Giving bluebirds a helping handCareful opening of a hinged door on one of Justin Hoff’s bluebird boxes reveals a tiny, almost transparent newly hatched baby Mountain bluebird, covered in frilly, fluffy fuzz.
RICHARDTON — Careful opening of a hinged door on one of Justin Hoff’s bluebird boxes reveals a tiny, almost transparent newly hatched baby Mountain bluebird, covered in frilly, fluffy fuzz.
Since 1987, Hoff, a rural Richardton resident, has constructed and maintained numerous bluebird boxes on lands in and surrounding Schnell Recreation Area, and as of last week, more than 4,000 bluebirds have fledged, or left the nest since he began his venture.
“It’s something I really like to do … it’s therapy,” Hoff said Friday.
Once a week, he saddles up his horse, appropriately named Colt, and rides the rolling hills near Richardton, stopping to meticulously check each wooden box, jotting down information in his worn pocket notebook.
The weekly checks also provide opportunity to clean out unwanted materials such as sparrow nests, dead birds, mice nests or sticks left by wrens.
From mid-April into August, Hoff diligently covers about seven miles a week for about 14 weeks, conservatively, equaling about 98 miles per year for the last 10 years.
And to tack on a few extra miles, Hoff will continue checking the boxes until all the birds are gone.
Hoff’s records are quite detailed, including the number of infertile eggs, the number of eggs in each nest and how many have hatched.
Through his efforts, Hoff’s records show that 6,263 mountain and eastern bluebird eggs combined have been laid in the boxes, with 4,004 of those having fledged.
Others have taken notice of Hoff’s efforts.
He received the North American Bluebird Society Award for Outstanding Contribution to the field of bluebird conservation, one of two given annually.
Hoff also has been recognized by previous administration at the Bureau of Land Management.
Hoff is a member of the North American Bluebird Society, the Montana Mountain Bluebird Trails, the Minnesota Bluebird Recovery Program, the Knights of Columbus and “a proud life member of the NRA (National Rifle Association).”
He has led groups and talks for Scouts, 4-H clubs, the Southwest Birders, Singles Club, Sons of Norway and Richardton Saddle Club Trail Rides, to name a few.
Several people have been instrumental in Hoff’s experience and success, including early pioneer of North Dakota bluebird restoration Florian Goldmann, Chris Grondahl of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and landowners surrounding Schnell Recreation Area, for allowing him access to their lands.
Dickinson resident Jack Lefor, who ran a bluebird trail in the Badlands south of Medora for 10 years, said bluebird boxes have definitely helped increase numbers and the Schnell Ranch is a quality bluebird habitat.
Hoff said his efforts are a way for him to give back.
“I and probably other bluebirders feel wealthy beyond compare when sharing such simple and beautiful pleasures as these that God has blessed the world with,” Hoff wrote to Mountain Bluebird Trails, an affiliate of the North American Bluebird Society.