Birdhouse Committee and Scout Troops Build Homes for NCI Frederick’s Birds

By Samuel Lopez, staff writer
Five people pose alongside two wheeled carts laden with wooden birdhouses

The completed birdhouses arrive at NCI Frederick. From left: Jessica Gebase, Kylee Stenersen, Anna Trivett, Miriam Redington, and Omar Lopez. (Photo by Paul Marshall)

A hawk circles high above NCI Frederick. A blackbird hops along a steam pipe, its talons clicking on the metal. Sparrows flit from tree to tree. Geese are gathered on the grass.

Birds are regular visitors to NCI Frederick, and thanks to a months-long project, some now have a better chance to make the campus their home this spring. The Green Team, aided by Scouts BSA troops, local businesses, and the Frederick Bird Club, has built 17 handcrafted birdhouses and begun to install them around campus—just in time for nesting season.

“To think that we could potentially have baby birds this season and we just started this in the fall, it was tremendous,” said Green Team member Jennifer Mariano.

Given that the project had no budget, “tremendous” seems an apt description. It started when Mariano looked out her office window and realized that the birds on campus could benefit from a few more homes. She took the idea to the rest of the Green Team, which she says “ran with it,” lack of funds notwithstanding.

It aligned with their sustainability and stewardship goals. Many birds prey on insects and play a crucial role in balancing ecosystems. Some are pollinators. Others, such as raptors, hunt small animals and vermin. And bird populations across the U.S. and worldwide are—alarmingly—declining.

“It weaves into the biodiversity of it all,” said Kylee Stenersen, Green Team coordinator. “They don’t have many places to nest on [campus].”

A Community Comes Together

The Green Team’s Birdhouse Committee, as the experts and enthusiasts soon came to be called, worked through the winter to hatch a plan.

Committee member Cheryl Smith donated posts to mount some of the birdhouses. The wooden beams were part of a fence that was recently removed from her farm.

Through a mutual acquaintance, Mariano contacted Mike Spurrier, president of the Frederick Bird Club, a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society. Spurrier advised the committee on the proper dimensions and placement of the birdhouses. Mike Addington, head of the NCI Frederick Campus Improvement Committee, then helped to authorize sites for the houses.

Meanwhile, Stenersen and fellow committee member Paul Marshall tracked down building materials. One of Stenersen’s friends, a manager at the local Lowe’s #2826, shared that the store had a philanthropy budget, and subsequently donated lumber to the Green Team. A few additional donations sealed the deal.

But everyone agrees the scouts brought the project over the finish line.

Committee member Anna Trivett realized that getting involved could be an excellent service-learning experience for her sons and their fellow scouts. So, she and the scout leaders rallied Walkersville Troops 1070B and 1070G to help. The adults cut and prepared the lumber, while the scouts picked up tools to build the houses. They finished in just two sessions.

Of the 17 houses, five were designed to house kestrels, six for bluebirds, and six for nuthatches and other small birds. All were made per specific guidelines to meet the birds’ needs. That also made the project a valuable educational opportunity for the kids, Trivett said.

“That was eye-opening for some of our scouts,” she said. “They got to learn about the birds that are going to be using the houses, and we talked a little bit about what height to hang things. They were all pretty excited.”

‘If You Build It…’

Three of the birdhouses have since been installed around campus, and with spring here, NCI Frederick can start to enjoy the fruits of the committee’s labor. But while birdsong and the chirp of hatchlings may soon be heard, it won’t signal the Birdhouse Committee’s swan song.

In fact, “we’re just beginning,” Stenersen said. The group has identified more sites for future birdhouses, and committee member Bill Gillette, Ph.D., has begun scouting out spots at the Advanced Technology Research Facility across town.

There may be more help, too. Employees with children in the Girl Scouts have expressed interest in having their troops work alongside the Walkersville Scouts BSA troops when it’s again time to build.

Staff can also get involved. The Birdhouse Committee and the Green Team at large welcome any who want to contribute to future projects.

“When we do it as a community, when we just put the word out there, it’s like, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ That’s the same for the birds. But we built it as a community, and everybody came together,” Mariano said.

Trivett agreed, adding, “It was a beautiful thing to watch happen.”


The current members of the Birdhouse Committee are Bill Gillette, Jennifer Mariano, Paul Marshall, Cheryl Smith, Kylee Stenersen, and Anna Trivett. Mike Spurrier is the committee’s external advisor. Staff interested in joining or helping the committee can contact the Green Team.

Samuel Lopez leads the editorial team in Scientific Publications, Graphics & Media (SPGM). He writes for newsletters; informally serves as an institutional historian; and edits scientific manuscripts, corporate documents, and sundry other written media. SPGM is the creative services department and hub for editing, illustration, graphic design, formatting, multimedia, and training in these areas.

Blogroll photo of a birdhouse taken by Kylee Stenersen.

Walkersville Troops 1070B and 1070G rally to build the birdhouses. (Photo by Anna Trivett) Building the birdhouses. (Photo by Anna Trivett) A scout secures the roof of a house for a kestrel. (Photo by Anna Trivett) The scouts hard at work. (Photo by Anna Trivett) Paul Marshall and Jen Mariano secure a birdhouse to a tree on the NCI Frederick campus. One of the six designated “nuthatch houses,” it can be a home for many types of smaller birds. (Photo by Kylee Stenersen) The nuthatch house is one of three birdhouses currently installed. (Photo by Kylee Stenersen)