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By: Evelyn Cooper, Founder Louisiana Bayou Bluebird Society, Delhi, LA

I Hear Bluebirds by Dr. Shirl Brunell

In 1985, the late Dr. Shirl Brunell, Texarkana, AR. established a bluebird trail at Hodges Gardens, Florien, LA. The Gardens at that time were privately owned by the Hodges family. Dr. Brunell established a trail of 21 boxes.

Dr. Brunell was a clinical psychologist and her clients were young children, teenagers and adults that were abused or needed emotional help. She discovered that bluebirds can help children and adults who have experienced trauma or abuse learn to cope with tragedy and loss. This led her to establish a trail near her office which she named “Trails of Hope in Arkansas”.

Dr. Brunell put a nest box right outside her office window and she had quite an experience with the family of bluebirds as the babies were orphaned early. She raised the babies, taught them how to feed and they finally fledged. She decided to write a book about it after observing how the kids always chose the books in her waiting room office that were about animals, preferably cats. She titled the book I Hear Bluebirds. It is an amazing little book that will capture your heart. It might still be available online.

She and her staff made trips to Hodges Gardens in the spring and fall to tend the boxes which made up the trail. The trail flourished every year.

In 2005, Hodges Gardens contacted Louisiana Bayou Bluebird Society (LBBS) and asked if we could help with the trail because Dr. Brunell had become ill and was unable to monitor it anymore.

I was president of LBBS at that time and got a team together from Monroe and Baton Rouge to go with me, my husband, Clayton and daughter, Sheryl Bassi to do maintenance work on the trail. We carried enough Cypress boxes to replace all the boxes there and added a couple more. We added Ron Kingston stovepipe guards to each unit. We attached our LBBS signs and also put the signs back that Dr. Brunell had on the old boxes. We also had a beautiful sign made with wording “ Hodges Gardens Bluebird Trail, Founded by Dr. Shirl Brunell and sponsored by LBBS”. It is placed at the entrance gate. We gave a presentation and gained three new members which led us to more opportunities there.

Dr. Shirl Brunell

LBBS had a member, Elizabeth Hoyt, Cheneyville, LA, who volunteered to monitor the trail. How blessed we were! After two years, she contacted me that she was expecting her first child and would not be able to monitor.

Shortly after Elizabeth’s notice, I was contacted to come to speak to the Garden Club in Many. We set up a nest box workshop for them and I gave them a presentation afterward about how to set up a trail or backyard boxes and monitor. I told them about Hodges Gardens and the wonderful bluebird trail there that Mary Jo Wright, Many, was now monitoring. We gained about 25 members that day.

Not long after that, I was asked to speak at a Master Gardeners regional meeting in the Toledo Bend area close to Many. We were told we could bring boxes to give with LBBS memberships. We gained 23 members. We met Margaret and Hill Kemp at this meeting and not too long after that, Margaret agreed to take over the trail with some great help from some of the members of the clubs there. Mary Jo was no longer able to monitor.

Margaret and Kemp repainted the framework on the sign which was needed and added more boxes to the trail. She enlisted the help of several great workers in the Garden Club who are now members of LBBS and some serving on the board. Everything just fell into place with our efforts there. Margaret reports to me each year of its success in numbers and also that we have Brown-headed Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadees nesting there too.

Dr. Brunell was able to make one last trip to see the trail before she passed away and to see the work we had done. She wrote me a wonderful letter and you can read it on our website in the September 2005 issue of Bayou Bluebird Nest News at and click on “Newsletters” on the Home Page. This issue also has pictures of the team and an article about the work we did.

The LBBS 2011 Annual Meeting is scheduled to be held at Hodges Gardens on October 1, 2011, 9:30 until 1:30 and everyone is invited to attend. The Gate fee has been waived, so let them know you are attending that function. There are no registration fees.

I would venture to say that most months of the year you can see and hear the sweet sounds of Bluebirds at Hodges Gardens.

Find out more about the Louisiana Bayou Bluebird Society HERE and about Hodges Gardens HERE