Elsie Eltzroth, the Bluebird Lady
Elsie Eltzroth began her decades-long volunteer project in the central Willamette Valley in 1976 at approximately the same time that Hubert Prescott started a similar bluebird nest-box program in the northern Willamette Valley. The Western Bluebird was on the Audubon “blue list,” with only 6 known nesting pairs in Benton County in 1977 and only 7 the following year. Under the tutelage of Lloyda Thompson-Crowley, Elsie learned to band bluebirds and report data, collaborating with Oregon State University biologists to observe and document behavioral and physiological differences between the Western Bluebird and other bluebird species. She documented every observation, including intra- and interspecies interactions, habitat and weather changes, breeding and social behavior, patterns of geographical movement, and causes of morbidity and mortality. Elsie was insatiably curious and indefatigable in her mission to boost the population of this once-common songbird of the western states. Bringing back the Western Bluebird became her passion and her full time vocation.
Elsie and her husband had previously worked at rehabilitating injured and ill raptors and other birds. Elsie turned this expertise toward the bluebird, as each bluebird life was vital to the recovery of the species at that time. She became adept at the processes of necropsy and study skin production. As she reached out to local and regional landowners and organizations, Elsie became known as “the Bluebird Lady.”
As a charter member and with full support of the Audubon Society of Corvallis, she used her knowledge for public education, interfacing with countless organizations such as other conservation groups, school classes, Boy Scouts, and gardening clubs, inspiring them to mobilize their resources to contribute to the conservation of the Western Bluebird and other native cavity nesters. With study skins, eggs, mealworms, and educational literature in hand, she staffed booths at many public events, passing her knowledge on to thousands of individuals over the years. She served as a board member of the North American Bluebird Society and charter member of the Oregon Field Ornithologists.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the data and anecdotal information compiled by Elsie became nationally recognized for its value to the scientific community. Both singly and in collaboration with other authors, Elsie’s work was published in a number of journals, from Bluebird Society newsletters to peer-reviewed ornithological works (including Avian Diseases (1979, 2001), Birds of Oregon – A General Reference (2003), The Birds of North America (The Western Bluebird Monograph) No. 510, 2000, Sialia, and Connie Troops’Bluebirds Forever. Since then, Elsie was been regarded as one of the leading experts on the Western Bluebird. Her trail and her work have been referenced in many publications.
In May 2009, Elsie was honored by the Audubon Society of Corvallis with the Homer Campbell Award. This is an annual award that recognizes local individuals or organizations who have made significant contributions in the areas of environmental stewardship, awareness and outreach. In October 2009, Elsie was featured on an episode of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s television program Oregon Field Guide titled “The Bluebird Lady.”
In summary, Elsie was an immense inspiration to lovers of songbirds. Under the banner of the Audubon Society of Corvallis, she established and maintained associations and collaborative efforts with local, regional, and national groups and government entities. With untiring action and perspective, she devoted her life to the study and conservation of a beautiful and charming bird that was once quite common in the Willamette Valley, and she made a difference. She passed away on February 1, 2019.
For stories about bluebirds that were collected by Elsie, check out Atop the Nestbox,