Miller receives bluebird award

Lucas Punkari

It was nearly a month ago that local conservationist Henry Miller found out he had received the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society’s annual conservation award, but the honour still has him feeling humbled.
“I was pretty surprised that I got the award as I didn’t even know such an honour existed,” Miller noted.
“I’m actually still waiting for the award itself to come in the mail as I’m not totally sure if it’s a piece of paper or an actual piece of hardware.
“But it has been a long time ago since they told me I was getting it,” he laughed.
The award Miller received is presented each year by the OEBS to an individual or a group that has made an outstanding contribution to Eastern Bluebird conservation during the preceding year and over that individual’s lifetime.
In Miller’s case, it was his work maintaining a bluebird trail since 1991, with the help of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club, that earned him the accolade, although the 76-year-old was quick to point out he wasn’t alone.
“There are lot of people that have helped to put up the bird houses here, and it’s hard to try and list everyone,” he remarked.
“It’s through the Sportsman’s Club here, so there is a lot of people who have helped with that since we started building a bunch of the birdhouses. And about 20 years ago, I also went into the schools and gave the birdhouses for a bunch of the kids.
“Then we would go out by bus and go establish the lines, which would be near the schools or close to where the kids lived,” he added.
By the mid-1990s, there were 467 birdhouses between here and Stratton (the current number is closer to around 300), which meant that Miller had a lot of work to do to get the information he needed to submit to the OEBS.
“At that time, it took me about three-and-a-half days to drive out over 300 km, and to walk out to the end of line sometime took about a kilometre or so,” he noted.
“What I have to do is go out, look and open up every birdhouse and mark down a number of things.
“They want to know how many eggs there are, how many broke, how many hatched, how many nestlings made it, and how many adults and nestlings died.
“It takes a while to get all of that information,” Miller admitted. “But I get a lot of help with that, especially with the kids in the Get Outdoors club, though they need to be driven out there as they don’t have their licences yet.”
The involvement Miller has had with the Get Outdoors club goes back to his teaching days, when he would offer the programs to anyone who was interested.
“We’ve done a number of different things over the years with the kids besides the birdhouses, and the kids have always had a smile on their face whenever they are out there,” he recalled.
“Over the years, though, the numbers have been kind of dwindling with kids being involved in so many different programs, and I actually thought about scrapping the program last year.
“But so many of the kids wanted me to keep on going as they really enjoy it.”
Over the 20 years, Miller has found that the Eastern Bluebirds population has increased a lot, although the total numbers over the years have gone up and done in a cyclical nature.
“It’s not just our houses out there as there are many people who have nets,” explained Miller, who fledged 159 bluebirds last year.
“One of the things that has helped with the numbers is that we don’t have the issue with predators like in southern Ontario, as we haven’t seen a lot of that come into play here.
“Personally, I’ve seen a lot more bluebirds since I started doing this, but a lot of people have never seen one as they are a very secretive bird,” he noted.
Looking towards the future, Miller plans to keep on doing work in helping the Eastern Bluebird population locally for as long as he’ll be able to do so.
“I’ll be turning 77 this June, but I’m going to keep on going until I can no longer do it,” he vowed.