The World's Best Birdwatcher

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

After they increased the number of bluebird houses from 170 to 210, the number of fledglings rose to 2,147 in 2002. There are now 246 boxes occupying all available bluebird habitat on the ranch.

Raising bluebirds takes dedication and persistence. Riding his all-terrain vehicle, Taylor inspects each of the bird boxes twice weekly during the nesting season and services them as necessary. He removes old nests, fumigates the boxes to destroy parasites, and rubs a bar of Ivory soap on the inside surface of the box lids to deter wasps. Because bluebirds are prolific nesters, Taylor may apply this regimen several times during the year.

Each pair of bluebirds typically has 14 chicks a year, in cycles of four or five each during three separate nestings. Taylor keeps precise records of each nesting cycle, and each house is numbered so he can track locations and habitat. For every house, he records the date of nest building, the date of egg laying, the number of eggs laid, the period of incubation, and the date and success of fledging.

Named for a large natural spring that empties into the Meramec River, Roaring Spring Ranch encompasses a number of habitats. Most of the upland acreage, crisscrossed by walking and riding trails, is covered with hardwood forest frequented by white-tailed deer and wild turkey. Occasional visitors include pileated woodpeckers, Kentucky warblers, ovenbirds, summer tanagers, white-breasted nuthatches, Cooper's hawks, and red-eyed vireos.

On the lowlands bordering the Meramec, stands of oak and hickory give way to sycamore and maple. Red-headed woodpeckers, waterthrushes, prothonotary warblers, ospreys, and great blue herons can be seen there.

Although Winter has seen most of the world's 9,800 bird species, one bird that has so far eluded him is another Missouri resident, the northern sawwhet owl. This 7-inch-long denizen of the night has a vast range, but it has so far eluded Winter's sharp eyes.

"It frustrates me to no end," Winter said, laughing.

In contrast to his success with bluebirds, both on his ranch and on other lands in St. Louis County, Winter has found it painful to witness a general decline in the number of other passerine birds on his ranch property. "Passerine" refers to an order of small- to medium-size, chiefly perching songbirds that have grasping feet with the first toe directed backward.

"During summer weekends, I can hike for miles in the forest and not see or

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