Bluebirds

 

(This 1096th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 25, 2012.)

 

It is difficult to imagine a bird more attractive than the male Eastern bluebird. Other male birds have more striking colors like our cardinal, Baltimore oriole, indigo bunting and scarlet tanager or more delicate markings like the warblers and kinglets, but I know no other bird with color as rich as the blue of our bluebird.

 

I say our bluebird because there are three bluebird species in North America. Both of those other bluebirds are handsome birds, but the mountain bluebird's blue is not nearly as rich as ours; it is a more subdued, grayer blue. The Western bluebird is very similar to its Eastern cousin, but to me it is not nearly as nicely patterned.

 

And there is a kind of all-American quality to our bluebird: it is red, white and blue. Well, not quite. Its throat, chest and the sides of its belly are an rich orange that is as rich as its blue. That's at least a red relative. And its belly and under tail coverts are white.

 

My own favorite bluebird quality does not reside in its coloration. It is its soft, mellow, almost mournful song, which some record most appropriately as "spring is here."

 

What I always find surprising about this beautiful bird is that you often fail to notice it. Until you focus on it, even that bright male is simply a gray silhouette. I think that is the main reason when I write a column like this I get so many calls from people who say they have never seen a bluebird.

 

The best way to see bluebirds is to drive into the countryside around Buffalo and look for a birdhouse (or more often as I will describe two birdhouses close together) near an open meadow. Odds suggest that almost half of those birdhouses will be homes to bluebirds.

 

Why the two houses close together? Another attractive bird, the tree swallow, likes those same birdhouses and most tree swallows arrive in spring before the bluebirds to take over the nesting sites. Fortunately, tree swallows will not tolerate another tree swallow nesting nearby. They will, however, be happy to have a bluebird neighbor.

 

Bluebirds are shy birds and are easily displaced from their nest by house sparrows, house wrens, snakes and raccoons. Despite this, the Fish and Wildlife Service June breeding bird counts suggest that their numbers have increased to almost four times their numbers 45 years ago.

 

I am convinced that increase is due to human intervention. Many rural people set out bluebird houses and attract a pair of these lovely birds, but some people go much farther. Naturalists like Carl Zenger of Lockport and Rich Wells of Springville each manage bluebird routes with over a hundred houses.

 

But Carl and Rich are far outdone by John Rogers of Oswego County who monitors over 400 bluebird nest boxes each year. Overall his boxes have fledged over 12,500 bluebirds, an amazing contribution to our state's fauna.

 

That same John Rogers will give a talk entitled "All About Bluebirds - and More" this coming Saturday, March 31, at a bluebird workshop sponsored by the New York State Bluebird Society. The meeting will begin a 1:00 p.m. at the USA Bird Supply Store at 11163 Main Street in Clarence. This workshop is free and the public is invited. Those planning to attend are encouraged to pre-register by calling Dave Hofer at 716-592-5735 or emailing him at dhofer@hughes.net.

 

Rogers presentation will include the Eastern bluebird's life history, nest box management, other birds that nest in bluebird boxes, and more. The focus is on bluebirds, but John will also share his passion for the natural world. He has given similar workshops for hundreds of organizations in ten states and two Canadian provinces. Among his many awards are the John and Norah Lane Bluebird Conservation Award from the North American Bluebird Society and a "Hero of Conservation" by the Syracuse Post Standard.

 

Other items on the workshop agenda are a display and discussion about various types of nest boxes and an opportunity to ask bluebird related questions to a panel of experienced bluebird care-givers.

 

Refreshments will be served and prizes given to those who join the New York State Bluebird Society. Displays and free literature will also be available.-- Gerry Rising