The number of bluebirds being born at Clinton Lake has increased by a third since the beginning of the decade.
A pretty song and dazzling flutter of blue, white and orange is more common in the Clinton Lake area these days, thanks to a few diligent volunteers.
The Clinton Lake State Park's bluebird project, a volunteer-run program now in its 20th year, has marked a record number of bluebirds this season.
"While they never were an endangered species, we feel we're doing a little bit for the environment by helping their numbers," said L. Martin Jones, a retired director of fiscal affairs at Kansas University and one of three volunteers active in the program.
Jones, along with Wes Seyler and Gene Van Hoesen, have built nesting boxes and have kept regular logs of Eastern bluebirds in the lake area for years.
This year, 336 bluebirds left 66 nesting boxes. The number was up 26 birds from 310 last year, and up more than 100 birds from 214 in 1991.
"A lot of campers say 'We've sure enjoyed the bluebirds,'" Martin said. "They've got a real pretty song."
The Eastern bluebird is native east of the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Coast and north into Canada. They are characterized by blue heads, wings and upper-bodies, and white bellies with splashes of orange.
When the Clinton Lake program began 20 years ago, there were no bluebirds in the area.
Volunteers built nesting boxes in open, grassy areas on the north side of the lake. The birds eventually took root and gradually have increased their numbers ever since.
"It's kind of a visual enjoyment, it adds to the wildlife in the park," said Kipp Walters, park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which administers the lake area.
In addition to having aesthetic value, bluebirds also help keep the bug population down because their diet is comprised almost entirely of insects.
In placing nesting boxes, volunteers try to put them near a "flight tree," where the adult birds can watch over their nests during the day.
Placing the nests near a tree also helps baby birds make a successful first flight.
"There would be no way they could make it over there," Martin said, pointing to a cluster of trees about a quarter of a mile away from a nesting box.
Bluebirds start nesting in the Lawrence area in April and usually migrate south by August.
However, bluebirds have been seen year-round in the lake area.
"In the winter, we might have birds that have migrated down from Minnesota or Canada," Martin said.
While the birds are nesting, volunteers check nests to see how many eggs have hatched, and monitor the growth of the chicks.
"Sometimes the (adult) birds stay right on the nest when we check on them," Martin said. "They don't seem to mind too much, but, of course, we try to disturb them as little as possible."
Seyler, who started the program 20 years ago, said, "We're happy with our program and we certainly feel like we contribute to the beauty of our area."
The volunteers also said that the assistance of Clinton Lake officials had helped the program be a success.