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Bluebird Project

Helping Bluebird Restoration Efforts

A bluebird perches on a thin branch, balanced perfectly. Bluebird. Photo by Shelly Sutley. With quick and snappy movements of his head, he observes his surroundings. He looks at the sky, showing off his brick red breast and white belly that complements the deep blue feathers covering his head, back, and wings. With nimble hops, he moves between branches before fanning out blue wings and diving away from the tree. The bluebird cuts through the air with grace, and lands on top of a sturdy, wooden birdhouse he calls home.

At one time, this beautiful bird was approaching extinction and in a unique course titled Civic Agency: Restoring Bluebird Habitats, students had the opportunity to participate in bluebird restoration through civic engagement. Karen Mumford and Garry Running were the instructors, but their students were just as responsible for structuring the course, gathering information, and collaborating with community members with similar interests in bluebirds.

Students met with many members of the community who provided valuable information and expertise for their project. Among those involved were citizen organizations, such as Beaver Creek Reserve and members of the community, such as Shelly Sutley of the Children's Nature Academy. Since this project focused on civic engagement, the community was a very important resource. Students used input from the community to decide what direction the project should go and what values were important to bluebird restoration efforts.

Two key values emerged among students and community members as they discussed restoring bluebird habitat. The first involved the importance of creating a sense of community when working together on important community projects, while the second recognized preserving the environment as a lifelong commitment. Based on discussions and values sharing, students and community partners identified two projects to work on together: creating a manual for making and maintaining bluebird houses and trails, and preparing proposals for funds to support a bluebird summer internship aimed at getting middle school students outdoors.

Building bluebird houses. Photo by Karen Mumford.To complete these projects, the class split into two teams. One team worked on the manuals, aimed at helping homeowners understand how to maintain bluebird houses and trails, or in other words, how to be responsible bluebird landlords. The second team worked on setting up the summer internship with Northstar Middle School.The proposed internship will involve UWEC students helping middle school aged students work with bluebird houses, or any activity that gets kids outside; such as gathering data on the environment. Inspired by the program called 'No Child Left Inside,' the goal is to show the importance of getting kids outside.

The students have accomplished a lot with this project. Besides aiding bluebird restoration efforts, they have strengthened their abilities to work independently and as a team to tackle challenging tasks. The course made them take on leadership roles and by the end of the semester, they gained experience collaborating with community members and learning for themselves what civic engagement is and why it is important. By doing much of the work themselves, students demonstrated that they can work in the real world and with real people. They provided useful tools to the Eau Claire community and experienced how much can be done when people with similar interests work toward a common goal.