Steve Barlow is a wildlife biologist from Florida who has spent decades finding ways to help bats, birds, and other wild animals. Steve designed big bat houses that easily integrate into both urban and rural areas. More recently, Steve has turned his attention to promoting his patented utility marker birdhouse called "nesting post" via his company, Wildlife Integration LLC. Many small species of birds can benefit from these birdhouses including wrens, chickadees, warblers, sparrows, and more.

On November 7, 2017, Steve was granted a U.S. Patent for his bird nesting box that integrates into utility right-of-way markers -- a unique and durable tubular design made of plastic pipe instead of the traditional square wooden box we usually see out there for these birds.

Steve first invented (and subsequently started testing) his specialized bird nesting box in 1997 after he observed a pair of nesting bluebirds in the field. Birds immediately took to the box soon after he placed it in the field.

At this time, America has millions of “right-of-way” markers which are used to safeguard water lines, electrical lines, petroleum pipelines, fiber optic cables, and other utilities from the accidental excavation. Hence, Steve’s nesting boxes fit into the landscape, and he is completely confident he can make his long-held vision of reintegrating bird species into human-altered landscapes a feasible reality.

Steve recently discussed his career as a biologist and his animal-focused inventions courtesy of an exclusive interview.

Birds, conservation, and nesting boxes

Meagan Meehan (MM): You grew up around nature, so how much did your childhood influence your conservation efforts as an adult?

Steve Barlow (SB): It had a huge effect! I dedicated my life at an early age to benefit wildlife and habitats, but also people. I realized my situation is growing up was unique, and not everyone experienced nature first hand like I had.

Discuss this news on Eunomia

So as an adult I hope to not only benefit the wildlife I love but to also provide every opportunity I can for others to be touched by that same beauty too!

MM: How did you become a conservationist? For instance, did you have to go to college to get the title?

SB: I started working as a volunteer for both state and federal wildlife conservation agencies at the age of fifteen.

In high school I was active in Future Farmers of America, not really for farming but because this organization does have a wildlife emphasis which back in the 80's was not easy to find in the high school curriculum. I went on to win Florida state level FFA awards in both Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation. After high school, I spent five years on active duty in the US Army to get the GI Bill for college.

Once in college, I first received a BS in Biology and Chemistry from Pittsburg State University then went on to get my MS from the University of Florida majoring in Soil and Water Sciences with an emphasis on Environmental Science and a minor in Wildlife Ecology. In graduate school, I started working full time with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission then later with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

After ten years of professional experience, I received the formal title "Certified Wildlife Biologist" through the Wildlife Society, my field's professional society.

MM: Why do you focus so much of your attention on bats and birds? Essentially, why do you find these two specific creatures so fascinating?

SB: Flight itself has always fascinated me, so much so that I also received my commercial airplane pilot's license... I love to fly! So, anything that flies amazes me. But from an ecological perspective, the study of birds and bats is especially interesting due to all the ecological adaptations and specializations we see in them. Simply do a quick read of Darwin's observations with finches, and you will get the idea!

Birds are real-time evolution and adaptation on display! Bats too are very diverse, much more so than most people know. These flying mammals are also very interesting to study and observe.

MM: What was the process of creating your special bird nesting box like? For instance, how different was the prototype from the finalized product?

SB: It started by simply observing a pair of nesting bluebirds in the forest edge one morning. I watched them working hard to feed their young in a hollow tree, as I watched I asked myself why most traditional birdhouses were square? Why not make some round ones to match better the trees they use? This thought spurred me to build the first prototype models back in 1997.

By 1999 I had over a dozen of these prototypes which were made using PVC pipe on the landscape. The birds loved them! And the tough plastic was virtually indestructible and maintenance free.

At this same time, back in 1999, communications companies were installing fiber optic cables all over the US at a fast rate, as luck would have it one day a fellow biologist, and I noticed workers installing the utility marker poles near one of my prototypes and the transition to fitting the prototype onto the utility pole was obvious. Of course, this was just the start, getting the concept to reality across the North American landscape is the real heavy lifting. After receiving a patent on the nesting post concept in late 2017, I am ready to go!

Patents, products, and helping creatures

MM: How many species of birds can use your special rounded nesting box?

SB: Conservatively speaking there are over 28 species of birds in North America alone which could potentially benefit from this application. I have even observed bats roosting in them along with flying squirrels and other small mammals!

MM: Why do you think rounded nesting areas serve the birds better than square ones?

SB: I wouldn't say round nest boxes are necessarily "better," but the birds build a round nest even when they nest in a square box. So round just fits! Mostly what is better with the round box is the durability, as woodpeckers can easily "blow out" the wooden entrance holes.

Once this happens, the nest box is useless for most birds.

MM: What was the patenting process like and how will securing that patent affects how you promote the product?

SB: The patent process was neither quick, easy or cheap! Fortunately, I had a superb legal team helping me throughout the entire process, this was a law firm which specialized in patents, and their service was excellent. With patent protection, I hope to secure a single manufacturer to maintain tight manufacturing tolerances/quality better and have better "control" in nest box placement on the landscape.

MM: What do you most enjoy about watching the creatures in these houses/boxes?

SB: It's hard to explain, but it just feels like a "miracle" to place a habitat structure and then see the targeted species show up out of thin air!

You build it, and they will come!

MM: How do you think these nesting boxes can be incorporated into more landscapes to help birds?

SB: There are hundreds of millions of utility marking poles out on the landscape already, making it an easy retrofit to simply place the nesting post box right on the existing pole. Plus, the same poles can easily be installed in any number of other locations and applications out there.

MM: Are you currently working on any other exciting animal-centric projects?

SB: Yes! I recently received a grant to build a "Swift Tower" for a local high school. This high school has a large boiler chimney which serves as a summer nest/roost for chimney swift birds. We plan to build an artificial tower on the campus to lure the birds out into as they are excluded from the occupied school building.

This particular roost can sometimes have hundreds of birds using it. We will incorporate interpretive signage on the tower to help educate the students about the important role these migratory birds play in the local environment; they eat tons of flying insects!

MM: What can every person do to help birds, bats, and other creatures thrive?

SB: First get educated, understand the vital role these organisms play in the environment -- we literally cannot live without them! Then take action! Join a local birding group, go birding, put up a birdhouse and share your joy. The example above of helping the chimney swifts is a great example as they would have had no alternate nest site after the school excluded them...

I am sure this and other things are happening all the time!

MM: Is there anything further that you wish to talk about or mention?

SB: Thank you for the interview and giving me an opportunity to share my passion for wildlife, habitat structures and people! Please pass along my websites and contact information for anyone interested.