Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why Bluebirds?
by Adele Barger Wilson, author of Bonding with the Barn Swallows
Photos and text © 2014 Adele Wilson

The Bluebirds are getting friendlier toward me.  The last few mornings while I have been standing on my porch, they have been landing on the utility wire above my driveway, apparently just to take a look at me!  To the left is a photo from this morning.

In my last post, I promised that in this post I would reveal the reason that I began seeing Bluebirds in my neighborhood during the summer of 2013.  (As explained in that post, our Bluebirds are of the Eastern Bluebird species; so my references to "Bluebirds" refer to Eastern Bluebirds.)

As you may remember, I had not seen any Bluebirds in this area for eighteen years.  Yet, on July 29, 2013, I sighted my first baby Bluebirds.  They were just over the fence from my driveway in my neighbors' horse pasture.  I could not identify them at first, but I sent a photo to the Maryland Bluebird Society who confirmed that they were juvenile Eastern Bluebirds.

As of August 29, 2013, I was still seeing baby Bluebirds:

After that date, I continued seeing Bluebirds in my neighborhood -- mostly babies during that summer, but more adults as the summer ended.  I was wondering how late in the season I would continue seeing Bluebirds.  That was because an Eastern Bluebird range map was showing that, in this region of the U.S., these birds tend to migrate south when cold weather arrives.

Yet, I continued seeing Bluebirds and photographing them in November and December.  Even on January 20th, I have a record of seeing one.  I continued to photograph them in February and March.

So, I found out that our Bluebirds do indeed stay around during the winter.  But the question was:  Why, all of a sudden, did I begin seeing them in 2013 after not seeing any in the area for the past eighteen years?

The Eastern Bluebird population in the U.S. was on the decline for many decades.  When non-native House Sparrows and European Starlings were introduced into the US in the late nineteenth century, they began competing for nesting places with the Eastern Bluebird.

The natural nesting locations for all three of these bird species -- House Sparrows, European Starlings, and Eastern Bluebirds -- are in tree cavities, in the forms of either old Woodpecker holes or hollowed-out areas in dead tree trunks resulting from rotting wood.  With House Sparrows and European Starlings taking over the natural nest sites of Eastern Bluebirds, the numbers of Eastern Bluebirds began to dwindle.

Eventually, Bluebird enthusiasts became aware of this dilemma and began advocating the placement of artificial nest boxes to facilitate Bluebird reproduction.  Thanks to this type of encouragement, people began mounting Bluebird boxes on their properties, and, since the late 1960's, Eastern Bluebird population numbers have been on the upswing.

Therefore, to explain my sudden sightings of Bluebirds for the first time in 18 years, I concluded that someone in this vicinity must have recently installed at least one Bluebird box.

A couple of months ago, having occasionally seen Bluebirds on the utility wire across the road above a neighbor's property, I asked those neighbors if they had put up nest boxes for the Bluebirds. 

"No," my neighbors replied, "we have not put up any Bluebird boxes, but we have begun seeing Bluebirds in greater numbers during the past year." 

I then asked the neighbors if they feed the Bluebirds. They replied that they do put out seeds for the birds, but they had not seen any Bluebirds feeding.

The neighbors did not know that Bluebirds do not eat seeds.  I had been wondering if the neighbors had put out special food for the Bluebirds during the winter -- such as meal worms -- but the answer was apparently "no".

I was still puzzled as to why we had suddenly started seeing Bluebirds in the summer of 2013.

That summer, after receiving confirmation from the Maryland Bluebird Society that the birds I was seeing were indeed juvenile Eastern Bluebirds, a representative from that Society had urged me to put up Bluebird boxes.  I told him I had a choice of two trees to place them on.  He responded that trees are extremely inadvisable for placement of Bluebird boxes because they enable the easy access of predators to the boxes.   He continued to tell me that the same applies to fences, which make it easy for cats, racoons, and other predators to reach eggs and hatchlings.  "Poles are the only preferred way to mount Bluebird boxes", he said.  And the poles need to be erected in open areas, away from buildings, fences and trees.

I was in a quandary.  I reside in an apartment that I rent from a landlord and therefore do not own any of the surrounding property.   I would first have to first obtain permission from my landlord to put up a pole and, second, procure assistance in doing so.

Sadly, my landlord did not grant permission for me to put up a pole in the location that I pointed out to him.  It would interfere with grass mowing, precluding the ability to use a ride-on mower around the pole.  So that possibility was out.  I then wondered if I should compromise and put up a box on a fence post instead.

The only fence posts available are owned by other neighbors -- the married couple who owns the horse pasture where I saw the baby Bluebirds in the summer of 2013.  A few weeks after talking to the neighbors across the road, I ran into the husband of that couple.

I proceeded to ask him for permission to put up a Bluebird box on one of his fence posts.  He then casually mentioned that he himself had put up a couple of Bluebird boxes on his property a couple of years ago!  After seeing a few Bluebirds around here, he had decided to make some boxes himself and put them up.  He mentioned that Bluebirds did indeed take up residence in one of the boxes.  The other box was taken over by Swallows.

I was in shock!  The boxes that my neighbor had put up are obscured by trees and buildings, so I had never seen them.  However, the location where I had first seen the juvenile Bluebirds during the summer of 2013 was indeed fairly close to where he had put up the boxes!  I had no idea that this neighbor had been the one responsible for the recent proliferation of Bluebirds in our neighborhood.

Mystery solved!  I now know the reason for the sudden appearance of Bluebirds around here during the summer of 2013.

A future post will feature thoughts, hopes, and plans for ensuring the continuation of Bluebird proliferation in my neighborhood. 

Here are some books about Bluebirds.  Check them out!  They make wonderful gifts.

The Bluebird Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting Bluebirds 


Wild Bird Guides: Eastern Bluebird

Bluebirds And Their Survival

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