Bluebirds, the avian harbinger of springBy JEFF NORTH,
My ideas for this column come to me in many ways. Some topics are born as I witness some occurrence from nature like geese migrating, owls hooting, or leaves falling. Other inspirations come from friends and colleagues that bring a particular subject to me for consideration. Still others make their way to print by chance when my gray matter has time to process some phenomenon that I was fortunate to witness or be a part of. I suppose this one was meant to be for not only did I take note of an encounter with this species recently but so did several of my hunting companions on the same afternoon.
I was sitting on what we call the eastside food plot during one of our recent brutally cold evenings. Deer tracks resembled that of hogs as the tender cereal grains have been almost up-rooted by the foraging whitetails. The wind was a little swirly but what the heck, it’s getting late in the season now. My rifle was across my lap and I did my best to blend in with the rest of the swamp. I resisted the temptation to periodically check my phone and sat still as a church mouse. It took a little while for nature to return to normal after my “crunchy” intrusion. The years of oak fodder covering the forest floor makes it difficult to approach and enter the domain of the swamp without being detected. I compare it to walking on frosted flakes in a library. You probably get the picture now.
The first sign of re-kindled life came in the form of a fat red squirrel. He made it to the ground right next to me but I was never aware of his presence until I heard him scuffling in the leaves as he searched for acorns. It is amazing the details you can see through powerful binoculars at close range. I was totally captivated as he methodically shelled his findings and held them in his small paws. His whiskers glistened with moisture and his eyes resembled that of coal as he went about his business of survival.
Birds began to make their presence. Of course, the constant cry of snow geese was ever present and you could pick out the distinct cackling of speckle-bellies as they were inter-twined among the “V’s”. Woodpeckers scaled the trunks of the giant hardwoods in search of overwintering arthropods. Cardinals flitted in and out of the briars in search of who knows what. I must have done a good lob of remaining motionless for a gorgeous male bluebird landed on a branch mere yards from me. He turned his head from side to side checking me out. He must have decided all was well for in the blink of an eye he left his perch and landed on the end of my rifle barrel. Once again, he looked me over and I did my best to savor the experience and the close encounter. Maybe the steel was cold to the pads of his delicate feet or perhaps his curiosity was satisfied for off he flew to parts unknown deeper into the swamp.
The Eastern Bluebird, (Sialia sialis), is a member of the thrush family. This species is very popular among birdwatchers due to the vibrant blue colors the males exhibit and the delightful sound they make with their chirping. Gardeners are particular fond of this species as they have a voracious diet for insects and can help rid gardens of damaging pests. Have you ever noticed bluebird houses on fence posts along our rural farm roads? Years ago farmers erected these dwellings next to their crops to aid in insect control. Today, these houses are erected for more ornamental reasons to attract this novel species for our personal enjoyment.
Male bluebirds collect nesting materials for the female who arranges them into a nest. Males are territorial and keep a close watch on the nest and the area around it for intruders and predators. Normally the female will lay from three to six pale blue eggs. They are quite prolific, sometimes having two to four broods per year. Surprisingly, bluebirds have a lifespan of six to 10 years in the wild.
Bluebirds have long been known as a bird of happiness and have been featured in many songs and books, most notably in “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz and in Walt Disney’s “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” from the 1946 classic “Song of the South.” Bluebirds are very fond of bird baths and especially in the winter if heated. Though they will at times eat commercial birdseed, mealworms are a preferred diet.
The evening around our campfire was typical. The evening hunts were re-lived with each hunter telling about their afternoon. I was surprised when one of my fellow hunters commented on how many bluebirds visited his stand this same afternoon. Then another chimed in stating he noticed them also. Voila, my article for the week came to life.
Have you begin to notice them yet? Is this a promise of spring to come? I’ll admit, I’m not quite ready to end the winter yet. I still want to enjoy the woods for a bit longer for I know the long, hot summer will be here before we know it. My buck didn’t show the other evening but the show from my little feathered friend made the afternoon more than worth my while. Take note of what may land next to you or on the rails of your fence, for you too may be treated to quite the spectacle of blue.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.