Bickleton's bluebirds get new homes

BICKLETON -- It's always good to knock on a bluebird house before checking inside, advises Margaret Collins, co-chairwoman of the Bickleton Bluebird Committee.

"You never know who's in there. Might be a rattlesnake or a chipmunk."

Bickleton, population 113, bills itself as "Bluebird Capital of the World." Thousands of birds flock there each spring.

The unincorporated town between Mabton and Goldendale in Klickitat County is home to a cafe, a church, a hardware store, a school, the oldest operating bar in the state, a century-old carousel and "a gas station with no gas," longtimer Don Naught says.

At least 2,000 bluebird houses dot the roads, paved and not, around the town center.

Every fall, Collins, committee co-chairwoman Nancy Yoesle and a dozen volunteers clean and paint the birdhouses, preparing them for the birds' return in the spring.

Collins grabs the supplies from the back of her Suburban. She always paints the blue parts, and Yoesle paints the white.

The ideal house has a 13/8-inch opening, a flap for easy cleaning, a roof with an overhang and no landing perch for predators to use. The houses usually are a quarter-mile apart because the birds are territorial.

Last year, Collins and Yoesle logged 350 miles -- a quarter-mile at a time -- driving around for the fall cleaning ritual.

All work is volunteer, Collins says: It's "definitely unpaid."

"We just like doing something good for the birds."

For Collins, who used to live in rural Alaska, Bickleton "is the most populated place I've lived in years. I just really like getting out of town."