Thursday Jul 01 2010
In bluebird circles, he’s a major housing developer
By: Michael Kirby
Ninety-three-year-old Ron Brown sits in his breezeway on a hot afternoon in his green workman clothes. He walks with a cane just recently but gets around fine, and is hard at work every day in his home workshop. A journeyman machinist before finishing college with B.S. and master’s degrees, Brown settled in Auburn in 1949, accepting a job teaching at Placer High School’s machine shop. It’s a position he held until he retired in 1976. A master at making things out of metal, Brown passed on his passion for metal working to the many students who attended his classes over the years. In his retirement, it you could call it that, Brown has many hobbies. He meticulously restores antique cars, making many of the unavailable parts himself. He collects stamps and raises koi. Brown is also passionate about nature, and has mounted his own personal effort to reverse the declining bluebird population in our area. It all started so simply. His good friend Gil Machado mentioned in conversation a 1977 National Geographic article titled, “The Plight of the Bluebird,” which cited a study about declining bluebird numbers in America due to man’s intrusion into their breeding habitat and the lack of bluebird nesting sites. Bluebirds are cavity nesters. Their nesting choices have grown fewer due to simple changes like utility wiring now buried underground and nest-worthy wooden fence posts replaced with metal. “They weren’t threatened, just a steady decrease in their population, and it’s hard to bring a bird population back once it’s threatened,” Brown said. The article encouraged people to make and put up bluebird houses and even included plans for the simple homes, detailing what bluebirds require for nesting. Well, Brown figured he could make a few of the houses. “I thought maybe I’d build 100. It seemed like a good number,” Brown said. He bought material and got to work, completing the 100 houses and giving them to interested people for their yards. “Bluebirds require at least 100 yards of space between another pair of nesting bluebirds to thrive,” he said. “Otherwise they’ll fight. They know how much area they need to build a nest and feed their babies.” The houses are fairly simple to build and are made to the specifications of the North American Bluebird Society. “A one-and-nine-sixteenths hole is needed, big enough for bluebirds to enter and small enough to keep starlings and English sparrows out. No perches also, just two small grooves in the front,” he said. Each one is uniquely painted and carefully stenciled with a number somewhere nearing 2,500 on the last birdhouse he made. From 1984 to 1987 Brown started a project with middle school students, visiting area classrooms, presenting an informational program on bluebirds and helping students build their own birdhouses to take home. Over the years he helped area students build about 2,300 houses, and with the almost 2,500 he has built personally, Brown is almost to his goal of building 5,000 bluebird houses. He uses scrap wood and some supplies are donated. “Some days I come home and there will just be a stack of wood sitting in front of the garage,” he said. Brown has given bluebird houses to garden clubs and other groups willing to install them properly. “I think my project has played a part in the repopulation of bluebirds in our area,” said Brown. A keen-eyed observer can spot Brown’s handiwork as the brightly colored birdhouses are installed throughout Auburn.