Magical and charming — and happy around people
By Susan Campbell
There may be no bird in the United States more endearing than the Eastern bluebird. Their vibrant plumage combined with such personality is eye-catching even to the non-birder. Given their tendency to associate closely with people, it is not surprising that these small birds tend to be the feathered fascination of the masses.
Eastern bluebirds historically were found nesting where natural cavities were plentiful. Snags and rotting stumps were their mainstay, given that these birds need protected roost sites year-round. But as humans cleaned up the landscape, bluebirds were forced to accept man-made housing. Fortunately, they adapted readily. Likewise these charismatic little birds learned about feeders as well — especially how to take advantage of those designed for mealworms. It is now, late winter and into early spring, that they are most likely to avail themselves of handouts, as breeding season begins but insects, their preferred diet, are not quite yet plentiful.
Here in coastal North Carolina, local birds are mixed with migrants from farther north in winter. Dozens of bluebirds may flock together around berry-producing trees and shrubs, where they use berry sources in winter when protein is harder to come by. Surprisingly, pairs will begin looking for real estate early. Females with attending males will begin peering into possible nesting spaces on warmer winter days. Come spring, a pair may raise up to as many as three broods. Although early nests often contain four or five eggs, later clutches are likely to contain only two or three. The male often tends to early fledglings as the female begins a new brood. Pairs may reuse a box if they are successful in a location; however, in my experience, they are more likely to find a new location for each nesting attempt.
Erecting a bird box is a great way to attract Eastern bluebirds. It needs to be positioned in an open location so that predators cannot crawl or jump onto the box. The entrance should be 1 1/2 inches in diameter to allow the birds easy access. And there should be adequate ventilation as well as drainage. It is best to leave the box unpainted so that it does not overheat. But be aware that others may move in ahead of the desired tenants: chickadees, titmice, nuthatches or wrens may take residence. Not surprisingly, all our cavit-nesting songbirds find potential homes in short supply. Therefore, consider adding a couple of boxes with varying entrance-hole sizes to accommodate other species.
Eastern bluebirds were seriously threatened by the broad-scale use of insecticides in the last century. They continue to be an indicator of environmental quality even now. Young bluebirds are very susceptible to chemical toxicity. Awareness as well as the addition of nest boxes has significantly helped these birds. As long as we are fascinated by these beautiful creatures, chances are good that we can ensure their persistence on the landscape.
Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at firstname.lastname@example.org.