Many more bluebirds have been present in the area, and one can thank the Brice Prairie Conservation Association for it.
Leif Marking has made it a personal mission to restore the bluebird population in the area, and he has had help along the way. The BPCA is a group that meets once a month to promote the conservation of bluebirds, wood ducks and other wildlife.
In May, the group was honored by the North American Bluebird Society for its "outstanding contribution to the field of bluebird conservation." The award was presented on May 21 in Ashland, N.C., but Marking and his wife, Carol, were unable to attend the ceremony in person.
One main reason that BPCA won the award is it averaged 4.14 bluebirds fledged per house. With 741 houses in the 7 Rivers Region, the group fledged 3,066 bluebirds in 2004 alone. That makes La Crosse County the No. 1 county in the state by far, Marking said.
Marking knows that conserving the bluebird population involves more than just placing a couple bluebird houses along a highway and calling it quits. He and others involved in the effort spend many hours on the mission to restore the bluebird population to what it once was in the mid-1800s.
"It was in the 1800s that farmers began bringing English sparrows and wrens to America," Marking said. "Both are natural enemies to the bluebird, and they began to kill off the native bluebird."
Marking spends many hours building bluebird houses. He uses the North American Bluebird Society style of houses because they are easy to build and are exactly what the bluebird needs to build a successful nest.
"Natural houses for bluebirds are rare these days," Marking said. "Bluebird houses are probably 90 percent manmade to 10 percent natural habitats. We need to keep making these houses if we want to keep the bluebirds."
Bluebirds are ground feeders, so Marking said the ideal place to keep a house for them is near a mowed open space. Houses near golf courses or ball fields are ideal for bluebirds to thrive, he said.
Marking has about 200 bluebird houses that he tries to check at least once a week.
A successful first house should usually yield five eggs. It takes the eggs about 14 days to incubate into chicks. After another 18 days the young bluebirds are ready for flight.
The hatches are usually twice a summer, yet there have been times that Marking has seen two bluebirds nest three times in one summer. The first nesting usually takes place in early May, followed by a second nesting six weeks later. If a third nesting occurs, it usually begins in the first week of August.
As the summer winds down, the bluebirds begin to migrate south to southern Ohio, Illinois and parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.