take on his responsibilities. Volunteers are needed to support the following activities:
• Someone to work with Garrison and eventually lead activities
• Someone to build and repair nest boxes in the Laguna Woods Village wood shop
• Residents to monitor nesting during nest season
Interested residents can contact Garrison at 949-466-1238 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org