Tag Archives: bluebirds

High school senior looking out for interests of the region’s bluebirds

Bluebird-Pool

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A handsome male Eastern bluebird perches on a chain-link fence.

Observant people have probably noticed Eastern bluebirds already checking out possible nesting locations. These cavity-nesting birds begin scouting for possible nest sites in February and March. By April, female bluebirds may be incubating a clutch of eggs.

Although bluebirds will nest in natural cavities in trees, they respond readily to the availability of nesting boxes provided by human landlords. Many people are devoted to the cause of seeing that bluebirds — a favorite of many — continue to thrive in the face of certain challenges.

Bluebird-BeakFull

Photo by Adrianna Nelson • Bluebirds are skillful at foraging for insects.

Eighteen-year-old Adrianna Nelson is one such person. A senior at John S. Battle High School, Adrianna said she recently became involved with the Tennessee Bluebird Society as a way to become active with a conservation-related activity involving birds.

“I only recently got involved with TBS,” she said.

She began looking last summer for a way to contribute locally to the welfare of birds.

“I came across the TBS website,” she said. “They didn’t have a coordinator for Sullivan County, so I decided to fill the position.”

Nelson said she is interested in all birds but enjoys focusing on bluebirds and other cavity nesters to spread knowledge about their importance.

“TBS focuses on bluebirds,” she said.

Bluebird-FencePost

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Eastern Bluebird inspects a nesting cavity in a wooden fence post. When such cavities are scarce, bluebirds readily build in nest boxes.

Bluebirds are like the “poster child” for the organization, Nelson noted, but she also pointed out that TBS also promotes the conservation of other native cavity nesters.

As county coordinator for TBS, her job primarily involves giving presentations to raise awareness about bluebirds and other cavity-nesting bird species.

“I have already presented to the Bristol Bird Club, and I plan to still give a few more presentations,” she said.

“I can also set up bluebird trails,” Nelson said. “I have not done any trails this year, but I have plans for next year. Part of my responsibilities is also to maintain trails and answer questions from the community.”

 

There are some good reasons for people to offer extra support to help bluebirds thrive.

“Eastern bluebirds are native cavity nesters,” Nelson said. “They are not strong enough to excavate their own cavities, so starlings and house sparrows can take over natural and man-made structures very quickly. It is important to promote the longevity of native species. Not only are they important, they are very beautiful.”

There are several things that people can do to make their yards and gardens more attractive to bluebirds.

“One of the most important is to make sure that there is proper habitat,” Nelson explained. “Bluebirds prefer open areas with some trees or other perches for spotting insects.”

Bluebird-withPineNeedles

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A female Eastern Bluebird gathers pine needles to use as nesting material. Bluebirds are a cavity-nesting species that will use natural or manmade cavities.

For those interested in attracting nesters, Nelson said that picking the right nest box and proper placement is important.

She helps maintain nesting boxes along a bluebird trail at Steele Creek Park in Bristol.

IMG_4196

Photo by Adrianna Nelson • Eastern bluebirds are a beautiful bird to welcome into the backyard.

In addition, providing plenty of water helps. “Bluebirds also like meal worms, but plants such as dogwoods, sumac, pokeweed, viburnum, and others can provide food, especially in the winter,” Nelson said.

Keeping predators away is crucial. According to Nelson, this can be achieved with simple actions such as keeping cats indoors.

“There are more details about bluebirds, boxes, nesting, predators, habitat and more online on the North American Bluebird Society website,” Nelson added.

Nelson shared some fascinating facts about bluebirds.

“They can spot insects from over 50 yards away,” she said.

EasternBluebird_Score

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents in Northeast Tennessee.

Bluebirds are bigger than small songbirds like chickadees, wrens and warblers, yet they weigh only about one ounce.

Bluebirds are truly “early birds,” according to Nelson. “Eggs usually hatch within the first two hours after dawn,” she said.

There are no local meetings of the Tennessee Bluebird Society, but an annual meeting for TBS is held in November. The meeting is open to the public.

