Jordan Oathes cleans out old bluebird nests to make them welcoming for bluebirds. photo by Jodi Schneider
Jordan Oathes cleans out old bluebird nests to make them welcoming for bluebirds. photo by Jodi Schneider
Henry David Thoreau wrote of the bird that “carries the sky on his back.” The Western bluebird has a sky-blue back and russet chest and flanks. They’re birds of open spaces, so look and listen for them year-round near fields, parks, pastures, and open woodlands — any place with junipers is a good bet.

You can find them in rural areas around Sisters in places like Camp Polk Meadow, Camp Sherman — and in and around the open area where local quilter Diane Tolzman resides.

Tolzman’s grandson, 7-year-old Jordan Oathes, has been helping the bluebirds build their nests every spring by leaving out quilting thread and just recently was inspired to give them more assistance by cleaning out the old nests in the nesting boxes in the fall.

“Jordan has been cleaning out bluebird houses in our neighborhood as a home-school project,” Tolzman said.

Oathes told The Nugget, “I saw the nesting box we have and asked my dad if I could look at the nest. I didn’t think the bird could make any more nests in there because the sticks that the birdhouse were made from looked so old.”

Tolzman added, “Since he already wanted to clean out the nest boxes, I thought it would be a good science-type home-school project. For home-school projects I’m always thinking of things that we do that could be educational. He quilts and helps me with canning.”

Most birds, including bluebirds, don’t reuse their old nests, no matter how clean they are. They typically build a new nest for each clutch. This reduces the prevalence of parasites. Mites and lice lay eggs in nest materials, producing a whole batch of young parasites that would have a head start in attacking a new set of nestlings.

The third-grader removes the old nests and then scrubs out the nest box with a vinegar and water solution.

“I’ve cleaned out eight,” he said, “One at my grandmas and two at my house and five at the neighbors.”

The neighbors, Petra, and Dwayne Chase, were educated about bluebirds and their nests when Oathes stopped by one day.

Petra said, “Jordan noticed that we had old nests in our bluebird birdhouses. He was well-informed and told us we had to remove the old nests for new bluebirds to nest in the spring. Jordan got all the information on how to clean the birdhouses out the right way by his grandmother Diane, his mom, Shawna, and on websites.”

Tolzman said, “We love seeing all the bluebirds in the area and want to provide them with a safe place to nest. I save all my thread from quilting, so we have bags of thread. We usually see some of our thread in the nests every year.”

She added, “We had a big swallows nest last year that was full of my colored thread.”

One of the challenges for bluebirds is that they’re losing habitat, including the standing dead trees, or snags, they depend on for nesting – the same trees often salvaged after fires. You can help them out by putting up nest boxes and providing food in the form of seed feeders and suet cakes.