Hammer Time
Mars students build for birds
April 13, 2014
Click for larger picture
Mars Elementary school third grader Max Luedtke (center)makes a bluebird box at the school on Thursday April 10, 2014.

ADAMS TWP — Some 270 bluebirds will have students at Mars Elementary School to thank for their cozy new homes this summer.

Third-graders at the school spent a part of their afternoons on Thursday and Friday hammering away at bluebird box kits under the guidance of Randy Pilarcik, a wildlife conservation officer with the state Game Commission's Northwest Region. Each student took their bluebird box home.

Pilarcik, who has helped Mars students build bluebird boxes each year since 2003, showed the students a video about bluebirds before the project began.

They learned the bluebird is a member of the thrush family; the male has a brownish orange chest; they prefer open spaces to wooded property; they are beneficial because they eat the insects that harm farmers' crops; and the house sparrow will invade and destroy a bluebird nest.

Dozens of parents helped the students pound out the project, but were instructed to ditch the directions that came with the pine kits.

“We're going to do it the manly way, right ladies?” Pilarcik said. “We're not going to follow the directions.”

After a brief tutorial in the cafeteria on how to put the six short pine boards together, the hammer-toting students, parents and teachers filed outside to complete their boxes in the bright sunshine.

Caylee Fritsch and her father, Chris, sat on the curb behind the school as they prepared to attach the front of the box to one of its sides. Caylee said she enjoyed the project because she likes birds.

Chris Fritsch said he has seen bluebirds flitting around his house, which is surrounded by farmland. He appreciated the game commission's project at Mars.

“The kids are really excited about it,” Fritsch said. “We're going to put ours in the back yard and hopefully bluebirds will come and live in it.”

Click for larger picture
PA Wildlife Conservation officer Randy Pilarcik helps Mars Elementary school third graders make a bluebird box at the school on Thursday April 10, 2014
Justin Guido / Butler Eagle

Molly Homison held a petite pink hammer as her father, Edward, placed the boards in position.

“So far, we haven't hit ourselves with the hammer,” Edward Homison said.

Molly was glad to complete a project that would help the bird population. Her father appreciated the educational value of the bluebird box construction.

“It's something fun to do, it helps the environment and the birds, and it makes the kids more aware of their surroundings,” he said.

Kylie Williams and her mother said they will try to attract a bluebird, unlike some students who said they would be happy to have any bird occupy their boxes.

“The bluebirds don't have many houses,” said Kylie.

Pilarcik circulated among the more than 100 falling hammers, helping students and parents put the boxes together.

He said while Western Pennsylvania's bluebird population is fairly stable, it continues to be threatened because it is a cavity nester. He said the holes in old fence posts and trees that nesting bluebirds favor are disappearing through development.

He said any birdhouse with a 1.5-inch entrance hole and a clean-out door can be used for bluebirds. Some diligence is required, as any nest built by a house sparrow must be repeatedly cleaned out of the house.

“The house sparrow will eventually give up, and it might attract a bluebird,” Pilarcik said.

He looks forward to the bluebird box project at Mars, which this year includes the entire third grade instead of just a few classes.

Click for larger picture
Mars Elementary school third grader Kyle Williams (left) and Emma Livert with help from Diane Williams make a bluebird box at the school on Thursday April 10, 2014
Justin Guido / Butler Eagle

“I enjoy coming here,” Pilarcik said. “I always get a lot of parent participation.”

Teacher Mark McMonigal said he his colleague, Justin Hartzell, started the program in 2003. He said the project teaches the students about animals, to protect the environment, and to be good citizens of the planet.

“Plus the kids have a lot of fun doing it, which is really the number one reason for me,” McMonigle said.