Little blue friends display their loyalty

DALLAS -- The sun is beginning to set over Lloyd Martin's house at the top of Bridalwood Road in Dallas. An hour has passed, but Dwain and Amy haven't returned for their evening meal.



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The little birds showed up in the Martins' yard one day and bonded with the couple. They have been coming back for years.

DALLAS -- The sun is beginning to set over Lloyd Martin's house at the top of Bridalwood Road in Dallas. An hour has passed, but Dwain and Amy haven't returned for their evening meal.

"I'm not sure why they haven't come home yet. Normally this time of day they are sitting on that banister out there staring in the window at me. Jill, my wonderful wife, used to always spot them first," Martin says, and his voice catches.

"She'd call after me: 'Did you feed your birds yet?' That's what she called them: 'your birds.' But she loved them just as much as I do ... I'm sorry. I need a moment."

Martin is sitting at a glass-topped kitchen table in a large room facing a wall of windows that open on sweeping Willamette Valley views. It has been almost a month since Jill passed away in her sleep. Lloyd still has trouble talking about her.

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Jill and Lloyd Martin were married for 22 years. They met in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

Lloyd was a vice cop and Jill was an activist working to raise awareness about sexual predators. Together, Jill and Lloyd literally wrote the book on how to fight child pornography and sexual abuse.

They met at a huge benefit party in Beverly Hills. Lloyd said Jill was the smartest, kindest, most outgoing woman he'd ever known.

"She was the talker. She was the outgoing one, people were just drawn to her and trusted her. I loved her more than anything," Martin says.

When Lloyd retired from the LAPD in the early 1990s he and Jill fulfilled their dream of moving to the Willamette Valley.

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Soon after settling into their new home, Jill noticed a little blue bird with a brownish chest sitting in their manicured backyard.

"We identified it as a Western bluebird," Martin says.

"I went online and did some research about it and found out that they aren't very common any more. So, we decided to learn how to attract more."

Lloyd, a gifted woodworker, went to the library and checked out books on bluebird houses. Jill discovered that the little songbirds prefer insects, mealworms in particular. The same type of mealworms, in fact, that Lloyd used when he fished.

Soon, they had a nesting pair of bluebirds and their clutch to care for.

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The Western bluebird is the same size as a robin -- and in fact is part of the same family of birds. People often mistake blue jays for bluebirds, but they are different creatures. The jay is almost twice as big as the bluebird and is far more adaptive and opportunistic.

The little Western bluebird has had a rough go during the past few decades. Once a dominate species, suburban sprawl and the loss of small farms decimated the bird's natural habitat.

Also, invasive species, like house sparrows, tend to destroy bluebird nests and kill the parents. In the mid-1970s the Western bluebird was placed on Oregon's "sensitive" species list.

In response, a group of birders formed the Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project. Since the late 1970s the group has helped created dozens of bluebird trails (habitats) all over the Willamette Valley. The effort has worked -- the little irridescent bird is making a comeback.

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Jill Martin wanted to start her own bluebird trail. It was something she and Lloyd talked about while they sat feeding their growing brood of bluebirds on warm summer nights.

Dwain, Amy and their dozens of offspring had become the Martins' pride and joy, and they wanted to share the beautiful birds with other wildlife lovers.

"To me, bluebirds represent hope, love and joy. That's what they provide to everyone who sees them. That's what they give to me. These birds have given me comfort when I needed it most ... they need me, and right now and I need to be needed," Martin says.

Losing Jill shocked Martin. He's still finding his footing. He said his life has been split into two parts, before that night and after.

His neighbors have been a huge support. During the first week after Jill's death there was a constant presence in his house -- a rotating watch of neighbors and friends to fill the empty hours.

Now, Martin has decided to memorialize his wife by creating more happy homes for the birds that brought them so much pleasure.

Anyone interested in joining the Jill Martin Memorial Bluebird Trail can contact Martin. He says he will teach Dallas citizens how to create a bluebird-friendly habitat in their yard and give them tips on warding off predators and feeding.

He has recruited a couple of his neighbors for the Dallas trail, and he's looking for more native bird enthusiasts.

"I'll provide them with a bluebird house or the designs for one, and I'll teach them how to tag and care for them. I'm not charging anyone for this, I'm doing this for Jill. This was her dream," Martin said.

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Martin knows what he's doing. His mated pair, Dwain and Amy, are second-generation to his yard and have returned for the past three years, bringing their offspring along.

As a result, sometime in late February before the frosts have melted away, a troupe of nearly twenty bluebirds descends on the Martins' home.

Snowbirds themselves, Jill and Martin would spend their winter months in Arizona, but always made sure to be home before their birds returned.

Eventually, Dwain and Amy ran off the other bluebirds and started their new clutch. That's what Martin suspects has kept them away so long on this evening.

"It's getting to be about time for them to lay their first eggs, but they have to get rid of the other kids first," he says with a fond smile.

"I sit here and I look at them, I watch them interact with each other and it is such a joy. It relaxes and comforts me."

The morning Jill died the birds arrived an hour earlier than normal. They sat quietly at attention -- 13 of them -- lined up on a banister gazing in the window while Martin dialed 911.

They waited with him for the ambulance to come, then fluttered away on the waves of piercing sirens.

"My blue angels. They were there to say goodbye," he says.

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For more information on the Memorial Bluebird Trail call Lloyd Martin, 503-623-8817.

For information about Willamette Valley bluebird preservation projects and tips on attracting the Western bluebird, see the Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project at www.prescottbluebird.com or email@prescottbluebird.com.

The North American Bluebird Society also has a website, www.nabluebirdsociety.org.



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