TBS and North American Bluebird Society members get quarterly journals and newsletters. There is also information on the websites of the two organizations for anyone interested in bluebirds.md19917207443

NABS was founded in 1978 by Dr. Lawrence Zeleny in order to promote the preservation of bluebirds, a cavity-nesting species in decline at that time. Zeleny, with the support of his wife, Olive, dedicated much of his life to providing nestboxes and managing bluebird trails. He promoted bluebird conservation through hundreds of talks and articles in many periodicals.

The Eastern bluebird has two close relatives — the Western bluebird and the mountain bluebird. These species belong to the genus, Sialia, which is counted among the world’s thrushes.The Western bluebird ranges throughout California, the southern Rocky Mountains, Arizona and New Mexico. The mountain bluebird is widespread in the western United States, as well. Two states — Idaho and Nevada — have bestowed official status on the mountain bluebird as their official state bird. The Eastern bluebird has also been honored with that designation by the states of Missouri and New York.

The Eastern bluebird suffered serious decline from 1940 into the 1960s, but it is now a common bird in the region. Rick Knight, author of The Birds of Northeast Tennessee, notes that nest boxes were instrumental in the recovery of the Eastern bluebird.

Nelson is continuing the work pioneered by others to conserve the Eastern bluebird. She lives in Bristol, Virginia, with her parents, Sandi and Shawn Nelson. She welcomes the public to contact her about bluebirds by emailing adriannan1@hotmail.com.

To learn more about the Tennessee Bluebird Society, visit http://www.tnbluebirdsociety.org. For more information on the North American Bluebird Society, visit wwwna.bluebirdsociety.org.

Bluebird-BabeInMimosa

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young Eastern Bluebird slowly gains independence after leaving the nest.

North America’s bluebirds never fail to impress with their winning ways

A famous song declares that “somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly,” so you’ll have to excuse me if I have been looking for those elusive rainbows during the unseasonably warm weather the region’s enjoyed in recent weeks.

Also, like the song promises, “dreams really do come true,” which was fulfilled by the arrival of this year’s first pair of Eastern bluebirds at my home on Friday, Feb. 23. The presence of a pair of these beautiful and trusting birds is always sure to put people in a good mood. People have known for generations that bluebirds make good neighbors. A pair of bluebirds in your yard or garden provides hour upon hour of free entertainment as one watches these birds go about their daily routine. At this time of the year, much of that routine is focused on finding and claiming the best possible nesting location for the upcoming spring season.

Bluebird-Comic

The Eastern bluebird is one of the most beloved American songbirds.

The Eastern bluebird is one of North America’s best-known cavity-nesting birds. About 85 species of North American birds use cavities in trees for nesting purposes. Cavity-nesters include ducks, such as buffleheads and wood ducks, as well as birds of prey such as Eastern screech-owls and American kestrels.

Woodpeckers and nuthatches can excavate their own cavity in a dead or decaying tree. Others, such as the bluebirds, must find a cavity already in existence. Such cavities are scarce real estate and can be subject to some intense competition. The Eastern bluebird is at a disadvantage when forced to compete with non-native introduced birds such as aggressive European starlings and house sparrows. Even native competitors such as house wrens and tree swallows are serious rivals when it comes down to staking a claim to prime nesting real estate.

Over the years, I have found bluebirds nesting in cavities inside wooden fence posts, but there are fewer wooden fence posts every year. This reinforces the idea of how changing landscapes have affected these birds. Instead of wooden fence posts, many farmers now use metal ones, and dead or dying trees — a much sought-after resource for cavity-nesting birds — are often removed from woodlands.

Bluebird-withPineNeedles

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A female Eastern Bluebird gathers pine needles to use as nesting material.

Fortunately for bluebirds, this species will also accept lodging in a nest box, or birdhouse, provided for them by human landlords. One of the simplest ways to bring bluebirds close is to offer wooden boxes, constructed to their specific requirements, for their use as nesting locations. Because of their trusting nature when it comes to their human neighbors, the Eastern bluebird is one of our most beloved birds. In fact, bluebirds are such popular birds that interest in them and their well-being has inspired the foundation of organizations such as the North American Bluebird Society. The Eastern bluebird has also been designated the official state bird for New York and Missouri, which provides more testimony to the immense popularity of this bird.

Bluebirds-One

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A flock of Eastern bluebirds perches on fenceposts.

