I’m Hopelessly Devoted to Blue – Bluebirds That Is!

I’m Hopelessly Devoted to Blue – Bluebirds That Is!

“I’m hopelessly devoted to blue” – Bluebirds that is!  Can you remember the first time you saw a brilliant blue male bluebird?  As lake and pond owners, almost all of you have the sort of open habitat that is perfect for bluebirds.  While there are three commonly found bluebirds in North America (Eastern, Western, and Mountain), I’ll focus this article on the Eastern Bluebird that inhabits the area east of the Rockies that 95% of Pond Boss subscribers reside and/or own property within.

While this article is coming to you in June, it’s not too late to experience the joy of seeing nesting bluebirds on your property.  It’s true that across most of Pond Boss country, the first nesting of bluebirds is finished and perhaps even the second is finished or has begun.  But with a lot of southern readers, I feel this article is still time appropriate.

According to research from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it’s been found that for each incremental change in latitude of one degree to the south, the breeding season is longer by 2.3 days.  The most northerly locations (48◦ latitude, North Dakota through Quebec, Canada) had breeding seasons of only 108 days, compared with 154 days in the extreme south (28◦ latitude, Texas through Florida).  Thus bluebirds in southern climates have more time to produce extra broods.  The number of nest attempts per box was 1.8 per season on average in the south, compared the 1.3 attempts in the north.  Southern bluebirds were also more successful at fledging young from more nests; the number of nests that produced at least one fledgling was 19% higher in the south.

The evidence also suggests that bluebirds in the north may try to compensate for the shorter breeding period by initiating their second brood more quickly than their counterparts in the south.  After fledging one brood, birds in the north began another clutch in the same box an average of 17 days later, whereas southern birds waited 26 days.  Shorter time between broods may increase the likelihood that a second brood can be raised, but at a cost to fledglings.  By starting a new nest sooner, northern bluebird parents may very well be sacrificing time that could have been used to raise and feed fledglings from earlier nests.  Bottom line, if you are in the north, it might be too late to see your house used this year.  If you are in the south, there’s still time for 2017 use.  Regardless, get more bluebird boxes up ASAP so you can see ‘blue’ in 2018!

I bet you’re saying enough of the difference from north to south on nesting schedules and tell us what are the keys to “me” being successful in attracting and successfully helping bluebirds nest on my property???  I’ve come to respect both the beliefs and expertise of my Amish and Mennonite friends who often say, “Birds are God’s barometers of the environment.”  I’ve frequently shared the below “Bluebirder’s Ten Commandments” from Andrew M. Tryer from his 1995 book, “Bring Back the Bluebird”.
Blue Bird 10 Commandments 
 
I’ll quickly add a few of my Top 5 Tips to bluebird success on your property.  I’d also suggest that you check out the North American Bluebird Association (nabluebirdsociety.org).

  1. Location-Location-Location.  Keep bluebird boxes at least 100 yards from woods, thickets, etc., as putting them closer will lead to Chickadees, Titmice, and Wrens (all good birds though!) using your bluebird house instead of the bluebirds.
  2. You must control English Sparrows.  Trap them, shoot them, I don’t care, but don’t ever forget, an English Sparrow  (a non-native American bird) will not hesitate to peck a female bluebird to death as she sits on her eggs, and then build their junky sparrow nest on top of her.
  3. Mount your boxes on 1” steel poles protected by a 6” PVC pipe (with lid on top; hole cut for pole) or a large stove pipe or 18” metal baffle.  Otherwise you are setting up a food trail for raccoons, snakes, and cats.
  4. Face boxes away from early spring’s cold, wet winds. Here in Missouri it’s east/south east.
  5. Remember if you can, to provide food sources.  To help bluebirds survive the winter storms on my property, we’ve planted American (not invasive Chinese) Bittersweet and I offer live and dried mealworms and sunflower kernels (bluebirds can’t crack a seed shell, but they can eat sunflower kernels).
Try the above and I believe you’ll quickly increase the positive outcome you’ll have trying to attract bluebirds and help them flourish.

As I put the finishing touches to this bluebird article, I want to close by saying it was inspired by a great man, Michael Smith, who captured a timeless photo “The Mad Bluebird”.  We lost Michael this spring to a battle with cancer and my biggest regret is that he never let me know about his struggle.  When my son, Grant, and I visited Michael’s home a couple of years ago, it was obvious that bluebirds were very much more than just “something to be photographed”.  He truly cared for the species and all birds God has blessed us with.  I’ve already donated my fees for writing this article to the Maryland Bluebird Society in honor of Michael.  I’d ask you to consider a gift in his name to your local state bluebird organization.  I’ve told you earlier in this article how to find them. 

One last way we’ve tried to honor Michael is a 25% donation will be made on all sales of bluebird items on a Special Tribute Order Sheet available from Songbird Essentials (www.songbirdessentials.com/nabspromo).  Whether you need poles, baffles, houses, portal protectors, or I hope a “Mad Bluebird” coffee cup, flag, or trivet using Michael’s Mad Bluebird photo, we’d appreciate your help.  Just let us know what bluebird organization you wish the donation to go to.

I’ll end where I started, “Do you remember the first time you saw a bluebird?”  Make sure your children and grandchildren experience that joy by properly placing and protecting (baffles) bluebird boxes on your property and by supporting great organizations like the North American Bluebird Society.

Posted: 2017-05-12