Garden Critter Feature: The Eastern Bluebird

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The Eastern Bluebird House

Yesterday our six year old learned a valuable lesson about patience.  The birdhouse we built over a year ago was finally used by a pair of eastern bluebirds this spring, and the eggs have finally hatched!  We hung the house on a fence post last February, and for the past year Jacob would frequently ask to check if anyone had moved in.  We finally saw nesting activity in March of this year.  We were both amazed how quickly the nest  was built, and suddenly Mom and baby brother were as giddy as Jacob and I about what was taking place.  Only a week or so after we saw the completed nest, we observed five nickel-sized powder-blue eggs and we knew that it wouldn’t be long before the cycle would be complete.  We left the birdhouse alone for two weeks and when we opened it yesterday there were five tiny, fuzzy babies lying quietly in their nest awaiting their parents arrival with food.

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We have fed the birds for years, and I have always enjoyed watching them.  It is always fun to see the cardinals, finches and chickadees come in and out and interact with each other.  Bluebirds, however seemed a bit shy (so I thought).  They were in the neighborhood but never came to the feeders.  I learned, however that they are mostly meat eaters (grubs and insects), so I wasn’t offering an appealing meal.  It finally clicked when I realized that they were very active in my yard whenever I mowed the grass or tilled the garden.  As soon as I turned off the equipment and sat down with a glass of tea, in would come the local bluebird population gleaning the exposed creepy crawlies.  This was around the time my older son was old enough to get bored indoors on a rainy February day, so I finally decided give them something that would appeal to them in the form of a nesting box.  We were able to stem a five year old’s boredom for a while, and make something useful at the same time!

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As it turns out, bluebirds are not that shy at all.  They are quite tolerant of our observation.  We built the birdhouse with a hinged side so that we could peek in periodically, and clean out the old nest when they are finished with it.  The hinged side is our point of observation.  It is kept closed with a wire wrapped around a  roofing nail on the bottom.  While they were building the nest, I opened the box every two or three days.  Once I noticed the eggs, we left them alone for two weeks which is the approximate incubation period for bluebirds.  Now that they have hatched, we can check in every couple of days for a week or so until the babies get to the point where they are mobile.  Once they are moving we won’t want to take the chance of letting one fall out when we open the side so we’ll again have to give them a week or so to be fully fledged and leave the nest. When the young birds are gone, we will clean the box and hopefully get another brood or two this year.

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The bluebird is a wonderful success story.  I grew up in an area that should have been prime habitat for this species, but never saw one until I was an adult.  Numerous factors had converged to decimate the population, and thankfully those issues have been reversed.  The birds have responded well, and now they are well represented in many regions.  In my yard, they are an integral part of my pest management team along with bats, toads, snakes and all of the other specialists that were designed with that purpose.

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