There are two other species of bluebirds found in North America. The Western bluebird is found throughout the year in California, the southern Rocky Mountains, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as in part of Mexico. The species ranges in the summer as far north as the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Montana. The Mountain bluebird nests in open country in the western United States as far north as Alaska. They are short-distance migrants, retreating as far south as Mexico during the winter season.

Other than these three species, North America offers few others birds with mostly “blue” plumages. Some examples include indigo bunting, blue grosbeak, and blue jay, as well as birds like great blue heron and belted kingfisher.

In addition to housing, food and water can be used to lure Eastern bluebirds closer. This bird doesn’t eat seeds, but it can be attracted with an offering of mealworms — live or freeze-dried – or commercially prepared peanut butter nuggets. A water feature in a yard is also a magnet for bluebirds and a host of other bird species.

Bluebird-Pool

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A handsome male Eastern bluebird perches on a chain-link fence.

If your home doesn’t provide suitable open, spacious bluebird habitat, it’s still easy to enjoy these beautiful birds. An afternoon or evening drive into open country, such as agricultural farmland, is likely to yield sightings of this bird on fences and utility lines. Golf courses, some of which go the extra mile to accommodate bluebirds, also provide habitat for these lovely birds.

The Eastern bluebird is present in the region in all seasons and is one of our more common birds. If you’re already an experienced landlord and host for these birds, you probably already know they joys they can bring. If not, why not try to attract them closer to you? Most bluebirds in the region have already started looking for a nesting site. Many of these birds may nest two or even three times in a single season. March has only just arrived, so there’s still time to place a nest box or two on your property to get their attention.

••••••

If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Bluebiord-Male-Playground

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Eastern Bluebird perched on playground equipment at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.

Territorial nature of house wrens brings these tiny but feisty birds into conflict with their neighbors

 

83_House_Wren_cropped-to-the-plate-only

Early naturalist and artist John James Audubon famously painted a family of house wrens utilizing an old hat as a nesting location.

Birds don’t waste much time getting down to the business of nesting each spring. I’ve observed baby robins and bluebirds that are already out of the nest. At home, I have nest boxes occupied by Carolina chickadees, Eastern bluebirds and tree swallows. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, nesting attempts don’t always end successfully.

Kathy Shearer, who lives in Emory, Virginia, wrote me last month about a problem affecting her nesting bluebirds.

“I had an active bluebird nest with five eggs until yesterday, when I discovered the shell remnants on the ground beneath the pole,” she wrote. “One was clearly drilled through.” Kathy sent along a photo showing the damage.

“I suspect house wrens, which have followed the bluebird nests for several years, building their own nests in the same box. However, they always let the bluebirds raise two clutches before moving in, until now,” Kathy wrote. “Is there any way to combat these wrens?”

House-wren

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Dave Menke House wrens make dutiful parents, often tending a brood of as many as eight young.

Kathy’s question presents a definite quandary. With invasive birds, like house sparrows and Eurasian starlings, many bird experts recommend tearing out their nests. Some even suggest disposing of eggs and young. It sounds cruel, but native birds like Eastern bluebirds are at a disadvantage when it comes to competition with these non-native invaders. House sparrows and starlings were never meant to be part of the fauna of North America. Human actions introduced these birds into an environment unprepared for the consequences of the intrusion.

That’s what makes the problem with house wrens a difficult one to solve. The house wren is a native bird that is as much a legitimate part of the environment as bluebirds, tree swallows or other cavity-nesting birds.

Anyone who has ever observed tree swallows and bluebirds competing for a nest box knows that these birds are fierce in their struggles for a nesting location. The house wren, however, uses another approach. These small wrens are stealthy and somewhat ruthless, although both of these terms are something humans have applied as labels to this bird’s natural behavior.

HouseWren-Two

Photo by Jean Potter                                              A house wren checks out a nesting box. Males will often build “dummy nests” to provide females with a choice of nesting locations.

