Life begins at Tinker Golf Course

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff
  • 72nd Force Support Squadron Marketing Office
Thanks to the dedication of a Tinker couple, the Tinker Golf Course is part of the Nest Box Trail project with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

For more than 20 years, Betty Cunningham -- along with her late husband, Dean -- has taken care of the bluebirds at Tinker and has reported her findings to the Wildlife Department.

Mr. Cunningham established Tinker's nest box trail back in 1989 and monitored the progress until he passed a few years ago. He fledged, or watched, some 744 new bluebirds leave the nest by 2008. Mrs. Cunningham has continued taking care of the bluebirds and keeps track of their numbers in memory of her husband, who was so passionate for the feathered creatures.

Off the beaten paths of the golf course there are small, unassuming birdhouses standing on posts that the birds quietly make their nests in year after year. Not all of the birdhouses were in a suitable location, so Leroy Stutz relocated three of them in hopes of becoming a nice home for the birds.

Bluebirds are territorial and prefer open grassland with scattered trees and are cavity nesters so they like the nice birdhouses. Bluebirds are wonderful for gardens as they are voracious eaters of insects and quickly consume insect pests.

Every year, Mrs. Cunningham cleans out the houses so the birds will return to nest the following spring. Bluebirds will typically have three to four broods between March and August, and this year is off to a great start with the first brood already hatching.

While out looking at the nests recently, Mrs. Cunningham came across a nest that had just hatched three new babies and a fourth was still waiting to hatch. Her eyes lit up and she said, "Look at that, there are babies!" She was thrilled at the sight of new life.

"I can't imagine not tending to the bluebirds now; after they've brought so much joy to my life," Mrs. Cunningham said. "It was Dean's passion and now it is mine."

In the years she's been out here tending to the birds, together she and Dean counted close to 800 new bluebirds. Including the ones just hatched and the other eggs, there are probably 15 new bluebirds in the first brood for Tinker.

Bluebirds are considered fairly common, but their numbers have declined substantially during the last century. Populations have been given a boost by folks like the Cunninghams tending to birdhouse boxes that have become popular in so many parks and even golf courses.

"Dean loved doing it, and it's good for me too," Mrs. Cunningham said.

Tinker is more than just an Air Force Base, it is a mini wildlife refuge for the bluebirds like so many other creatures.