‘Bluebird guy’ fledges thousands of bluebirds over 30 years

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER This male cowbird is all feathers and no cattle.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

The Rice Soil and Water Conservation District selected Keith Radel of Faribault to receive the 2018 Wildlife Enhancement Award for Rice County. Keith volunteers with the Bluebird Recovery Program, checking and maintaining a bluebird trail consisting of 175 nest sites throughout the bluebird mating season, from April through August.

Keith has fledged 13,148 bluebirds from those nest boxes over 30 years. He began with 25 boxes on a five-acre patch of land. “If a bluebird had flown in, it would have hit a box,” recalled Keith.

That year, those boxes had no nests, no eggs and no baby bluebirds. Keith added six boxes the next year. He fledged eight bluebirds. Keith realized that the five acres should have had only two sites. If paired, that meant four boxes. He culled the herd of nest boxes to four and 81 birds were fledged.

Keith learned that a young bluebird could fly up to 300 feet on its maiden flight. He gives a box two years to fledge birds. If it doesn’t, he moves it to another location.

Keith mentioned Roger Strand, a most successful wood duck landlord, who mounts wood duck boxes on baffled poles in water. The baffles keep predators away. Roger keeps the boxes 16 feet away from trees to prevent squirrels from leaping onto the boxes.

Echoes from Loafers’ Club

Do you have a bucket list?


Isn’t there anything you want to do before you die?

Yeah, I want to live forever.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Whenever I pass his driveway, thoughts occur to me, such as: I was driving in Winona when I came to a four-way stop. People are so good at taking turns at these intersections, especially in the Upper Midwest. Each driver’s head was on a swivel. Sometimes, we become too kind and patient, if that’s possible, and nobody wants to go first. The last shall be the first. I was about to take my proper turn, when another car jumped ahead of me in line, making two cars in a row leaving from the same stop sign on a two-lane road. My eyebrows collided. I and another driver at a third stop sign had been in our places before the line jumper had arrived. I was appalled. Rules don’t apply to everyone, not even to a clown car unburdened with clowns. I couldn’t believe a fellow Minnesotan would treat me that way. I was relieved when I saw that the offending vehicle carried out-of-state license plates. 

A traveling man

I was in an airport lounge trying to enjoy an over-priced sandwich. It was passable pabulum. I’d eat it all because my mother believed that cleaning my plate would somehow fill the stomachs of the starving children in China. My flight was delayed and there was gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Flying has become as easy as stacking marbles. There was a game on most of the establishment’s TVs. Other patrons were screaming at the big screens because of an official’s call. One man grumbled about the delay because the play was being reviewed. A couple of other fans agreed. If they truly dislike breaks in the action, they should boo the beer commercials. 

I spoke at some things in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I walked along a beach and came upon a dead whale. The carcass had spent too much time in the sun. Its odor caused me to gag. The smell of a skunk is a breath of fresh air in comparison. After smelling a dead whale, I realized why the skunk in “Bambi” was named Flower.

Men aren’t always to blame, but we try

I stopped to visit a friend. 

“Good morning,” I said.

“No, it isn’t,” she replied and told me of the recent trials and tribulations of her marriage. She nearly lapsed into vulgarities. Her husband was probably at fault. Men usually are. That’s why Queen Elizabeth won’t abdicate the throne. She went on a rant. She apologized for being peeeeeved with the world. That was “peeved” with six e’s. I’d have guessed seven. I wished her happiness.

Al Batt’s brain cramps

With each passing day, fewer people have seen a chicken crossing the road.

It’s easy to have a nice time around pie.

Don’t get too comfortable with change. It won’t last. 

Everyone needs help doing the dishes.

Loud music is taking ears off people’s lives.

Men’s restrooms, for those readers who have never had the pleasure of being in one, always have someone in a stall using a cellphone and speaking in flushed tones.

Nature notes

Spring has come to the roadsides in the form of ground squirrels. The 13-lined ground squirrel is the small gopher-like animal often seen along roads. Coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls and weasels prey upon this little critter. They are also called squinnies, grinnies, liners, 13 liners, streakers and streaked gophers.

The 13-lined ground squirrel is frequently confused with a chipmunk. It has 13 light stripes, alternating solid and dashed, on its back. It runs with its tail low to the ground. The chipmunk has two light stripes and tends to hop while holding its tail up and front paws together, something like a rabbit or tree squirrel.

I’d been all over the birding map. Birding four states in one day allowed me to see the niceness and the nastiness of spring. Spring can be full of winter. Spring is when we get the winter that no one else wanted and the snow shovel has been worn to a sliver.

Birds begin to serenade sunrises and sunsets. With temps just above freezing, song and fox sparrows sang up a storm. Not literally, I hoped. It was a sunny day. Sunny days in spring cause us to shine and sing.


I’ve come into my season. Red-winged blackbirds are the sounds of spring. Rooster pheasants crowed. Canada geese claimed nest sites. That’s a noisy job. Turkey vultures tilted through the sky. The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Like large dark lazy butterflies they sweep over the glades looking for death, to eat it, to make it vanish, to make of it the miracle: resurrection.”

Tundra swan flocks, eastern bluebirds and brown-headed cowbirds suddenly appeared whenever a birder was near. Cowbirds are brood parasites. They don’t build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. The host birds incubate cowbird eggs and raise the chicks, often to the detriment of their own offspring.

Sandhill cranes rattled, trumpeted and bugled as they took flight. Opportunistic omnivores, their varied diet includes waste corn, small mammals, amphibians, insects, reptiles and snails. Northern harriers return when the snow leaves the fields. Once called a marsh hawk, it courses low over the ground while hunting small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects. They locate some prey by sound.

Pocket gopher mounds declare the frost is out of the ground. I browsed the seed selection in a store. I used to plant marigolds around the borders of vegetable gardens to discourage rabbits. I stopped when the eastern cottontails began eating marigolds.  

Meeting adjourned

“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel

Thanks for stopping by

“All winter long, behind every thunder, guess what we heard? Behind every thunder the song of a bird a trumpeting bird. All winter long, beneath every snowing, guess what we saw? Beneath every snowing a thaw and a growing, a greening and growing.” — a Native American song from the book “Earth Prayers”

“Years ago I had a Buddhist teacher in Thailand who would remind all his students that there was always something to be thankful for. He’d say, ‘Let’s rise and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we may have learned a little. And if we didn’t learn even a little, at least we didn’t get sick. And if we did get sick, at least we didn’t die. So let us all be thankful.’” — Leo Buscaglia in his book, “Born for Love: Reflections on Loving”

© Al Batt 2019