Known by the scientific name of Troglodytes aedon. In Greek myth, Aedon is a woman changed by Zeus into a nightingale, a bird famed for its song. A troglodyte is a cave-dwelling individual. So, roughly translated. the house wren’s scientific name is “cave-dwelling nightingale,” which emphasizes the penchant of the house wren for producing a bubbly, persistent song all out of proportion to the bird’s tiny size. The “cave-dwelling” description comes from the habit of house wrens, as well as other members of the wren family, to skulk near the ground for exploration of nooks, crannies and crevices in search of food.

The house wren arrives in the region just in time for the start of the spring nesting season. Although it is a native bird, this wren often fails to win favor because of its habit of damaging the nests of other cavity-nesting birds such as Eastern bluebirds and Carolina chickadees.

“To a house wren, almost any other nesting bird in its territory threatens competition,” wrote John Eastman in his book, “Birds of Forest, Yard and Thicket.” Eastman, a wildlife biologist and naturalist, emphasized in his chapter on the house wren the territorial nature of the bird. Not only will house wrens puncture the eggs of other birds, they will also kill young birds that are still confined to the nest. Once a pair of house wrens adopts a nesting site, they may remain loyal to it for many years. According to Eastman, these tiny birds display a powerful fidelity to nesting locations from previous seasons.

Caro-Wren-May2016

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                      The two-toned Carolina wren is, for the most part, a kinder and gentler neighbor to other birds in comparison to the related house wren.

I did offer some advice to Kathy, although I cautioned that wrens can be tough to deter since they are extremely territorial. However, they don’t like open spaces as much as bluebirds. I suggested that she make sure her nest boxes are not located near buildings or trees, which could encourage house wrens. House wrens feel most confident when there are thickets, hedges or other thick cover available.

Alternatively, she could provide more nest boxes. House wren males will build multiple “dummy” nests in his attempt to attract a mate. These nests must be approved by the female. Once she makes her selection, she will line the nest with softer materials and then lay her six to eight eggs. If Kathy provides enough boxes, the wrens in her yard might leave the bluebirds alone. I realize that is a big “might.”

Kathy responded with another email after I offered my suggestions. She noted that she lives in a wooded area, so finding open space is difficult. “This bird box is in the middle of the garden, the only open space we have, and has been successful for many years,” she wrote.

Kathy plans to move the box and to put up a second one in the woods that might satisfy the wrens. She also did some of her own research and came across the suggestion of building a guard over the entrance that blocks it from view. “Might give that a try,” she wrote.

CaroWren

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                                                A Carolina wren creeps along a fence. Other wrens in North America include Bewick’s wren, marsh wren, sedge wren, cactus wren, winter wren and rock wren.

As much as I hate it when these conflicts arise, house wrens are a native species of bird. That sets them apart from birds like house sparrows and starlings, which are not native. These wrens are small birds, so their aggressive nature is probably a survival adaptation that has served them well as they must contend with larger birds for limited resources.

House wrens are not as photogenic as bluebirds, but they have a lot of traits that make them worth observing. First and foremost, this wren produces an enthusiastic and energetic song. The parents will also rid yards and gardens of a great many insect pests as they work to keep six to eight hungry babies fed. Every wild creature has its place, so I try to offer equal respect to them all.

••••••

To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Enjoy these recent birding photos

Bluebirds-One

Eastern Bluebirds perch on a fence.

Bluebird-2

Male Eastern Bluebird surveys his surroundings from a fence post perch.

Bluebirds-Tw0

Eastern Bluebirds enjoy sunshine on a recent January afternoon.

BuffleFlock

A flock of Buffleheads on the Watauga River.

Goldfinches

American Goldfinches visit a feeder.

PurpleFinches

Female Purple Finches visit a feeder.

Purples

A flock of Purple Finches share space at a feeder.

DUo-Downy-Titmouse

Downy Woodpecker and Tufted Titmouse arrive at a suet feeder.

 

Female-Downy1

A female Downy Woodpecker climbs on a tree trunk.

 

Annual Carter County Summer Bird Count tallies 116 species

 

Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, known less formally as the Elizabethton Bird Club, conducted the 21st annual Carter County Summer Bird Count on Saturday, June 7.

Photo by Bryan Stevens  A total of 231 Song Sparrows, such as the one pictured here, were found during the recent Summer Bird Count.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A total of 231 Song Sparrows, such as the one pictured here, were found during the recent Summer Bird Count.

