This 96-Year Old Spent 40 Years Building Houses for Bluebirds

Al Larson monitors almost 350 nest boxes on six different bluebird trails across Southwest Idaho

Dec 11, 2018

At age 96, Alfred Larson never imagined that he would have a documentary made about him.

In 1978 when it was time for him to retire, Al began thinking about what to do with the next chapter in his life. He and his wife Hida spotted a bluebird in their garden, and Al recalled an article from National Geographic that he had read about nesting boxes and bluebird trails.

Bluebirds are known as secondary nesters, which means that they live in nests hollowed out by other birds. Humans can make nests for them but hollowing out pieces of wood and wooden boxes. Al set to work, figuring he could create a bluebird habitat on his property and easily be able to photograph the beautiful creatures.

Al joined the North American Bluebird Society, where he was considered a “citizen scientist.” This was supposed to be his retirement hobby, but as Al puts it 40 years later, “I never really retired. I just changed jobs and went to work for me.”

Over the years, Al has built over 350 nest boxes along six separate bluebird trails in southwest Idaho. He actively monitors his boxes, and checks on his nests every nine days along with is fellow community scientist. They monitor the bluebirds and share the data they collect with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s Nestwatch program. Each season, Al travels 5,000 miles taking care of his nests. He counts eggs, measures birds, bands them, and once they are grown adnd leave the nest, he cleans out the boxes for their next inhabitants.

Over the last 40 years, Al has kept meticulous records. He knows that he has banded over 30,000 birds and has a record of every single one of his boxes, which he replaces when they are worn or destroyed. Although at age 96 he no longer drives, he is picked up by a friend or a member of the Golden Eagle Audubon Society to continue doing his work.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when the public became aware of the ease of protecting bluebirds and creating homes for them, bluebird trails became one of the largest grassroots conservation efforts in North America. Prior to this trend, all three species of bluebird, Western, Mountain, and Eastern, had seen a decline in numbers due to deforestation and the introduction of competing species into the ecosystem.  Thanks to people like Al Larson, bluebirds rates have stabilized to levels of “least concern.”

“Al is a living example of how much one person can achieve when they set their mind on a task. But he’s also an example of the benefits that a project like this can have for people,” Podolsky says. “[Bluebirds] have given meaning to Al’s life, and they are truly the secret to his longevity.” This year alone, Al’s nests have sheltered thousands of birds. Imagine what an impact he has had on the preservation of the species in his work over the last 40 years.

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RISI ADLER FINKEL, CONTRIBUTOR
Risi has a passion for reading, traveling, and food. When she isn't writing about those things, she is experiencing them with her husband and son. One of the reasons she loves to travel is to learn about all the good in the world, and share these stories with others.

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