Wednesday, May 8, 2024

 

HARBINGERS of SPRING


It was mid February and I was out for a walk on a snowy and cold monochromatic day that seemed to defy movement and color. Everything was still—so still. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I caught an impression of deep blue as several blurs of movement flashed past me. Five male Virginia Bluebirds, resplendent in their cobalt blue topcoats and tails They were busy scouting out appropriate territory for their ladies to nest in. 

In a few weeks the women will arrive. When they do, the males will sing and sing in an attempt to attract a female to their nesting site, and to keep other males out. If the female feels that the selected nesting site is suitable, by April she will begin the arduous task of building a nest. Comprised of dry grass or pine needles, the nest is shaped like a cup.

Photo courtesy of Skyler Ewing
Male Eastern Bluebird

Each day the female lays a single egg, until three to six are nestled snugly in the nest. Usually the eggs are a delicate turquoise, but sometimes are white. Once all the eggs are laid, she begins incubating them. She is a very conscientious mother, and exhibits great devotion to her task. In twelve to fourteen days the eggs begin to hatch


Photo courtesy of Skyler Ewing
Eastern Bluebird Eggs

Each day the male and female are kept busy stuffing hundreds of fat juicy insects into the mouths of the ravenous young.  Eighteen to twenty-one days after hatching, the baby birds are ready to leave the nest (fledge). The male continues to care for them, teaching them to hunt for insects. The female begins building another nest prior to laying eggs again. This will be her second brood. Depending upon the availability of food and other factors, there may even be a third brood! The bluebird nesting season can extend from the middle of April through the end of July.

Bluebirds are timid birds that will always acquiesce to other birds when there is competition for a nesting site. This factor and the existence of urban sprawl has contributed to their precarious population levels. This is why bluebirds need our help during nesting season. Providing them with a place to nest helps to ensure their population level.

Bluebirds prefer open spaces, such as open (not wooded) yards and pastures. Place a bluebird nest box in a location that is nearby (50 to l00 feet) a tree or shrub so that the fledglings can easily reach it when they first leave the nest box. If the tree hangs over the box, predators can easily drop onto the box., retrieving eggs or young. Raccoons, Opossums, snakes, Ravens and cats are just a few of the predators bluebirds face. Nest boxes must be placed on a metal pole (not a fencepost or tree) 4-6 feet above ground, and fitted with a predator guard to provide the bluebirds with protection. Bluebird nest boxes are available at “Wild Birds Unlimited” in Central Park, but if you prefer to make your own, the Virginia Bluebird Society has simple box designs at: www.geocities.com/virginiabluebirds. It is important to have the nest box in place by early February or sooner. Otherwise, the bluebirds may not find it in time for their nesting needs.

 Photo courtesy of CheepShot, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Male(L) and female (R) Eastern bluebirds

Virginia Bluebirds usually do not migrate and travel together in flocks when not nesting. During the winter they will often roost together in empty tree cavities, which are becoming increasingly harder to find as urban sprawl continues to spread. Sometimes as many as 10-15 birds can be found roosting together, in an attempt to conserve body heat. Another benefit of nest boxes is that the bluebirds will often roost in them during cold nights.

Bluebirds are adaptable in their diet—they prefer insects, but will eat berries during the cold winter months when insects aren’t available. They will not eat seed, but are very interested in mealworms. Why feed mealworms you say?  Feeding mealworms can entice reluctant birds to use the nest box. However, this is only a supplementary food and should not be fed more than once or twice a day. Suet and fruit are also important to offer at all times. And remember water—not only do the birds need it for drinking, but bathing in it keeps their feathers clean and in proper alignment for flying. Provide them with a shallow dish of water in an area several hundred feet from brush so that predators cannot hide and pounce on an unsuspecting bird. 

Now that the bluebirds are getting ready to nest, I know that there is hope. Winter is winding down and spring can’t be far behind!

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  HARBINGERS of SPRING It was mid February and I was out for a walk on a snowy and cold monochromatic day that seemed to defy movement and c...