The 19 observers in six parties logged 58 party hours, plus 5.5 nocturnal party hours. The total of 116 species tallied was slightly above the average of 112. The range for this count has varied between 105 and 121 species.

 Observers included Jim Anderson, Rob Armistead, Kevin Brooks, J.G. and Deb Campbell, Harry Lee Farthing, Don Holt, Christy Kendall, Rick Knight, Roy Knispel, Joe McGuiness, Tom McNeil, Cathy Myers, Kathy Noblet, Chris Soto, Bryan Stevens, Kim Stroud, Mary Anna Wheat and John Whinery.

The species list follows:

Canada Goose, 379; Wood Duck, 11; Mallard, 74; Ruffed Grouse,  6; Wild Turkey,  9; Double-crested Cormorant, 1; Great Blue Heron, 25; and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 3.

Black Vulture, 4; Turkey Vulture,  60; Sharp-shinned Hawk,  2; Cooper’s Hawk,  1; Broad-winged Hawk, 4; Red-tailed Hawk, 4; and American Kestrel,  6.

Killdeer,  6; American Woodcock, 1; Rock Pigeon, 67; Mourning Dove, 111; and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 1.

Eastern Screech-Owl, 3; Barred Owl, 3; Common Nighthawk, 1; Chuck-will’s-widow, 2; and Eastern Whip-poor-will, 13.

Chimney Swift,  96; Ruby-throated Hummingbird,  30; Belted Kingfisher,  7; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 15; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1; Downy Woodpecker,  21; Hairy Woodpecker, 6; Northern Flicker, 22; and Pileated Woodpecker, 11.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The Ruby-throated Hummingbird was represented by a total of 30 individuals on the recent Summer Bird Count.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird was represented by a total of 30 individuals on the recent Summer Bird Count.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, 26; Acadian Flycatcher, 44; Alder Flycatcher, 4; Least Flycatcher, 9; Eastern Phoebe, 38; Great Crested Flycatcher, 4; and Eastern Kingbird, 17.

White-eyed Vireo, 10; Yellow-throated Vireo, 2; Blue-headed Vireo, 54; Red-eyed Vireo, 166; Blue Jay, 91; American Crow, 130; and Common Raven, 6.

Purple Martin, 21; Tree Swallow, 152; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 36; Cliff Swallow, 295; and Barn Swallow, 159.

Carolina Chickadee, 71; Tufted Titmouse, 72; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 9; White-breasted Nuthatch, 15; Brown Creeper, 1; Carolina Wren, 86; House Wren, 54; and Winter Wren, 8.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 41; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 10; Eastern Bluebird, 48; Veery, 31; Hermit Thrush, 2; Wood Thrush,  56; American Robin,  356; Gray Catbird,  44; N. Mockingbird,  59; Brown Thrasher, 16; European Starling,  607; and Cedar Waxwing,  94.

Ovenbird, 70; Worm-eating Warbler, 14; Louisiana Waterthrush, 4; Golden-winged Warbler, 3; Black-and-white Warbler,  38; Swainson’s Warbler, 3; Kentucky Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat,  27; Hooded Warbler, 88; American Redstart, 9; Northern Parula,  15; Magnolia Warbler, 2; Blackburnian Warbler,  14; Yellow Warbler, 5; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 27; Black-throated Blue Warbler,  35; Pine Warbler, 4; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1; Yellow-throated Warbler, 13; Black-throated Green Warbler, 34; Canada Warbler, 24; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 10.

Eastern Towhee, 120; Chipping Sparrow, 100; Field Sparrow,  37; Vesper Sparrow,  1; Song Sparrow, 231; Dark-eyed Junco, 89; Scarlet Tanager, 27; Northern Cardinal,  157; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 17; Blue Grosbeak, 2; and Indigo Bunting, 181.

Red-winged Blackbird, 69; Eastern Meadowlark, 25; Common Grackle,  95; Brown-headed Cowbird, 39; Orchard Oriole, 7; Baltimore Oriole, 4; House Finch,  28; Red Crossbill, 1; American Goldfinch, 166; and House Sparrow, 128.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Although waterfowl can be difficult to find in Carter County during the summer months, a total of 11 Wood Ducks were tallied for the Summer Bird Count.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Although waterfowl can be difficult to find in Carter County during the summer months, a total of 11 Wood Ducks were tallied for the Summer Bird Count.

