Bluebirds, that is! For most of our backyard bird species feeding, nesting, and survival are pretty much the same as it was for their ancestors generations ago. The story of the Eastern Bluebird is an exception to this rule.
If you read the accounts of some of the earliest naturalists to enter Northeastern Ohio, the “Blue Robin”, as the Eastern Bluebird was known, was once an abundant species, reportedly as common as its close relative, the American Robin. As a close relatives, bluebirds and robins share many similar traits and behaviors—both lay blue eggs; both have offspring with speckled breasts; robins eat worms and crawling insects, bluebirds love grasshoppers; both love to bath vigorously in a birdbath; neither species is a true migrator, with males of both species being much more likely to overwinter in our area and females being more likely to move south for the winter. When it comes to a choice of nesting sites, however, the similarities end. Robins nest in an open nest made of grass and mud, often in dense shrubbery or pine. Bluebirds build a nest of finely woven grasses protected inside a naturally occurring tree cavity or an abandoned woodpecker nest hole.
In the 19th century, this difference which had previously been an advantage for the bluebirds became a species threatening disadvantage as two European cavity-nesting birds, the House Sparrow and the European Starling, were introduced and spread throughout our area, outcompeting bluebirds for the available nesting cavities. Bluebird populations dwindled and remained extremely threatened until the middle of the 20th century when bluebird trails—areas with regularly monitored and maintained man-made houses—were established. Trails with nesting boxes with entrance-hole sizes that were small enough to exclude starlings and located away from urban areas with high concentrations of House Sparrows proved to be successful, and bird experts have reported that bluebird populations have been rising since that time.
Although less scientific, additional evidence for the successful recovery of bluebirds in our own area, comes every year from
Wildlife Garden customers as more and more of you report seeing bluebirds, perhaps for the first time, in your own backyards and requests for bluebird boxes and mealworms continue to increase. If you are among the customers hosting bluebirds in your own backyards, you already know how they earned their reputation as the “Bird of Happiness”. If you have not yet observed bluebirds visiting your backyard, but want to welcome them, here is what to do:
Come into the Wildlife Garden and tell us about your property to determine if it is suitable bluebird habitat.
Provide a nesting box with a 1 ½” entrance hole on a metal pole with protection from predators. Nesting begins in April but males begin territory defense in February, so now is the best time for mounting.
Once you have bluebirds established in your backyard, begin a mealworm feeding program to bring them up close for viewing. Ask us about using a bell or whistling to let them know, ”It’s mealtime!”
Come back in and share your stories about the best bird experience you’ve ever had!