By Julie Thibodeaux
Bluebirds have long been a symbol of happiness and good fortune. Native Americans considered them sacred, and today, a glimpse of their iridescent blue wings still give people a thrill. Although these birds are a rare sight in the city, you can see more and more of them in Fort Worth if you know where to look, thanks to Jim Marshall.
The Fort Worth resident started a bluebird trail along the Trinity Trails in 2007, just a block from a busy urban shopping corridor.
The idea for the bluebird trail started after Marshall spotted a bluebird while bicycling on the river walk, across from the Colonial Country Club golf course.
“I thought ‘wow’ I’d never seen bluebirds in the city,” said Marshall.
As the former owner of Marshall Grain, a gardening supply center in Fort Worth, he’d sold a few bluebird nesting boxes over the years. Now, he saw an opportunity to help the bluebirds out by installing a few himself. He contacted Streams and Valleys, a nonprofit that promotes beautification and recreation on the Trinity River. They helped him get permission from the Tarrant Regional Water District to install the boxes.
He started with one box. Gradually, he and other volunteers from what’s now known as Project Bluebird added a few more. Today, 32 boxes stretch along several miles along the Trinity River. Last year, the nest boxes served as nurseries to 103 baby bluebirds. In addition, volunteers have installed a box at nearby Log Cabin Village and seven at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden down the street, where bluebirds were spotted for the first time this spring. Meanwhile, Colonial Country Club installed 14 of its own boxes across the river and fledged 48 bluebirds last year, with help from a Project Bluebird volunteer.
“All around the Fort Worth area, I’ve installed or helped others install about 70 boxes,” said Marshall.
About a dozen volunteers help monitor the sites, checking the nests weekly to count eggs, nestlings and signs of predators. His sister Roberta Marshall uploads their findings on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s data site nestwatch.org.
According to Pauline Tom, president and co-founder of the Texas Bluebird Society, the Cowtown bluebird trail is the only one she knows of located in the heart of a large city in Texas. Bluebirds prefer open spaces next to wooded areas. The Fort Worth site, just blocks from the Fort Worth Zoo and TCU, fits the bill with its open vista next to a grove of trees.
The kind of bluebirds seen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are typically eastern bluebirds, which live here year-round. Mountain bluebirds and western bluebirds can also be spotted migrating into Texas in the winter.
During the last century, bluebird populations were declining. They were threatened by habitat loss and competed for cavity nesting sites with House Sparrows and European Starlings, both invasive species. In addition, researchers speculate that the use of insecticides has also impacted their numbers as bluebirds’ diets consist primarily of insects.
In 1978, Dr. Lawrence Zeleny, author of “The Bluebird: How You Can Help Its Fight for Survival,” founded the North American Bluebird Society, to promote their proliferation. Today, the bluebird is gaining allies with more than 60 bluebird conservation groups across the U.S. and around the world.
Tom says the good news is that bluebirds are not considered to be endangered.
“More importantly, there is hope for the expansion of bluebird populations as Texans increase nesting sites by providing nest boxes and leaving dead trees while sustaining and increasing the bluebird's food supplies -- insects and berries of native plants.”
While people are helping ensure bluebirds’ survival, Tom says we’re preserving a national treasure.
“I think we need bluebirds more than they need us. The sight of a bluebird provides hope and inspiration,” she said. ”They make a difference in our quality of life and help us connect to the natural world.”
Julie Thibodeaux is a Fort Worth-based writer covering environmental issues, green topics and sustainable living. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.