All 116 species found on the count are known or suspected to nest in Carter County, except for the Double-crested Cormorant.

•••••

Hampton resident Barbara Lake emailed me to share some photos of a clutch of eggs in one of her bluebird boxes.

Photo Courtesy of Barbara Lake A clutch of five Eastern Bluebird eggs in a box at the home of Barbara and Jerry Lake in Hampton.

Photo Courtesy of Barbara Lake
A clutch of five Eastern Bluebird eggs in a box at the home of Barbara and Jerry Lake in Hampton.

She actually has two pairs of Eastern Bluebirds nesting in boxes at her home. She has named the bird Blossom and Max, as well as Aliy and Allen. The latter are named for Iditarod and Yukon Quest musher friends.

“I wrote to Aliy and told her I named a bluebird after her, and she is happy about it.  So now I have to keep her up to date about what’s going on.”

Some of Barbara’s bluebird boxes are equipped with television cameras, which allows her to monitor activity on a television screen in the comfort of her home.

•••••

Now that it is July, birding sometimes becomes more difficult because of the intense heat, high humidity and other factors. There are still interesting bird observations to make. Many birds are still taking care of young, either in or out of the nest. If you’d like to share an observation, make a comment or ask a question, email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or post a comment here.

 

Happiness is an Eastern Bluebird

 

Bluebirds make good neighbors. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds in your yard or garden will have no trouble with minor intrusions into their lives as they go about their daily routine, and the payoff for you is hours of free entertainment.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Eastern Bluebird perched on playground equipment at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Eastern Bluebird perched on playground equipment at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.

I’m pleased to report that the first of the season’s young Eastern Bluebirds have left the security of their nest box in our yard – the only home they’ve known since hatching – for the wider world of field and woodland.

As has usually been the case, I didn’t witness their departure. In the days after the fledglings departed the wooden nest box, I’ve observed them perched and waiting, impatiently usually, for their parents to arrive with caterpillars, moths or other morsels of food.

The Eastern Bluebird is one of North America’s best-known cavity-nesting birds. About 85 species of North American birds use cavities in trees for nesting purposes. Cavity-nesters include ducks, such as Buffleheads and Wood Ducks, as well as birds of prey such as Eastern Screech-owls and American Kestrels.

Some of these species, such as woodpeckers and nuthatches, can excavate their own cavity in a dead or decaying tree. Others, such as the bluebirds, must find a cavity already in existence. Such cavities are scarce real estate and can be subject to some intense competition. The Eastern Bluebird is at a disadvantage when forced to compete with non-native introduced birds such as aggressive European Starlings and the House Sparrows.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Eastern Bluebird inspects a nesting cavity in a wooden fence post.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Eastern Bluebird inspects a nesting cavity in a wooden fence post.

Last month, I found bluebirds nesting in a cavity in a wooden fence post that was part of an enclosure for a field. The fence post nest reinforced how changing landscapes have also affected these birds. Instead of wooden fence posts, many farmers now use metal ones. Dead or dying trees – a much sought-after resource for cavity-nesting birds — are often removed from woodlands.

Fortunately for bluebirds, this species will also accept lodging in a nest box, or birdhouse, provided for them by human landlords. Because of their trusting nature when it comes to their human neighbors, the Eastern Bluebird is one of our most beloved birds. In fact, bluebirds are such popular birds that interest in them and their well-being has inspired the foundation of such organizations as the North American Bluebird Society. The Eastern Bluebird has also been designated the official state bird for New York and Missouri.

There are two other species of bluebirds found in North America.

The Western Bluebird is found throughout the year in California, the southern Rocky Mountains, Arizona and New Mexico, as wells part of Mexico. The species ranges in the summer as far north as the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Montana.

The Mountain Bluebird nests in open country in the western United States as far north as Alaska. They are short-distance migrants, retreating as far south as Mexico during the winter season.

Except for a whitish-grayish belly, the male Mountain Bluebird is a brilliant sky blue above with paler blue on his underparts. The female looks similar if duller in her coloration.

