Groups join forces to build nesting boxes


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Found in woodlands and farmlands across North America, the eastern bluebird is beloved by many for its melodious song and vivid colouring, making it a favourite of birdwatchers. The species is so beloved in Westman that it has its own society — Friends of the Bluebirds.

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Found in woodlands and farmlands across North America, the eastern bluebird is beloved by many for its melodious song and vivid colouring, making it a favourite of birdwatchers. The species is so beloved in Westman that it has its own society — Friends of the Bluebirds.

The organization monitors nesting boxes throughout western Manitoba that the migratory songbirds use. Phil Weiss, chairman of Friends of the Bluebirds, said it got its start when John Lane noticed a decline of cavity nesting birds, and bluebirds in particular, after the Second World War. In the 1960s, Lane began building nesting boxes, starting a 60-plus-year tradition for the group.

“We’re still going strong as a club of 100 [members] or so, dedicated volunteers all in the Westman region, in the southwest corner of the province. We’ve grown now to have well over 2,000 artificial nesting boxes that are out and maintained by us,” Weiss said.

The boxes are placed, with landowner permission, along fence lines around grasslands and on pastureland. Most of the volunteers are retired, and many have had lengthy careers in natural resources and landscape management. Weiss worked in agriculture and natural resources, collaborating with producers across the province, offering water and wildlife management programs. It’s something he hasn’t been able to give up since retiring, which is why he finds so much joy and satisfaction with his work with Friends of the Bluebirds.

“This is the perfect club and hobby for me. I absolutely love it,” Weiss said.

Being a part of the club also allows Weiss to give back to nature, helping all songbirds and in particular neotropical migrants, birds of the Western Hemisphere that migrate long distances from wintering grounds in the tropical parts of the Americas to breeding grounds in North America, like the bluebird.

“[They] need all the help that they can get because their numbers are on the decline,” Weiss said.

The American Bird Conservancy says that in the early 20th century, introduced species such as the domestic cat, which was brought to North America with European settlers, habitat loss from converting grasslands to agricultural lands and pesticides caused alarming population declines for bluebirds. Organizations such as the North American Bluebird Society have advocated for bluebird conservation in recent years through education and promotion of artificial nest boxes like the ones Friends of the Bluebirds use.

For Weiss, it’s also a great opportunity to get out on the land and meet with other people who are passionate about bluebirds, too.

“It’s very rewarding to see these boxes producing a number of fledglings. It’s just a fun thing to do.”

Over the years, some of the boxes made in the early days of the society have rotted away and needed to be replaced, leading the organization to reach out to different community groups to build new ones.

“We’ve got some club members that build their own boxes, and that’s great — they’re handy with wood,” Weiss said. “In other cases, we have to seek out partnerships.”

Friends of the Bluebirds is currently working with partners that are building new nesting boxes, including the Minnedosa Men’s Shed, a group that gets together for woodworking, stained-glass construction, fellowship and more.

This is the second year the Minnedosa Men’s Shed has built boxes for Friends of the Bluebirds in the winter.

“We have some club members in Minnedosa, in and around that region, and they were the ones, about a year ago or so, that got in contact with me and indicated that the Men’s Shed would be interested,” Weiss said.

The Men’s Shed has partnered with Rotary Villas in Brandon, supplying a few residents with nesting box building kits as well as building kits of their own, he added.

Finding programming that interests the men who live at Rotary Villas, an assisted living retirement residence, can be a challenge, said Joyce Scantlebury, a wellness co-ordinator who works at the residence. After the Men’s Shed delivered 10 nest box building kits earlier this winter, she was surprised how quickly the men at the villa worked to put them together.

“I thought the 10 kits would last them the whole winter … and it was done in less than a month,” she said. Scantlebury said she has already ordered more kits for the residents to build.

Warren Pierson, a past-president of the Minnedosa Men’s Shed who has been involved with the group for around six years, said he thoroughly enjoys the projects the group works on, from raised flower gardens to a bridge at the beach in Minnedosa.

“We kind of look for projects,” he said. “We’ve built a lot of different things.”

When a Men’s Shed member suggested building nesting boxes for bluebirds, Pierson said the group was only too happy to take the project on. So far, the group has built 15 boxes for the club. Weiss said it has been a wonderful opportunity to connect two groups who are united by a love of and passion for volunteerism.

“It’s a good way to strengthen the partnership,” he said.

Weiss is hoping that, in partnering with other groups and talking about Friends of the Bluebirds, more bird lovers will want to join, saying the group is always open to anyone who is interested in what they do. They’d especially like people who can build nesting boxes to join their ranks.

“We’re always open for anyone who’s interested in putting out some boxes. Some of our new members only want to put out … three or four or five or six to look after … [in the] first year. And then they can always expand,” Weiss said.

Members can also volunteer to monitor the boxes five or six times during breeding season, which runs from spring until fall. Data that is collected on species and activity in the boxes is stored on the group’s website,, and is sent to professionals who use it to track songbird populations.

In 2022, the group recorded a total of 158 bluebird nests in their boxes and 534 bluebird eggs, with 422 fledges, the stage of birds between hatching and learning to fly.


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