Bird of Happiness
text & photos : Norma A. Hubbard (April 2019)
It takes a great deal of patience to be a bird watcher. When I moved here, there were bird houses scattered around the property. The red squirrels, rather than birds, used the boxes. Research claims that in order to have Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) move into a bird box, they need certain specifications. Boxes were custom-made, placed at the appropriate height and location. Bluebirds would come and go, but none moved in. This went on for three years, and then much to my delight, last year, a pair came and stayed! John Burroughs, an American naturalist, said, “When nature made the blue-bird she wished to propitiate both the sky and the earth, so she gave him the color of the one on his back and the hue of the other on his breast.”
Eastern Bluebirds like open spaces, so it is important to locate nesting boxes near fields, areas not too crowded by buildings and trees. It seems they need space to dive for bugs. Eastern Bluebirds can spot their prey from over 60 feet away, and then dive to catch it! Bluebirds do not usually come to the feeders. They eat mainly insects, such as worms, spiders, grasshoppers, wasps, and caterpillars. Bluebirds also eat plenty of fruit and berries; in our area, these may include sumac, blueberries, black cherry, currants, dogwood berries, honeysuckle, and juniper berries. In nature, bluebirds will often use old woodpecker cavities as nests. Nests have been found as high as fifty feet above the ground. Whether it’s built in a box or tree cavity, the female does the actual nest building. Only while trying to attract a female will a male bring nesting materials to a nest site, then he will flap his wings to get the attention of the female.
Although males do not build the nests, they do help to feed the young. Eastern Bluebirds can have more than one brood per summer, and often the last brood of the summer will stay with the parents over the winter. Each clutch may contain between two to seven eggs. The incubation period is up to 19 days; after hatching, baby birds are out of the nest within three weeks. I found a baby bluebird in my garden, it was so very cute. As I keep my camera handy while I am in the garden, I quickly snapped a picture and I quietly moved away. Sure enough, watching from a safe distance, I saw that the parents were feeding their baby. It is important to note with spring around the corner, often baby birds may seem abandoned, or on their own, yet the parents are most likely watching them. It is better to leave the baby birds alone and do not try to put them back into a nest. I know from experience this can go very wrong, but that is another story!
In areas where there are several possible nest sites, a female will build nests in more than one site, but only use one. In my yard, there are three boxes on a tall pole in the center of the yard. The bluebirds did go into all three, but settled on the top box. Often one of the bluebirds was perched on the very top of the pole keeping watch. They fiercely defend their territory. The male in my yard did not take kindly to me and would often swoop at my head while I was gardening! We eventually came to an understanding as neither of us was leaving, although I stayed away from the garden under the box while they were feeding their young.
Prior to the 1960’s, Eastern Bluebird populations were decreasing due to other birds, such as European Starling and House Sparrows, taking over the nesting areas. Since then, due to campaigns to build nest boxes designed for Eastern Bluebirds only, their populations have increased. We, too, can help bluebirds by providing nest boxes in our yards. There are plenty of plans for bluebird boxes online. There are many myths and beliefs about bluebirds bringing happiness, prosperity and good health, along with the renewal of spring. So welcome bluebirds to our area because who doesn’t want a bit of happiness in their own backyard?