As beautiful as the outdoor scene is today, snow everywhere, early January, thoughts of Spring should be far, far, away. But no, just the opposite. I have a head cold, am sniffling and sneezing, am generally miserable, and can only wish for warmer brighter days. Thus Spring thoughts and Bluebirds!
A few years back, I saw my first Bluebird while hiking up to the top of Mt Pisgah. I wasn’t sure what it was, just that it wasn’t a Blue Jay. It flitted from bush to bush, seemingly unafraid of me. I was fascinated, and a little research gave me the information I needed.
Whether Eastern, Western or Mountain, the Bluebird is native to North America. The scientific name is Sialia Mexicana. The early settlers were quite taken with its friendliness and sweet, sweet song. Many stories have been told, and numerous songs have been written about this beautiful bird with sky blue wings and golden red breast. Their coloring is quite vivid, making identification rather simple. Not too big, about 7 inches long. The male is bright blue on back, wings, head and throat. The bright orange/red breast color extends onto the back. I’m sure the one I saw was a male. The female has the same markings, but duller with a grayish cast.
Western Bluebirds can be found all along the West Coast of the United States, and tend to move to lower elevations for the winter. They come back by February/March indicating warmer weather, and are known as the harbingers of spring. How could you not love them?
Bluebirds are also known as messengers of hope, happiness, and love. Judy Garland sang “…over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.” And we can’t forget the hope filled song “…the white cliffs of Dover.” Actually, I don’t know how that song came to be, because the bluebird never lived in England. How about “Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder”? The song of the bluebird, a soft, smooth sound, is mostly for themselves. Clyde Todd (1940) said their song “…is like the gentle murmur of a flowing brook…awakens a sense of well-being and contentment….”
Although the female builds the nest, made mostly of grasses, the male is very protective and guards the box during construction, even offering her treats. Their beaks are not strong enough to excavate their own nests, so they rely on cavities made by others, like woodpeckers. Before pesticides, farmers put up nest houses along the fence for the birds; almost 70% of the bluebird diet is insects.
One problem for bluebirds is the house sparrow. The sparrow was brought to the US in small numbers in the middle 1800s. Now they are the most abundant songbird on the continent. They destroy bluebird eggs and nestlings, even adult bluebirds if they can catch them in a nest box. Another challenge for the bluebird survival is that the number of natural cavities has dwindled due to the loss of open spaces. The use of pesticides to control insects has also taken its toll. Weather is another factor. Severe winter conditions without protected roosting locations, lack of liquid water, food sources covered with snow – these are all conditions that impact the bluebird population. By 1950, 50% of the population had perished.
Bluebirds depend on humans to survive and thrive. Conservation efforts across the continent have taken up the challenging hobby of attracting bluebirds. Thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, the Eastern Bluebird population has started to increase again. The Western Bluebird is lagging, but with people still caring, spreading the word, getting involved, the lovely Bluebird will survive and thrive!