Hikers and horseback riders who plan on enjoying the equestrian trail that winds along the western shore of Mozingo Lake could be in for a colorful treat this summer if 24 new nest boxes attract their expected guests — the eastern bluebird.
The houses were built by Maryville High School junior Ethan Calfee, a member of Boy Scout Troop 75, in order to fulfill the service project requirement for attaining his Eagle badge, Scouting's highest rank.
Eagle projects call on the Scout to exhibit leadership skills by organizing others to assist in their completion. Calfee fulfilled both the letter and spirit of that requirement by enlisting members of the Maryville Garden Club, Mozingo Lake Recreation Park Manager Grant Evans and Brock Pfost of White Cloud Engineering to help out.
Evans and a crew of garden clubbers braved chill temperatures Thursday afternoon to install the boxes, using u-shaped brackets provided by the local Fastenal supplier to clamp the 12-by-6-inch wooden structures to metal poles donated by Pfost.
Design of the boxes is meant to mimic the natural cavities in hollow trees and fenceposts where bluebirds commonly nest. The boxes stand about 5 feet off the ground and have a 1½-inch hole drilled in the front, an entrance big enough for a bluebird but too small for a starling.
Evans directed the garden club members and other volunteers to position the boxes so that each faces a nearby tree or bush. The idea is to provide newly fledged bluebirds with a handy landing spot when first trying out their wings.
Though custom built for the species, the houses are not predator and pest proof.
Wrens and sparrows compete with bluebirds for habitat, and raccoons and opossums sometimes gnaw through the wooden shelters and eat any eggs inside.
Other egg stealers include snakes, which sometimes just slither through the hole.
In order to maintain the new bluebird habitat, sorority members from Northwest Missouri State University have agreed to periodically monitor the boxes for signs of predators. Evans said they will also count eggs and fledglings and clear out any sparrow nests.
The west side of Mozingo offers nearly ideal habitat for bluebirds, Evans said, since the species favors open, rolling countryside dotted with enough trees to provide good perching sites. The birds feed primarily on insects and so should have plenty to eat along the shoreline of the 1,000-acre lake.
Legislators officially designated the eastern bluebird as Missouri's state bird in 1927, most likely due to its prevalence and extraordinary beauty.
The 19th-century writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau once wrote that a bluebird "carries the sky on its back."