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Montana's Nongame Wildlife Program Income Tax Check Off Makes A Measurable Difference For Bluebirds in Montana


Friday, January 23, 2004

It’s easy to be skeptical about checking a box on your income tax form to “automatically” make a contribution to Montana’s nongame wildlife. Does the money get where it needs to go, does anyone appreciate your generosity?

When it comes to Montana’s nongame wildlife program income tax check off, the answer is a resounding yes. 

Mountain Bluebird Trails, Inc. is one Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks partner that is putting nongame income tax check off donations to good use. Since 1974, volunteers in this organization helped 280,000 fledgling bluebirds get a good, safe start in life. Tree swallows, wrens, chickadees and nuthatches also use the boxes.

More than 370 Mountain Bluebird Trails members build nest boxes and establish “trails” of  boxes in western and central Montana. Members also monitor the eggs and resulting fledglings and educate others about bluebirds and other cavity-nesting species.

As their program expands, so do the populations of cavity-nesting birds. It is a simple, productive equation.

Under the contract with FWP, Mountain Bluebird Trails, Inc. supplies all of Montana’s county extension offices with bluebird nest box plans, educational brochures and books on cavity-nesting birds, so the public has a convenient source for this information. A group of volunteer public speakers is equipped with slide shows and video programs to encourage educational presentations to schools, landowner groups and civic organizations and the group will be able to purchase materials to construct additional nesting boxes.

Bob Niebuhr, president of Mountain Bluebird Trails, Inc., said in the coming season the organization’s members expect to build more than 1,000 new nesting boxes. When they aren’t building nesting boxes or educating the public, members are busy maintaining their own bluebird nesting box trails. In all, Mountain Bluebird Trails, Inc. has about 6,800 boxes reporting nesting results each year in the state.

Niebuhr said he has two trails that he maintains with about 230 boxes.

“I usually need to replace 15 to 20 a year out of the 230 due to wear and tear and vandalism, and others may need maintenance,” he said. “Also, the past year’s nests need to be removed each year to encourage new tenants.”

 “We know there are lots of folks using our information to build nesting boxes, but many don’t report their boxes, create formal 'trails' of boxes or become involved in the organization’s banding program,” Niebuhr said.

The record keeping and reporting does result in interesting insights into bluebird behavior. Banding records show that some females return to the same nest box four years in a row and some mother and daughter birds nest side by side on a trail, while others may range hundreds of miles to nest.

To learn more and for free downloadable plans and instructions for building your own nesting boxes, go to the Mountain Bluebird Trails, Inc. web site at:

And don’t forget how easy it is to participate in productive wildlife programs like this one. All it takes is to make your donation in the box where the eagle flies on your Montana income tax form.