Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Bluebird Diary by Gina Kokinda

“How the waiting countryside thrills with joy when Bluebird brings us the first word of returning spring. Reflecting heaven from his back and the ground from his breast, he floats between sky and earth like the winged voice of hope.”
(Quote by WL Dawson)
March 15. Mr. Bluebird off our deck surveying the site.
Zippity-do-da, Zippity-A…My oh my it’s a wonderful day! The magical beautiful bluebird, symbol of happiness and peace, has inspired poets, writers, musicians, naturalists, and everyday people alike:

“Be like the bluebird who never is blue, For he knows from his upbringing what singing can do.” -Cole Porter

“And when he sings to you, Though you're deep in blue, You will see a ray of light creep through,
And so remember this, life is no abyss, Somewhere there's a bluebird of happiness.
Life is sweet, tender and complete, when you find the bluebird of happiness.” -Edward Heyman & Harry Parr Davies

“Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow why, oh why, can't I.” -Lyman Frank Baum

It’s easy to understand why the bluebird is so beloved. I have always admired them, but had no idea just how enjoyable and sweet they could be until this season, when I was blessed with the pleasure of watching a pair raise two broods on our property. My office window faces a couple of nesting/roosting boxes that we installed in hopes of their taking up residence with us. They did, and the lovely family are still hanging around our garden today. In fact I am watching a few of them hunt and frolick this very minute as I write!

They really are a joy to watch in all stages of their lives. An account of how the male courts his mate and they build their nest together was eloquently written back in 1867 by the American naturalist John Burroughs, in his essay The Bluebird:
With the bluebirds the male is useful as well as ornamental. He is the gay champion and escort of the female at all times, and while she is sitting he feeds her regularly. It is very pretty to watch them building their nest. The male is very active in hunting out a place and exploring the boxes and cavities, but seems to have no choice in the matter and is anxious only to please and to encourage his mate, who has the practical turn and knows what will do and what will not. After she has suited herself he applauds her immensely, and away the two go in quest of material for the nest, the male acting as guard and flying above and in advance of the female. She brings all the material and does all the work of building, he looking on and encouraging her with gesture and song. He acts also as inspector of her work, but I fear is a very partial one. She enters the nest with her bit of dry grass or straw, and, having adjusted it to her notion, withdraws and waits near by while he goes in and looks it over. On coming out he exclaims very plainly, "Excellent! Excellent!" and away the two go again for more material.”

March 31. Male Western Bluebird

May 20. Female Western Bluebird (looks as though she could possibly be a Mountain Bluebird). The average length of incubation is from 13-17 days; varying with the weather and the behaviour of the pair.
            Only the female can incubate the eggs.

May 26. Five new hatchlings! Adorable.

May 27. Our newly built and planted vegetable garden, which now contains stakes and trellises that serve as perfect perches as does the elk/deer fence that can barely seen in this photo.
Bluebirds have territories of ~2-3 acres, and they generally nest no closer than 100 yards to other pairs. They prefer low/sparse vegetation and some areas of field, which provide a natural environment for insects. They also need plenty of perches from which they can hunt and rest, as they tend to feed in about a 20 foot radius to a perch. Our new fence has served well for this purpose, as have the supports and trellises in our vegetable garden. By the way, these birds make wonderful companions for a vegetable garden because they help keep insect pests at bay. As if it’s not nice enough just to have them around, they actually help out! They dine on grasshoppers, beetles, weevils, crickets, caterpillars, as well as ants, flies, centipedes, sowbugs and snails. Snags (dead tree branches) within 15 yards of clearings also provide good places for them to seek safety, rest, groom, and mate.
Water is another element that attracts bluebirds, especially if it’s moving. And unlike some other birds that barely get wet when they bathe, bluebirds really get into it, splashing water all about and even dunking their heads. We’ve been fortunate to have seen a pair─male and female─bathing together in our birdbath. If you haven’t experienced this, I hope you someday have a chance to do so. It’s a delightful sight.

