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Independence day nears for young bluebirds in Lake Montebello

Mary Pat ClarkeCharm City CirculatorHurricane Irene (2011)

The Independence Day holiday will be momentous for five newly hatched bluebirds at Lake Montebello.

The bluebirds are awaiting their own independence.

The nestlings hatched in mid-June and have survived everything from a lawnmower that hit their nesting box to Friday's freak storm and heat in the 100s. Now, they are expected to leave the nest by July 5, said Paul Kilduff and his wife, Mary Scholl.

With help from Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the longtime birders got permission form the city to install homemade nesting boxes at the lake last spring and have closely monitored them since several bluebirds and tree swallows laid eggs in the boxes last month.

Urban bluebirds are a rare sight, at least in these parts, said Kilduff, 63, of Ednor Gardens-Lakeside, who has been bird-watching for 20 years.

"I have never seen a bluebird in the city," he said.

Scholl, a birder for 30 yards, said she hasn't, either.

Kilduff, operations manager for Baltimore's Charm City Circulator bus, said he and Scholl have watched bluebirds over the years at the Oregon Ridge Park in Baltimore County and have placed about 50 nesting boxes there.

Last year, they decided to post three boxes at the city-run lake, thinking they would attract tree swallows in an urban setting near the water — and near their house.

But after seeing tree swallows and their eggs in May, they saw bluebirds and their eggs, which hatched June 18 in nests near the lake entrance off East 33rd Street.

"The female was sitting on them, keeping them warm to incubate them," Kilduff said.

Now, they've hatched and are learning to hunt insects and fend for themselves, Kilduff said. It takes about two weeks for them to incubate and two weeks to fledge, he and Scholl said.

But the birds have faced several trials in their bid to survive. A rare derecho storm with high winds and rapid lightning struck the region Friday evening into Saturday morning, leaving 500,000 residents in the Baltimore area without electricity and causing massive tree damage in north Baltimore.

North Charles Street looked much as it did after last year's Hurricane Irene, with a trail of felled trees, especially on the lawn of the Church of the Redeemer, in Homeland.

In Guilford, streets were divided by who had power. One side of Suffolk Road did, the other didn't.

Farther north, Charlesmead Road was closed and the grocery store Eddie's of Roland Park on North Charles Street was running on generator power. Neighborhoods such as Lake Walker in the York Road corridor also saw heavy tree damage.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot extended a "Code Red Heat Alert" through July 3 and opened emergency cooling centers citywide, including the Northern Community Action Center, 5225 York Road, where power was back on Sunday, according to City Councilman Bill Henry

On Sunday morning, the five bluebirds were still huddled together in a nest halfway down their box, which overlooks a freshwater treatment plant and an old pumping station. Their parents were constantly checking in on them and feeding them.

"They appear to be fine," Kilduff said.

But they were not home-free.

"The storm didn't hurt them, but the heat may," Kilduff said, drilling a makeshift shade onto the top of the box.

The box was already well-built to withstand the elements and predators. Waterproofed and painted semi-gloss white to keep the heat inside down, the box had ventilation holes, as well as a Kingston Guard tube made of stovepipe and electrical conduit underneath to keep out snakes and raccoons.

And the boxes were positioned facing northeast, because most storms come from the northwest, Scholl said.

To a large degree, the bluebirds are well-built to take care of themselves.

"Remember, these things have been evolving since the dinosaurs turned into birds," Kilduff said.

But he is glad to have played a role in their well-being.

"I think the more bluebirds we can help propagate, the better it will be for everybody," he said.

"Bluebirds are beautiful."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Mary Pat ClarkeCharm City CirculatorHurricane Irene (2011)
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