CONCORD, CA (Nov. 10, 2023) — The proverb goes “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” And, as Katya Koriabine and Daphne Dale learned this past year, birds in boxes are worth silver and gold awards too.
After building boxes to serve as nests for bluebirds and then monitoring them over an entire season, the 14-year-old Girl Scouts with Troop 30902 of the Northern California Creekside Service Unit 324, were awarded the organization’s silver award for their joint effort.
Daphne followed this project with her bid for the Gold Award, the Girl Scout’s highest honor, with plans for a barn owl box to replace one at Heather Farms in Walnut Creek.
The pair hatche the joint endeavor after reading an article about Georgette Howington. She heads Contra Costa County’s California Bluebird Recovery Program and works with the birds. A lengthy hike in May with her at Lafayette Reservoir gave their girls a chance to see the location of nesting boxes. They also learned more about the threatened birds.
“Georgette’s enthusiasm about bluebirds was contagious, Daphne and I decided that it was a great idea to help these bluebirds by building them nest boxes in different places, and monitoring them,” Katya said. The girls built several boxes at Katya’s Concord home and at Sienna Ranch in Lafayette.
From June 2022 to August 2023, they gathered materials, built the bird boxes. They also identified spots to hang them, and monitored the birds using them.
While no Bluebirds ended up using the boxes, other species of birds, including chickadees that are even more threatened, did.
“We started monitoring from the moment we hung the boxes, to a month after the babies that nested inside them flew away,” Katya said.
Great satisfaction was garnered being part of the restorative process, including filling out the tracking sheet for each box for the welfare of the Western Bluebirds, and other birds in the area. A couple of the boxes even had chicks and eggs.
“It was very amazing to see how hard the bird parent worked for the chicks. I feel like I can now better appreciate their dedication. I’ve also started noticing birds more after this project, they are far more interesting now that I understand their processes. I am excited to possibly observe another round of birds,” said Katya, noting bluebirds have been checking out the one at her home.
Making a positive impact
For Daphne, who lives in Lafayette, it also was an acknowledgement that the task involved more than just putting up a box. It showed her how much work goes into volunteering to make a positive impact.
“I learned how fragile the Western Bluebirds are and how they are impacted by the humans and our population growth,” she said. “I have gained a greater understanding of not just the Western Bluebird but all birds in my community.”
“The chicks were so tiny and all fledged successfully. After the birds fledged we cleaned it out to make it ready for a new family,” Daphne continued, recalling one box inhabited by a family of swallows.
The process of making bluebird nesting boxes started with card box models. These set the stage for constructing wooden ones with the support of Concord resident and a seasoned woodworker Mike Tischler.
“Mike taught us how to read plans and to use many woodworking tools, like a drill press. We built 13 Western Bluebird boxes and painted them to help protect the wood from all kinds of weather,” Daphne said.
The final step for the duo to earn the Silver Award was a formal presentation, which included showing one of their nest boxes, at Lafayette’s Sienna Ranch before more than 100 students.
In the wake of the bluebird experience, Daphne learned from Howington about the sad state of the barn owl nesting box at Heather Farm. She explained the poorly designed nest lacks proper ventilation, making it inhabitable during the hot summer months. It is also mounted on a wooden pole that is too tall, making it wobbly. Over time, squirrels have made nests in it.
“I will follow the plans for a new and improved design that offers ventilation for the box. It will be mounted on a shorter, metal pole, making it more stable and impossible for squirrels and other animals to climb,” Daphne said.
She currently awaits approval for the new box from the city of Walnut Creek, which already has given its verbal permission.
In the interim, Daphne made paper templates. The eventual guides for the wood pieces, help create boards from foam core boards for a barn owl box model.
Tischler originally entered the picture as he was a long-time builder of bluebird next boxes for Howington. He soon saw the enjoyment that the girls were having with the experience. They used the drill press, electric drill, and electric screw driver without any problems.
“They are fast learners and have no problem with the portable tools,” said Tischler.
“The challenge is to keep everyone safe. I show them how to use the tools other than the table saw, and then watch them (stepping in if unsafe practices developing),” he said.
Tischler anticipates Daphne’s project will pick up steam in January. She will purchase materials for the actual barn owl box. He will handle cutting the wood, and it will be her job to put it together.
“I would hope she learns about planning a project and what it takes to see it through to completion. In the build phase she will be doing more hands-on work. The emphasis should be on managing the project and not construction of the end product,” he said.
David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.