June 1. Looking closely you can see a bluebird perched atop the sparse shrub to the left of the box.

A box should be placed on a sunny warm site, at least 100 feet from brushy/wooded areas (where wrens are likely to be), with the entry facing north or east to avoid harsh midday and afternoon sun. Ideally it would also face a shrub or fence within 50-100 feet for fledglings and for the adults to use as a resting post while dilligently tag-teaming their feeding duties. We placed two boxes─one for the swallows, who were competing for the one lone box we originally set out several years ago. The bluebirds have chosen the box closest to the shrub each of those years (smart birds). And they are very tolerant of humans, actually acting as though they appreciate the help!

June 1

June 3

The nestling phase lasts from 19-22 days. I estimate these nestlings to be approx 7-11 days old, since their eyes are open and their feathers are beginning to open out of their sheaths. Expert birders advise that a Western bluebirds’ nest box not be monitored after day 14 to prevent premature fledging. A few days later, these birds were stretching, preening and exercising their wings as they prepared to fledge.
Nest number 2:

June 20

June 21

June 22

June 25

July 6. Brood #2. Three have hatched. What an awesome treat to be able to share this with friends’ and neighbors’ children.

Jul 14. Day 8. My last peek at them before they fledged.

Watching the two new parents devotedly care for their young is another special and amazing experience. They tend to feed each one an average of twice per hour, regardless of the size of the brood. They work together tirelessly and relentlessly; sometimes even receiving help from their previous brood. While bluebirds eat primarily insects in the summer, they also love berries, in fact depend on them in the early and later months when insects are sparse. Attracting the birds at our place are a variety of native shrubs and trees with berries that ripen at different times of the year, such as Russian Hawthorn (Crataegus ambigu), Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), Schubert Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and Virginia Creeper vine (Parthenoscissus quinquefolia). They also like (to name a few others) Crababpples, Chokecherry, Mountain Ash, Dogwood, Snowberry, and Viburnams for summer or autumn fruits; Hackberry, Bayberry, Cotoneaster, Sumac and Mountain Ash for winter fruits. Many of these trees and shrubs also provide beautiful autumn and winter visual interest. See the following CSU Extension fact sheets for more specific details on them:

Trees and shrubs for mountain areas:

Native shrubs for colorado landscapes:

Native trees for colorado landscapes:

To see the range of the Western bluebird, follow this link:

For more in-depth information on the Western Bluebird, see this awesome website by the Cornell Lab of Orinthology:

We are so happy that we did a few things in our yard to attract these glorious birds, as they have enriched our lives and greatly improved our enjoyment of our property. If you’re interested in making your property more attractive to birds and other pollinators, the Audubon At Home website contains valuable information and downloadable materials to help homeowners develop their properties in a wildlife-friendly way.
From there you can download the poster Creating a Healthy Yard:

 If you live near Evergreen and are interested in purchasing a nesting/roosting box, feeders, or other items to help you attract bluebirds (or any other birds for that matter), be sure to visit the Evergreen Wild Bird Store, where owners John and Diane Sears will be happy to help set you on your way to enjoying our fine feathered friends. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

  August 15. Still hanging around and very interested in the box.

A partial shot of the vegetable garden taken yesterday (8/23), with one of our little helpers perched on the corner of a raised bed.

“…He is the peace-harbinger; in him the celestial and terrestrial strike hands and are fast friends. He means the furrow and he means the warmth; he means all the soft, wooing influences of the spring on one hand, and the retreating footsteps of winter on the other.”
Don’t miss John Burroughs’ essay The Bluebird. It is a delightful detailed account of bluebird behavior. Read it here:

Gary Larson

“Early in life, I was visited by the bluebird of anxiety.”
        -Woody Allen

May the bluebird of happiness come visit you and make you feel like one of the ‘chosen’ ones!

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