Getting ready for bluebirds – the language of wildlife

Posted by on February 14, 2013

Racing out the front door, we saw a bluebird sitting on the utility wire. Aster and I were heading off to some sport’s practice when we both noticed a bluebird, perched above, watching the world around him.

The single bluebird drops down to sip the water from a ground-level bath near the curb. A sip. Returning to the wire. Dropping down for another sip. And returning, again, to the wire. After each visit to the birdbath, the bluebird looks around to see if he’s safe.

The site of the bluebird signals us to be still, mother and son, side by side,  no words spoken. Intuitively, we are speaking the language of wildlife.

Today, the sport’s practice (for which we arrived a few minutes late) has been forgotten, but the 10 minutes spent watching the bluebird, stays with us today.

Many times since that first sighting, we have spotted bluebirds perched on the utility wire.  When put into clearer context, this sighting seems out of character for the bluebird, but they have obviously accepted our neighborhood, and certainly our garden, as home.

The utility wire parallels the curb in front of our house.  Most of the neighborhood has underground utilities, save half of our street.

We live on a cul-de-sac and where our property line begins, the utility lines rise 32 feet above the ground to finish out the houses with a concentrated mass of wires at the curve of the cul-de-sac.

I’ve often wondered the purpose of this. Did the developer run out of money? Or perhaps there was a reason – technology based – that the wires could not make the curve underground. Or maybe it was a maintenance issue having underground utilities concentrated underground in a curve. In any event, we have the perfect perch for birds coming and going to our garden safely viewing their territory far and wide.

There was a time when the bluebird was as common as a robin. The loss of their nesting sites (natural cavities) and the indiscriminate use of pesticides, plus competition from house sparrows and starlings, caused the loss of 90% of the bluebird population.

The population has begun to recover through initiatives from the North American Bluebird Society and local activists helping communities build bluebird trails.

Insects are a bluebird’s primary source of food during the spring, summer, and fall. So, as you can imagine, we don’t spray pesticides which could kill their food source. If we do spray, it is with discrimination choosing to use organic products first. During the winter when insects are not readily available, you’ll find the bluebirds eating berries.

Bluebirds are cavity dwellers making them the perfect candidate for birdhouses. Our property is a half acre suburban plot with a lot of open space; open space is the natural habitat of bluebirds.

In our area, bluebirds begin to look for nesting sites sooner than they will actually use it. Very territorial, bluebirds like to locate early to ensure they find good digs. It may take a male bluebird several days and sometimes weeks, to find a suitable nesting site. Then it may take weeks before the building of the nest is started. In our area of North Carolina, we can see the bluebirds begin looking for a nesting site as early as February.

We have 3 bluebird houses on our property. Two in the back and one in the front. Ideally, bluebirds don’t want neighbors within 100 yards; however, we were able to configure our nesting boxes to maximize the lay of the land.

Nest are made from weed stems, grass, pine straw and lined with fine, dry grass. It normally takes 5 to 6 days for the bluebird to build the nest. The making of a nest is timed to be ready 4 to 5 days before the female bluebird lays her first egg.

One egg is laid each day until a clutch of 3 to 6 eggs are laid with an average of 4 or 5 pale blue eggs. The incubation period is 14 days and the brood will stay in the nest for the next 17 to 18 days.

Here is where we humans come in. Monitor the nests often. When the brood fledge (leaves the nest) remove the old nest so the bluebird parents can start again. Bluebirds will begin building a new nest for a new brood within 3 to 4 days.

With good monitoring and housekeeping, bluebirds can have 3 broods during the nesting season.

Bluebirds are insect eaters and will hang around your garden even more if you put out mealworms. During the spring, summer,and fall, there should be plenty of insects to feed the bluebirds.   In the absence of insects, bluebirds will eat berries, especially during the winter.  The greatest advantage to using supplemental feeders is they can be placed in a location outside for easy viewing inside.  Place your feeders to be viewed from a comfortable chair, or as we do, to be viewed  as we  gather around the kitchen table.

When we first move into your home, we inherited a porcelain vine. At the time, I didn’t know what it was nor did I know of it’s invasiveness.  Since moving here in 1997, I have spent a good bit of time, every year, trying to remove porcelain vine from my property. The only redeeming fact about porcelain vine is that the bluebirds love it. But with that, they drop the seed of this invasive, non-native plant, causing it to spread everywhere.

Don’t be fooled by the pretty blue berries in the fall. This plant will take over your garden choking out your native food sources and other desirable.

Do you speak the language of wildlife – standing still to enjoy a quiet moment outside?


4 responses to “Getting ready for bluebirds – the language of wildlife”

  1. commonweeder says:

    Mealworms! What a tip! We have a very bird-friendly rural landscape, fields and woodlands, but I have never gotten beyond telling the big birds from the little birds. Except robins. And bluejays.

  2. HelenYoest says:

    Pat, I don’t think knowing the names really matters, unless you need to specifically feed, cover, and provide a place for them to raise their young in order to help bring back a population that is almost lost. In your case, with a wonderful rural landscape, fields and woodlands, it sounds like adding a bluebird trail would be ideal. Let me know if you go down that road. Also, I hope from see the image of a bluebird here, you will begin to identify this as well. Once you see that blue, you will never forget it. H.

  3. Donna says:

    bluebirds are our state bird…I too have several nesting boxes around the property and made the meadow for the birds…I saw bluebirds during our thaw at the New Year…just couldn’t get enough…hope to see them again soon!!

  4. HelenYoest says:

    Donna, I hope you see them again soon as well.

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