Here in the Northeast we are still in the grips of winter and although we have left January 18th behind, which according to some mental health experts is “the bottom” in terms of the winter blues, there remain several long weeks until we can welcome spring. So imagine my surprise the other afternoon when I looked out the window and saw 3-4 blue flashes go by and land in the small sugar maple near our house. My Eastern Bluebirds had returned or had possibly just come out from their winter hiding spots long enough to find one of their favorite winter foods which include seeds/ berries from the dogwood, hawthorn, wild grape, sumac, hackberry, blackberry, bayberry, Eastern Juniper and pokeberry bushes.
We were excited to finally welcome this species in our yard last summer, of whose colors it has been said carry the blue of heaven on their back and the rich brown of freshly turned earth on their breast. They were named the “blue robin” by early settlers of the Plymouth Colony because the friendly, cheerful songster reminded them of their beloved English robin redbreast. Unfortunately, the once common Eastern Bluebird suffered a decline in numbers from the late 1800s through the 1980s. Significant factors contributing to this decline were changing land use patterns, loss of open field habitats and widespread pesticide use. Competition from introduced European starlings and house sparrows also played a role in the decline of bluebird populations through the reduction of suitable and available nesting cavities.
Although I am happy to welcome my Bluebirds back, I have a concern with where they are going to nest. Two dead trees on our property, one a large white birch which I knew they actively nested in last season, toppled over during late fall and winter storms. I am going to employ the use of several nesting houses this coming season, such as this one crafted by Paul Anthony, in hopes I can encourage them to stay. Other house designs and habitat information can be found at www.nabluebirdsociety.org and http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?A=2723&Q=325966 .
If you are fortunate enough to have these fine feathered friends as neighbors, consider yourself fortunate and be sure to make the effort to help them continue to call your yard home and if not, this could be the season to put out the welcome mat!