Some people in the region mistakenly assume that Eastern Bluebirds are “mountain” bluebirds because they will reside in higher elevation open areas. The simplest way to tell the two species apart — although not necessary since the range of the Mountain Bluebirds is hundreds of miles to the west — is the reddish undersides of both sexes of the Eastern Bluebird.

The states of Nevada and Idaho have selected the Mountain Bluebird as their official state bird. I saw this species in 2006 during a trip that took me to Utah and Idaho.

Bluebirds are members of the extended family of thrushes, making them relatives of such birds as American Robin, Wood Thrush and Veery. The relationship of the Eastern Bluebird to the American Robin can be seen in the red breast sported by both species. In addition, young robins and bluebirds both have spotted breasts, providing more evidence of their affinity with many of the thrushes. The thrush family numbers more than 100 species worldwide and extends into Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as various islands.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A female Eastern Bluebird gathers pine needles to use as nesting material.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A female Eastern Bluebird gathers pine needles to use as nesting material.

Inviting the Eastern Bluebird into your yard and gardens is not usually too difficult. It helps if you live in an open, spacious habitat bordered with small trees. Providing a nesting box constructed to the specifications for this bird is another way to attract them. With natural cavities in trees and fence posts a rare commodity, this bird will readily accept boxes. It’s not a sure-fire means of bring bluebirds closer. Plenty of other native birds, including Carolina Chickadees, Tree Swallows and House Wrens, will also make use of a box designated for bluebirds.

The NABS recommends a box that is well ventilated, watertight and equipped with drainage holes. The box should also be easy to open, monitor and clean.

For more specific and very valuable information about becoming a landlord for bluebirds, please visit http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/PDF/FAQ/NABS%20factsheet%20-%20Getting%20Started%20-%2024May12%20DRAFT.pdf to access an informative fact sheet.

Starlings and House Sparrows are not native species and are not protected by law. When present, these two introduced species will probably be your biggest challenge to successfully hosting Eastern Bluebirds. On its website, NABS encourages the control of starlings and House Sparrows. The website – http://www.sialis.org – also provides beneficial information for would-be bluebird landlords.

Tree Swallows and House Wrens, both native birds, will probably be the biggest rivals for nesting boxes intended for Eastern Bluebirds. If you should find that a pair of Tree Swallows or House Wrens has claimed a box, consider yourself fortunate and benefit from the opportunity to view the habits of these two interesting species for a few weeks.

In addition to housing, food and water can be used to lure Eastern Bluebirds closer. This bird doesn’t eat seeds, but it can be attracted with an offering of mealworms — live or freeze-dried – or commercially prepared peanut butter nuggets. A water feature in a yard is also a magnet for bluebirds and a host of other bird species.

If your home doesn’t provide suitable bluebird habitat, it’s still easy to enjoy these beautiful birds. An afternoon or evening drive into open country, such as agricultural farmland, is likely to yield sightings of this bird on fences and utility lines. Golf courses, some of which go the extra mile to accommodate bluebirds, also provide habitat for these lovely birds.

The Eastern Bluebird is present in the region in any season and is one of our more common birds. If you’re already an experienced landlord and host for these birds, you probably already know they joys they can bring. If not, why not try to attract them closer to you? Most bluebirds in the region have already completed the first nesting of the season, but these birds are known to nest two or even three times in a single season. There’s still time to place a nest box or two on your property to get their attention.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The female Eastern Bluebird is not quite as brightly colored as her mate.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The female Eastern Bluebird is not quite as brightly colored as her mate.

Landscaping with fruit-bearing trees and shrubs can also pay dividends when its comes to the Eastern Bluebird. Although this bird feeds heavily on insects, almost a third of its diet consists of fruits, including blackberry, mulberry and pokeberry.

Inviting bluebirds to become a part of your life isn’t difficult, and you’ll be delighted to have them. Trust someone who has lived with bluebirds in his yard and gardens for more than 20 years.

•••••

To ask a question, make a comment or share a bird observation, reach me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The male Eastern Bluebird is beloved by many bird enthusiasts.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The male Eastern Bluebird is beloved by many bird enthusiasts.