Every 5 years, the National Fish and Wildlife Service releases an extensive study on birding in the United States. The first time I ever saw this document, I couldn’t believe the widespread impacts on the economy this hobby had throughout the United States. To highlight a few of the staggering numbers, their last study was compiled in 2011 and, there were 47 million birdwatchers (80% of those are considered “backyard” birders who watch birds around the home) who spent nearly $15 billion on birding trip expenditures and $26 billion in equipment that year. The direct impact totals almost $41 billion and directly supports an estimated 666,000 jobs. Stick those facts into your pocket, they might help in a trivia night or if you want to blow someone’s mind about how huge bird watching actually is. Some people are so passionate about birds that they even devote their lives to help protect a species.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Frank Newell, a veteran and a retired wildlife specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mr. Newell grew up in Warrenton, NC, just northeast of Henderson. As many of us do, he enjoyed watching the bluebirds fly around his family farm, so much that he decided to start building them homes using donated lumber and a small Sears table saw in his garage. Like many great ideas, this business of his grew and grew! In 1989 they became known as the Eastern Bluebird Rescue Group and began to keep track of how many boxes they’ve built and sold at or below cost. As of 7pm on Friday April 15, 2016, Frank and his volunteer crew have built and sold 276,612 bird boxes, in every state in the US. The wood gets cut into the different pieces throughout the week and a few times a month volunteers come in and assemble the boxes. According to Frank, they can be nailed together by their expert volunteers in 22 seconds! Most of these boxes are distributed throughout North Carolina through a partnership with the NC State Employees Credit Union (SECU), who sells the boxes in their branches to their members at cost. Just 4 days after my visit with Frank, SECU celebrated their 200,000 bluebird box being sold. That’s an amazing feat for sure.
Before we left with our order of boxes (which you’ll see in the future out at Brumley Forest!), he told us one last story about a bluebird enthusiast who served in Desert Storm. Before they shipped off, Mr. Newell got a call about the troops wanting to purchase a box to greet them with new birds upon their return. Being the generous man he is, he told me he sent them 25 bluebird boxes and the only cost was for them all to return safely. As the great story tellers often do, he paused before saying, “and they all did.”
So, Mr. Newell, thank you for your service, your generosity, your efforts to increase the bluebird population, and your mission to educate people about the importance of conservation. We look forward to the many birds that will build nests season after season at Brumley Forest Nature Preserve. If you’re interested in learning more about this organization visit their website. If you would like to sponsor a bluebird house on TLC property in honor of a loved one you can do so here. This is The Dirt – Tales from the Field.