By Todd Reubold
We often think of citizen or crowd-sourced science as a flashy, new function of our modern, inter-connected world. But public participation in research has been happening for much of human history and often involves people of all generations.
The documentary Bluebird Man features nonagenarian Al Larson, a self-taught conservationist, and his nearly four-decade-long quest to study and protect three different species of bluebirds in North America.
Over the past 35 years, Larson has monitored and maintained more than 300 nest boxes for bluebirds in the Owyhee Mountains of southwestern Idaho. By his own estimates, he’s banded nearly 27,000 nesting bluebirds.
Why is it important for individuals like Larson to lend bluebirds a hand?
Bluebirds rely on tree cavities to build their nests, but in recent decades they’ve faced stiff competition from introduced species such as the European starling and house sparrow.
In the late 1970s, scientists and bird lovers united to form the North American Bluebird Society, a nonprofit group committed to conservation of the bluebird. Larson was one of the first citizen scientists to take up the call to action from the newly formed organization.
His time spent monitoring “every stage of the breeding process from nest building, to egg laying, hatching and finally the fledging of the bluebird chicks” has helped inform scientists, nonprofits and others working on bluebird conservation across the region.
The documentary “Bluebird Man” was produced by Wild Lens, a nonprofit video production company focused on addressing wildlife conservation issues.