Fledging records for MBT go back to 1974 when Art Aylesworth and his friend Arnie Armstrong fledged five nestlings from five nestboxes he put near his family’s cabin at St. Regis. At the time, building a bluebird organization was the last thing on Art’s mind. Art and his wife, Vivian had seen a flock of bluebirds sitting on a snow covered pine tree and thought they looked like blue Christmas ornaments. He remembered seeing bluebirds as a child, but very few in recent years so he built the five nestboxes.
His experience inspired him to spread the word, got lumber mills in the area to donate scrap wood and recruited volunteers in the area to build and put up nestboxes. By 1980 they had built several thousand boxes and fledged a total of 1000 bluebirds. In the next 25 years he and his volunteers built over 35,000 nestboxes and distributed them throughout the northwest to people who would monitor them.
In 1981 Art and Arnie displayed their bluebird nestboxes at the Ducks Unlimited dinner in Great Falls, Bob Niebuhr, the D.U. Chairman, had invited them to display artificial goose nests which volunteers were building and setting up in the Mission Valley, but the bluebird boxes drew all the attention. Duncan MacIntosh, Lethbridge, AB was invited by Art to join them. Duncan was the leader of a bluebird group in southern Alberta called Mountain Bluebird Trails. Tom Matsko and Rod Spencer, bluebirders from Great Falls attended the dinner and met Art and Duncan for the first time.
These six men gathered over breakfast the following morning to talk about working together more closely. Art and Duncan agreed to put the Mountain Bluebird Trails name on both groups and they worked together until 1994. A copy of Art’s bluebird slide show was made for Tom Matsko and Rod Spencer to promote bluebird conservation east of the divide. Since 1994 the Alberta group has changed its formal name to Mountain Bluebird Trails Society of Southern Alberta and the Montana group became Mountain Bluebird Trails, Inc. when it was incorporated in 1998.
In 1989, to help celebrate Montana’s Centennial, MBT built 2800 nestboxes and put them up every quarter of a mile across Montana along highway 200.
In the fall of 1998, MBT mailed its first newsletter to anyone interested in the group’s activities. Until then the only mailing sent out was a copy of the fledging report and a cover letter from Art. In the same year, Erv Davis, created MBT’s first website.
In the mid 1990’s, many lumber mills closed in Montana, new OSHA regulations were initiated and MBT’s sources of free wood to build nestboxes dried up. Wood needed to be bought for the first time.
Starting in 2001, MBT started producing a regular quarterly newsletter and in 2002 MBT required people to pay dues to receive the benefits of membership. This requirement was stated in the MBT by-laws, but had never been enforced.
Art Aylesworth died of cancer in April of 1999, but his dream of spreading the bluebird conservation movement and his love of bluebirds throughout Montana and beyond is carried on by MBT members.