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"Blueberry Bird" Honors USDA Blueberry and Strawberry Breeding

By Don Comis
December 3, 2003

Today, the National Visitor Center of the Agricultural Research Service got an early holiday present. A bluebird, five feet tall, with a large strawberry on its white chest and blueberries on its head, now perches inside the visitor center located in Beltsville, Md.

The gift, from Friends of Agricultural Research-Beltsville, Inc., is partly a "thank you" honoring the late Larry Zeleny, an ARS biochemist who spent his retirement saving the bluebird from extinction. FAR-B is an organization of current and retired employees of ARS' Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC).

FAR-B successfully bid $550 for the fiberglass sculpture at a November auction to benefit art education in Prince George's County, where BARC is located.

The bird, named "Red, White and Blueberry Bird," is one of 74 whimsical versions of the eastern bluebird recently displayed throughout the county. All the birds were produced through a public art project, "Birds I View," modeled after exhibits such as the "Party Animals" in Washington, D.C. The Birds I View project was organized by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Prince George's Arts Council.

"Red, White and Blueberry Bird" was designed by Maryland artist Nancy Gurganus. The blueberries and strawberry symbolize the bird's blue and red colors and the berries the birds eat, while also honoring ARS' historic blueberry and strawberry breeding programs. Since 1911, about one commercial blueberry variety a year has been developed from plants bred by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists at what is now the ARS Fruit Laboratory in Beltsville and its satellite location in New Jersey. Strawberry breeding began in 1910. ARS and university fruit breeders in other states also contribute to blueberry and strawberry releases.

The bird also honors Zeleny, who helped make the bluebird the county bird and started the North American Bluebird Society with a trail of bluebird nesting boxes still maintained on BARC fenceposts. Today there are similar trails across the country.

More information on BARC wildlife is in the October 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency. It is celebrating its 50th anniversary, although its research roots trace back to USDA's creation in 1862.