Dick Willis, who died Feb. 25 at the age of 93, was known to many as “The Bluebird Man of Roseville.”
His son-in-law, Bob Walz, of North Branch, is next in line to become the owner of that moniker.
Willis, Walz explained, was passionate about bluebirds. About 40 years ago, bluebirds in the state were endangered.
Bluebirds are secondary cavity dwellers, meaning they make their nests in tree holes that are already carved out by other animals, such as woodpeckers.
“Really, over the last 50 years, we’ve had a lot of sparrows and other birds that compete with the bluebirds for the holes,” Walz said. “Typically, what happens often is the sparrow, the English sparrow, which is a non-native bird, would come and take over the nest, and it would do so by breaking the eggs of the bluebird or kill the bluebird that was sitting on the eggs.”
So about four decades ago, a group of Minnesotans decided to build houses in which bluebirds could nest.
One of the early joiners of that group was Willis.
The group worked hard to provide a habitat the birds could nest in, and bluebird numbers in the state have rebounded as a result of that effort, Walz said.
In his later years, Willis set up bluebird houses along trails that surround the Roseville Area Schools District Center.
He longed to have bluebirds visit his house, but, being on a city lot, he didn’t have the ideal location to attract the birds.
So about two decades ago, he approached the Roseville School District and asked if he could set up bluebird houses along the District Center trails, and school officials obliged.
Walz said Willis cared for the bluebirds and their houses on the trail until this past summer.
Kare 11 even did a profile on Willis about two years ago. Willis was shown smiling on the broadcast as an array of bluebirds flittered around him and into the houses he had set up for them.
For the birds
Prior to his death, Willis had a request for his son-in-law.
“The one thing he wanted, for sure, was to make sure someone would maintain his bluebird trail,” Walz said. “So he asked me if I would promise to take care of his bluebird trail. Now, I’m 50 miles from there, but I said I would do that. I’ll be down there, and I will monitor it, and I will try to recruit some people to help me with it down there.”
Walz is an avid birder and even shared his bluebird attracting tips with his father-in-law.
At his North Branch home in which he and his wife Jeanne live, there are bluebird houses that draw the birds nearly every spring.
Walz explained that once the bluebirds start nesting in an area, they usually come back.
They’ve been coming back to the Roseville trails for nearly two decades, and Walz wants to ensure their home is well cared for in years to come.