My Dad And His Bluebirds

Last week, during a time when the weather seemed ‘unfit for man nor beast’ and while Rick was working on reglazing some barn windows…working inside the barn not out… two bluebirds showed up to feed on the dead flies trapped along the window sill. Bluebirds! Yes, really, a pair of bluebirds! Well, this is odd and it meant two things. First, call George. George is the retired vet in our area and also an avid birder. George is the only other person we know besides my father who has a great love and appreciation for bluebirds. When my dad was alive he and George would often consult one another with regard to the comings and goings of the bluebirds. This was great for my dad, (who by the way also wore the covers off of every sequel to ‘All Creatures Great And Small’), and his being able to converse with someone who was a vet and also kept track of this areas bluebird migration.

George filled us in on some of the habits of bluebirds and then (secondly) we did some research of our own. My dad would be very happy to know we did this.
So, bluebirds don’t always migrate. When they do leave the frozen northeast, they head for places as far as Texas but may only travel as far as they need to find a food source. Their winter fare is mostly berries. It is true that some hardy bluebirds do brave the winter here, apparently making their way through by eating berries and fruit from various trees and shrubs. They’ll also feast on dead and frozen bugs, like the bluebirds who were eating frozen flies along the window sill at the farm. Not an easy choice I would say, but not as uncommon as you’d think. When not nesting they move in flocks and beginning in the Fall, these groups of bluebirds start meandering south following food sources. But, some do stay. At least these two did. In the winter, if they remain in a frigid climate, like Maine, they will find shelter in a hollow tree. Often as many birds that can fit inside that hollow will do so creating warmth in numbers. Unfortunately, there has been a significant decline in bluebird populations over the last several decades. Most of this is due to habitat loss, insecticides, and the introduction of starlings and house sparrows that out-compete them for food and shelter. This makes me even prouder of my Dad ( and you, too, George!) for taking such an interest in the well being of our bluebird population.

When my Dad passed away, my mom forwarded some of his books to me. Mostly because my dad and I loved many of the same things…nature, farming, and food ( he was known to drive 100’s of miles for a good piece of pie…who wouldn’t!). In one of the books that was passed along, ‘Song And Garden Birds Of North America’ I found pages of my Dad’s bluebird notes folded up in the back. He had been tracking the bluebirds (and building them boxes) since 1966! His last entry was 2002, just two years before he passed away. I love that my dad did this, I love seeing his carefully handwritten notes, excerpts like “A pair of Bluebirds arrived, they did not nest until April 2nd or 3rd. The female laid a clutch of five eggs”. This was written in 1971. On another account, in 1969, he wrote this “A pair of Bluebirds arrived and soon nested in the same bird box of previous years. Also, I noticed the presence of a house wren. Which seem to be a menace to the bluebirds. By the sound advice of a friend, Mrs.Trudy Smith, who is quite familiar with all birds, I netted the female house wren who had nested in one of the bluebird boxes. With somewhat of a struggle, I might add. Mrs. Smith then took the house wren, banded it, and took it to the Harkness Estate in Waterford.The bluebirds had two eggs in the box at the time of the house wren departure. The female bluebird has been in the nest two days. So I think she may have laid a clutch of four eggs”.

In honor of my Dad and all other bird watchers, we’ll keep a close eye on the two bluebirds that have stayed. We’ll hope that they brave the winter so that this spring when the first hatch of insects descends upon us, they’ll be swooping through the fields having their fill.
In addition, consider checking out this site:
Perhaps you have the perfect location for some nesting boxes or maybe you’d just like to find out a little more about those birds my Dad so carefully thought of throughout his years.

30 comments on “My Dad And His Bluebirds

  1. I wish there were a “love”button at the bottom of this post. Such a wonderful piece. Your father was not only a bird lover but also a good writer. Also, I saw a blue bird in Vassalboro when I was visiting Esther so I was not surprised to read that some blue birds stay in Maine.

    • He was special. He loved his Bluebirds. My Dad had a big heart, we raised cows growing up and each one he had a special place for. Calving time always made him anxious…he couldn’t bear anything struggling or suffering, though he wouldn’t say it out loud.

  2. I too have bluebirds at my feeders this winter and it was very surprising to see them a few weeks ago on Vinalhaven!! Great to have this information on migration and the wonderful notes and careful observations of your dad!

  3. Oh, this is just so incredibly lovely!!! Life goes on, life keeps marching forward. And we need to be smart enough to watch it go past with eyes wide open. Happy Bluebirding!!!!!

  4. Loved reading this. Have seen some here in Ohio but not in the winter. Love watching them! Hope they stay around for you to enjoy!

  5. So excited to read thid, for 2 weeks ago as the cold was setting in here in NH we had 3-4 bluebirds feeding at the suet, suet blocks and seed box . So exciting to see them this time of year. What made it exciting for me is it is a wooded area near a brook not open field. I certainly don’t see them here during the summer months, but I do see the from time to time in nearby conservation areas.

    • George thought mealy worms might be a good idea if it gets really cold again. of course, we’d have to keep them well supplied until the insect hatching in the spring. hate the thought of wildlife struggling through the bitter cold. the Chickadee’s literally shiver almost non- stop to generate heat for surviving the cold. Amazing!

  6. Now, see? People say bad things about winter but, if we hadn’t had some really frigid days, you’d have been doing other things and not made the discovery of your dad’s notes! You’re so lucky to have those notes and such fine memories! Keep us posted about the bluebirds!

  7. All I can say is, “be careful what you wish for—very careful.” Not so long ago, I shared your delight at seeing bluebirds here in the winter. We put up several bird houses and were thrilled to have a nesting pair of bluebirds on one box two years running. And then …. our relationship soured. I don’t know if you’ve read my blog posts on our aggressive male bluebird, but he started to go rogue last June and hasn’t stopped since. He drove our swallows out of their nesting box and our yard. We thought his aggressiveness would abate once the mating season was over. But, no. At least several times a week for the past seven months, he has attacked our car mirrors and house windows. We have to cover the side mirrors with bags, because he defecates all over the cars. He was throwing himself against an upstairs window with great vigor when the temperature was well below zero. He also perches on the sill or back deck and stares inside–as if he knows he’s gotten under our skin! And, he now has a crew with him. We are taking down our bluebird houses this year. Or, better yet, I can send this guy over your way!

  8. I have never seen a bluebird, and had no idea that they might winter over! We are woodsy, which I think is not their preferred habitat, is that true? But my wife has a nice “pattern” for blue bird nesting boxes and has made several fro friends and relatives. Maybe if we put up a box, they will come.

  9. I saw two bluebirds near Brunswick yesterday! They were in a forested strip of land which is sandwiched between a large field and a tidal wetland. They are so incredibly blue! My first encounter with bluebirds was also in the winter, much further south from Maine. Im glad to learn from your post that seeing bluebirds in the winter is something special.

    • Amazing, and yes, they are so blue! I hadn’t realized that it was not so uncommon for them to hang back from migrating. I worried about them finding enough food…berries and especially during that intense cold. For that matter, I so think of the birds ( and all other critters) during the bitter cold. The chickadees shivering constantly as an adaptation for staying warm. Not sure we give wildlife the consideration they deserve! Thank you so much for reading the blog and for your thoughts. be well, denise

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