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The Man Who Loves Bluebirds

Ray Briggs pokes through his farm shed and fondly remembers. Twenty-five years ago, his high school students in Coblskill, New York, started a little building boom.

The state bird, the bluebird, was in decline. Their solution was new houses. They put up a bunch. The kids graduated. And Ray retired from teaching. But Ray never stopped.

"I've had a lifetime love affair with the bluebird," Briggs said. "I saw them as a boy, probably in the 1930's. It was love at first sight."

It's not guaranteed but, over the years, Ray has found that if you put up a couple of boxes, chances are a pair of bluebirds will move into one of them.

Ray has eggs hatching all over the county and all over the state.

A few years ago, the New York Bluebird Society, thanks to Ray, decided to place some boxes along U.S. Highway 20. Boxes started popping up from Massachusets all the way to Lake Erie, and on down to Pennsylvania. Seventeen-hundred boxes in all.

"I looked across the border down through Pennsylvania, where Route 20 continued, and I felt like I wanted to pick up a nest box under each arm and just start traveling West," Briggs said.

That's Ray's dream: To have a bluebird trail that stretches from coast to coast. He says each box can be a surprise.

"Every box you come to you wonder. What do I have here? Do I have chickadees? Do I have wrens? Do I have tree swallows? And then when it's a bluebird, I smile," said Briggs.

Once erected, each box is monitored. And Ray's been especially concerned about some nestlings out west of Sharon Springs.

"Oh my goodness, yes, yes, they're somewhat undersized but, you know what? They're going to make it," he said as he examined the baby bluebirds.

Ray's been tending this nest like it was family.

"Bluebirds don't survive good when it is so wet," he said. "So I changed the nest. I pulled the old nest and the bluebirds out. I carry a grocery sack with dried lawn clippings. I made a new nest. And I think I did a pretty good job. I feel good because I saved 'em."

Old timers will tell you there sure aren't as many bluebirds around as there used to be. Ray Briggs is committed to helping the bluebird make a comeback. The old farmer and teacher believes seeing bluebirds makes life better.

"To me, personally it means a lot when I'm on the dairy farm. When I'm out plowing in the spring. I see bluebirds. And when I'm out dragging or planting corn and so forth. Bailing hay. You see bluebirds and that makes life very pleasurable," he said.

Reported by Harry Smith
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