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Schoolkids help songbirds survive and learn about wildlife, too

by Merrie Leininger

The Songbird Survival Project hopes Carson Valley children will learn why it is important to help the area wildlife now to ensure their future.

Howard Godecke has developed a birdhouse he hopes bluebirds and other small songbirds will be able to nest in.

He plans to sell the pre-constructed birdhouses and instructions over the Songbird Survival’s Web site along with the “seedsox” Godecke developed. The now-popular “seedsox” was the result of Songbird Survival’s attempt to feed small songbirds, but not starlings.

A test run of the birdhouse is being done with the help of Claudia Bertolone-Smith’s 2nd and 3rd grade students at C.C. Meneley.

The class has been learning about bluebirds and has built their own bluebird homes they hope to put up in the community on a “bluebird trail.”

The students will have their names on their birdhouse and be responsible for maintaining them. Godecke said this is a good time to put up the houses because now is the time the bluebirds return to the Valley.

– Hometown boy. Godecke should know, he grew up in the Carson Valley and still lives and works here as a landscape designer.

“I was born and raised here on a ranch near Milky Way Farm on Heybourne Road where the airport is now,” he said. “My mother was not a biologist, but she loved the birds and animals and critters on the ranch and would always point out the little things to me as a boy and told me the names of the birds and I developed a bit of fondness for the birds.”

He is especially fond of bluebirds, which he says are being driven out of the Carson Valley by the aggressive European Starlings, one of the most populous birds in the Northern Hemisphere.

Starlings, Godecke said, are cavity nesters, the same as bluebirds, and thus compete for nesting sites.

Godecke wanted to help the bluebirds and to be able to employ his landscape design employees year-round, so about eight years ago, he developed the Songbird Survival Project.

– Birdhouses. The bluebird house was designed with a small opening that Godecke hopes the starlings won’t be able to fit through. They also have a large, slanted roof that will prevent predators like snakes and cats from reaching through the opening while sitting on top.

It is made of western red cedar, Godecke said, that will weather to a silvery color that won’t need sealant and will help deflect heat in the summer.

Anyone who puts a bluebird house up will be able to check on its occupants, also. The whole front of the house is designed to swing open.

He said he loved working with the students and felt as if he was giving back in the tradition of the man who helped him as a student, C.C. Meneley, who was his woodshop teacher, and later, his employer.

“We will take the time to explain what we are doing and why because that’s what C.C. Meneley did with me,” Godecke said.

The students also serve as a test group as they build their own birdhouses, he said. He hopes that if the students can put them together, anyone will be able to.

“If 2nd and 3rd graders can cope with this easily, then so can the sweet little old ladies, who are our best customers,” he said.

The birdhouse kits come with everything you need except a screwdriver. The wood even has the screw holes already drilled into them.

Godecke hopes the community will get involved with the birdhouse project and help sponsor students by letting them put the houses up on their land or by donating money to help pay for the materials.

Godecke said he plans on selling the birdhouses for about $18.

– Class trip. The class took a trip Friday to the western end of Tillman Lane to put up their birdhouses on fence posts. The 10 birdhouses are hung 100 yards apart and away from the hustle and bustle of the town so bluebirds are more likely to nest there.

Bertolone-Smith said the bluebird unit students are studying in their class was made possible by a $300 grant she got through Wells-Fargo. It is all a part of a unit on the Carson Valley, Bertolone-Smith said.

“I thought it would be nice to start out the unit by giving a gift to the Valley,” she said.

Now the group will study how to maintain the boxes and the class will take two more trips before the summer to see if any bluebirds have decided to nest there.

“They were really proud of themselves and the reason do these things is it opens a whole new door to them and they really enjoy it – and that’s when the learning occurs,” Bertolone-Smith said.

The Songbird Survival Project’s Web site is at www@seedsox.com. The project can also be reached at 782-7799.