- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

ELGIN, Okla. (AP) - One could say Mary Lou Crimmins has birds on the brain.

The longtime Elgin resident has devoted much of her life to nurturing and protecting the eastern bluebird - a delicate species, which has had a difficult time coping with human encroachment on its habitat.

As farmers tear out trees and clear land for their fields and transition fences from wood to metal and other materials, the bluebird has a more difficult time in finding a place to nest and food to eat, especially during the winter months.

“I feed and give them shelter all winter,” Crimmins told The Lawton Constitution (http://bit.ly/Vi4oMT). “They really struggle during that time. They’re an insect, nut and berry eater so they have a real hard time.”

As a mother more than 20 years ago, Crimmins was helping her son, Craig, with his seventh grade science project. She had already had a fascination with birds stemming from her childhood on her family’s farm.

She instilled that same fascination on her children. So mother and son decided to follow the eastern bluebird and record its actions. What they discovered was the species was in serious decline.

“They were becoming endangered because of the loss of their habitat,” she said.

“So Craig did his project over the eastern bluebird and it won at Elgin and then he went onto Cameron (University). He ended up winning a plaque from the ornithological society.”

The dedication to the small birds didn’t end there. She and her husband, Elgin Public Schools Superintendent Tom Crimmins, began building bird houses.

Using old barn wood, the couple started crafting specially designed homes to be placed around their country home. Each house has to be built a certain way to not allow larger birds inside and so it can be opened to monitor the babies. They have to be placed on a pole of certain length and monitored regularly.

“Because they’re built on poles, they’re easily susceptible to snakes crawling in and yellow jackets can get into them,” she said. “The house sparrow will move in and tear out the bluebird nest and make itself at home. The bluebird is not combative, so it won’t do anything. You have to watch out for it.”

Crimmins spent 40 years at Comanche County Memorial Hospital as a medical technologist. She did as much as she could for the birds while she worked, but ultimately decided it was time to retire a couple years ago.

Her mother needed help, she had eight grandchildren who wanted to spend time with her and she wanted to dedicate more time to the birds.

“It was the perfect time for me to retire,” she said. “I figure I got out of there and let the younger people take over.”

Her retirement has not been quiet. Crimmins maintains her bluebird houses and is always vigilant in caring for the other birdhouses in the backyard. She has five bluebird houses scattered through the general area surrounding their home.

Last year, she took a temporary job as a teacher at the outdoor classroom in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for the Comanche County Soil Conservation. She returned to the class again this year, teaching between 600 to 700 fourth grade students about bluebirds and how their habitat has been affected.

“I wasn’t sure how excited they would be by it,” she said. “They really got interested, especially as I described how you could put up these houses and watch the babies. I was surprised. You have to keep up with it because there are so many kids that come through that sometimes I forget what I’m talking about or what I’ve already covered.”

Crimmins maintains her care for bluebirds is only a hobby, but that hasn’t stopped her friends from bringing any bluebird souvenir they can find. She’s become somewhat of a local expert and the living room of her home is filled with bluebird statues and a painting hanging on the wall.

She’s come a long way from spending a few weeks with her son in helping him with a science project. Now the birds have come to define her retirement and she’s happy to continue helping them where she can.

“As long as I can get up and still get around, I’ll still be doing this,” she said.

“All it took was one time for success. You go out to the house and you see there’s little blue eggs in there. You realize you’re going to have some success. When you watch them hatch and watch the pair feed, it stimulates you. You just want to keep working at it. You don’t want to desert them.”

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Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com

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