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Volunteer Spotlight: Mark Ritke

For the Love of Bluebirds

The Eastern Bluebird is America's favorite songbird.  No one knows this better than Mark Ritke, who has been putting up and monitoring bluebird boxes since 1995; that's when he put up his first bluebird box in his backyard.  Over the years, Mark noticed bluebird houses in people's yards and would stop to talk to them about bluebirds.  He found that virtually none of these people ever got nesting bluebirds!  He was so disheartened that it became his lifelong mission to show people how to help bluebirds the “right” way.  Mark now monitors over 300 bluebird boxes in Erie, Crawford, and Venango County.

"These birds have transformed my life in a very positive way. Helping a species in need gives meaning and purpose to life.  Bluebirds connect people to the natural world, and it’s also very rewarding to know that you're helping a beneficial species. Who can't feel good about that!" says Mark.

Mark even conducted his own study taking over 2,000 temperatures of bluebird nestlings to see why female bluebirds lay more eggs in the spring when food is scarce as opposed to the summer when food is more abundant. He concluded that female bluebirds lay more eggs in the spring so the nestlings can keep the nest warmer during cool spring temperatures. In the summer, females lay fewer eggs to help keep the nest and the nestlings cooler.  On hot days in the summer, the nestlings could reach dangerous body temps of 109 °F, but in nests with fewer nestlings, the nestlings were cooler.

"I was so curious about this phenomenon that I finally decided to conduct an informal study of the temperatures of the nestlings. I think maybe the mystery has been solved!  It's truly amazing that I can still learn so much about bluebirds after all these years," says Mark.

Last year, despite the cold spring, was a good year for bluebirds. Mark fledged 1,134 bluebirds in 2021, with 26 from Brown Farm and Asbury Woods. There are currently 17 bluebird boxes on Asbury Wood's property that are monitored by Mark and two other volunteers, Ursula Ansbach and Martine Barclay-Black. It's crucial to monitor bluebird boxes so that other birds (mainly house sparrows) won't take over the box and force the bluebirds out.

Three things you should know about bluebird monitoring

  • Please use a good nest box.
    Mark uses the Troyer Bluebird Box because it’s the bluebird's favorite!
    Find out more info here
    We have bluebird boxes available at our gift shop inside the Nature Center.

  • Always protect your bluebird box from predators.  A proper predator baffle (see web site above) will prevent raccoons and other climbing predators from reaching the box and destroying the eggs and nestlings.

  • Monitor your bluebird box every 4-5 days by looking inside.  Remove any unhatched eggs, and unwanted visitors like ants and wasps.  Monitoring your nesting bluebirds is the best way to help them be successful!

    Mark says he often gets the question, "Where is the best place to put a bluebird house?" The best place to put a bluebird box, according to Mark, is right in front of your living room window so you can watch and enjoy them!


To find out more about bluebirds and bluebird boxes you can watch Mark's YouTube video