In the breathtaking scenery of the Idaho mountains, 96-year-old Alfred Larson is in his element.
He works quickly, moving across rugged, familiar terrain, checking one bluebird nesting box after another.
He’s monitoring nearly 350 boxes this year, spanning across six different bluebird trails in Southwest Idaho.
“I got carried away,” the 96-year-old said with a chuckle.
He’s referring to the first time he set up a homemade bluebird box on his property, a small act that ignited a hidden passion inside the retiree — a passion for wildlife conservation as a citizen scientist.
In 1978, Larson was set to retire.
He wanted to find a hobby, he recalled, and was inspired by an article in National Geographic about building homemade bluebird boxes to help save the species from decline.
“I settled on a simple design that [was] easy to build and easy to monitor,” Larson told Audobon. “I kept adding more boxes on these trails, and these birds responded.”
Larson was hooked, and would spend the next four decades tagging baby birds, recording data, and building hundreds of nest boxes for Western and Mountain Bluebirds.
“This year he’s banded over 900 birds,” said Cathy Eells, who typically drives Larson to the various trails he needs to visit.
“In 40 years, think how many homes he’s provided for parents.”
Scientists have come to rely on Laron’s data and careful study to understand how the bluebird species has changed over time, and what may be in store for the population as climates and habitats continue to change.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who is as dedicated as Al,” said volunteer Boyd Steele.
Laron’s efforts piqued the interest of filmmaker Matthew Podolsky, who created a 30-minute documentary of Larson’s story, titled “Bluebird Man.”
The film was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2015.
“Al is a living example of how much one person can achieve when they set their mind on a task,” Podolsky said.
“But he’s also an example of the benefits that a project like this can have for people.”
Many people want to find the secret to a long, fulfilling life. For Larson, connecting with wildlife in nature and working tirelessly to ensure the bluebird’s survival has kept him busy, purposeful and joyful well into his 90s.
“[Bluebirds] have given meaning to Al’s life,” Podolsky said, “and they are truly the secret to his longevity.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.