Words On Birds 03-01-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

March is Bluebird Month
March 01, 2024
By Steve Grinley
     March is bluebird month! The start of meteorological spring is the beginning of the nesting season for some of our songbirds. One of the earliest nesters is the eastern bluebird. Several customers have already reported seeing male bluebirds sitting on top of nesting boxes. Others have watched male and female bluebirds visiting, inspecting, and (hopefully) approving the nest site.
     It excites me to hear that so many customers are seeing bluebirds in their yards. This wasn’t the case when I first opened shop twenty-nine years ago. Now bluebirds are once again more common due to the conservation efforts of many, and the efforts of individuals putting up nesting boxes for them.
     I always take pause when a handsome bluebird graces my presence and now that happens more frequently. The sheer beauty of the male reflecting in the sunlight is a joy to behold. The females have a graceful look of their own, with just enough blue to accent their elegant gray attire. Their soft, warbling song adds to the viewing experience.
     Now is the time of year when the males take the females around saying “How about you and me here – this year” as they scout out potential nesting boxes. Soon a territory is established and then nest building will begin.
     The female will construct the nest in four to five days with only minimal help from her mate. She also does the incubating, as the male does not have a brood patch. However, a male will sometimes spend nights in the nest along with his mate.
     The female will lay four to five light blue eggs that will take thirteen to fifteen days to hatch. The male brings food to his mate and the young during the critical first few days of feeding. Bluebirds feed on crawling insects. Like small hawks in their perched hunting position, bluebirds wait patiently for a crawling insect or beetle to show itself. They then pounce on it and bring the food back to the nest.
     The young will fledge in fifteen to twenty days. Even though the parents will keep feeding them, the fledglings can find their own food in about two weeks.
     Bluebirds have two broods, and occasionally three. Some of the youngsters from the first brood are often seen helping with other nest building duties or in bringing food to their new siblings. They teach us much about the bond of family. This often continues into the fall and they may even stay together as a “family group” until the following spring.
     The key to attracting bluebirds to nest in your yard is having proper nesting boxes, food and water. Bluebirds do prefer more open areas, so if your yard is heavily wooded you’ll enjoy many other nesting birds, but less likely bluebirds.
     Nest boxes should be placed at the edge of an open area, facing a southerly direction to avoid cold winds and rains early in spring. Since bluebirds are territorial, boxes should be placed about 300 feet apart. To be successful, aggressive house sparrows must be kept at bay by removing their nest material and even trapping and removing the sparrows. House sparrows are so mean that they will kill the adult bluebird right in the box.
     Tree swallows arrive in late March and early April, and they also compete for bluebird houses – but they are good competition. Swallows, like purple martins, eat many flying insects so they are desirable birds to have around. If they are present, you might consider pairing houses close to each other, allowing bluebirds in one and the tree swallows in the other.
     If you want to provide food to help and attract bluebirds, the best thing you can offer is mealworms. Bluebirds enjoy live and/or dried mealworm. Providing mealworms during nesting reduces the stress to the bluebirds of having to “find” all their food and can improve success rates. Bluebirds also eat bluebird nuggets or suet. Providing crushed suet in a tray provides easy access for the bluebirds.
     Water for drinking and bathing is also a great way to attract and keep bluebirds. Having a supply of water year ‘round encourages bluebirds to hang out and, eventually, nest in your yard. Planting berry bushes, like American Bittersweet, this spring provides food sources for Bluebirds next winter.
     So put up your bluebird houses, set out mealworms, suet and water, and sit back and watch these beautiful blue gems light up your yard!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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