July 13, 2023 at 2:00 a.m.

Feathered campers

Borchert places over 100 birdhouses at Saukinac Campground

By BEN SONNEK | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Throughout the spring and summer, campers at the Saukinac Campground at the north end of Sauk Lake have their mornings and evenings filled with birdsong, thanks to the 100-plus birdhouses placed around the property by the campground’s owner, Jeff Borchert. For him, this is one of the many ways he sustains and gives back to the land that provides recreation to so many throughout the years.

“I’ve been loving birds my whole life, maybe more than planting trees,” Borchert said.

He has owned Saukinac Campground since the spring of 2013.

“We’ve had one camper come here for over 30 years,” he said. “She told me, before we bought this place, there were no birds here.”

Since then, Borchert has planted about 3,000 trees, reintroduced areas of native prairie grass and installed numerous birdhouses. So far, Saukinac Campground has at least 100 bluebird houses and 20 wood duck houses, many acquired by Borchert from the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club. Purple martins, being a more social bird, nest in birdhouses with about 16 or 20 apartments each, and Borchert has about nine of those around the campground for a minimum of about 108 apartments.

The trees Borchert plants do their part in making the area a hospitable place for birds. For instance, by the playground, the American Mountain Ash trees have small berries throughout the season that are bird-friendly. The prairie grasses host insects the birds catch for food.

The birds that usually visit Saukinac are purple martins, wood ducks, mergansers, bluebirds and tree swallows, the latter of which tend to take up residence in bluebird houses. They arrive in the spring when bugs are active – which was around early May this year – and they help keep the mosquito population down.

Around this time of summer, the next generation of birds is starting to take flight.

“I saw one (young purple martin) hanging on the perch the other day. I could see it had lost its balance and was trying to stay on the edge,” Borchert said. “They should be fledging and learning to fly here anytime – in the next couple of weeks, probably.”

Borchert is pressed to keep out unwanted birds. House sparrows, for instance, are an invasive species of bird introduced to North America in the 1800s, and they are known to destroy nests and eggs and kill other nestlings and adult birds – such as tree swallows – in order to take over their nest sites. Borchert estimates he eliminates about a couple 100 of these sparrows per year, usually by traps or birdshot.

The birds who nest in Saukinac can be territorial about other flying things that come into their territory.

“When you fly a drone around, they’ll attack it,” Borchert said. “When I did my webpage, the gal who took the pictures, I warned her about it. (Her drone) flew down at the dock, and (the birds) set up a perimeter. When it stayed down there, they were fine, but if they got close to the birdhouses, they were attacking it.”

The birds usually leave the area in September. They will stage themselves on the campground’s power line in groups of sometimes 500 before they fly south; purple martins end up flying all the way to Brazil. The wood ducks usually stick around for another month before they migrate, and other duck species stay longer before the campground goes quiet for the season.

It is always a treat for Borchert when the birds return with their songs in the spring, and he will continue to set up homes for them.

“One time, somebody asked, ‘What are all the birdhouses for?’” he said. “I said, ‘For the birds.’”


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