Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - July 5, 2007)
Saving the Eastern Bluebird
 
[Image]
Photo by JAMES LEUPOLD
The Eastern Bluebird dines on a tasty caterpillar.
Overlooking our small acreage at the foot of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., my mother and I used to sit on a swing together admiring the gardens and the birds.

On this small plot of land stood apple, pear and plum trees and a sea of perennial flower gardens attracting butterflies and insects. My mother loved bluebirds so she strategically placed handmade bluebird houses around this attractive setting.

To a young girl this was paradise on earth, snuggling next to my mother while dosing in the summer sun to the songs of bluebirds.

The Eastern Bluebird is a member of the thrush family, as is the Robin. The bluebird is a bit larger than a sparrow. Bluebird males and females look quite different. Adult males are a dark blue color on their head, back, wings and tail and a reddish-brown color on their chin and breast. Their belly is white.

Eastern Bluebirds are monogamous. Pairs generally stay together throughout the breeding season, and pairs may breed together for more than one season. Some birds may switch mates during a breeding season to raise a second brood. Both sexes defend territories although the males tend to defend territory edges while the females primarily defend the nest site.

They typically nest in fields, meadows, and orchards, avoiding both densely wooded and congested residential areas. Bluebirds prefer suburban and rural habitats containing sparse vegetation and scattered trees or other perches. Their habitat ranges east of the Rockies, throughout the eastern United States and south Canada, and down to Gulf States, Arizona and Nicaragua. Eastern Bluebirds in the north will remain as far north during the winter as they can as long as they can find food, water and shelter.

The harder the winter, or the more scarce food, water and shelter become the further south bluebirds will migrate until winter breaks. Eastern bluebirds eat a variety of invertebrates, including caterpillars, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, katydids, and spiders. They also feed on wild fruits.

Primarily ground feeders, they prefer feeding and nesting in areas with short, sparse vegetation, which affords a clear view of ground-dwelling insects. In the winter, bluebirds depend on many kinds of wild berries for their food supply. This supply of wild berries has also decreased over the years. The few berries that remain are often stripped quickly by large flocks of starlings. For further information on saving the beautiful bluebird, visit audubon-omaha.org/bbbox/bbtabl2.htm

Who has seen a bluebird lately? Bluebirds have become rare visitors to our gardens over the years. What has happened to the beautiful bluebird?

1) Habitats suitable for bluebirds have been cleared for housing and industrial developments, shopping malls, highways, and cropland; many old trees have been cut down for firewood. Wooden fence posts that provided nesting cavities have now been replaced with metal posts. With modernization, the supply of natural nesting cavities for bluebirds and other native cavity nesters has been greatly reduced.

2) Compounding the problem of habitat loss has been the introduction into North America of two imported species: the English House Sparrow and the European Starling. Both starlings and sparrows are cavity nesters, and both are very aggressive. House Sparrows are small enough to enter any hole that a bluebird can and are so aggressive that they will chase away the more timid bluebird. House sparrows are the bluebird's worst avian enemy! They will kill adult bluebirds and nestlings. Starlings will out-compete bluebirds for woodpecker holes and other natural nesting cavities. However, starlings can be excluded from bluebird boxes by using the correct size entrance hole.

Building bird houses specially designed for bluebirds would provide a wonderful nature project for children at home for the summer.

Each one of us can do our part so our own children will remember the little bird that carries the sky on his back...back to nature.

Information on building bluebird houses that are predator resistant can be found at www.nabluebirdsociety.org and an extensive amount of information on bluebirds can be found at bluebird.htmlplanet.com and www.birds.cornell.edu/birdhouse/bios

Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.

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