For the Birds: Bluebirds, windows and houses

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird gets a drink from a birdbath in New England, February 2020.

I’ve been getting quite a few emails about bluebirds lately. I see that as a good sign about the rebounding eastern bluebird population.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s AllAboutBirds.com, my go-to website for information about North American birds, says the eastern bluebird is a species of “low concern.” The site reads, “Eastern Bluebird populations fell in the early twentieth century as aggressive introduced species such as European Starlings and House Sparrows made available nest holes increasingly difficult for bluebirds to hold on to. In the 1960s and 1970s, establishment of bluebird trails and other nest-box campaigns alleviated much of this competition, especially after people began using nest boxes designed to keep out the larger European Starling. Eastern Bluebird numbers have been recovering since.”

Jim and Eleanore of Keene wrote to say that they have nesting bluebirds for the first time in the 50 years they have been at their home.

“They are nesting in a house in my flower/vegetable garden,” Eleanore wrote. “From day one Mr. bluebird has been pecking on our kitchen window, all day long!”

I received a similar email from another reader relaying that a bluebird was doing the same thing at their house.

Like most birds that peck on windows and mirrors, they are likely trying to chase the “other” bird away. Birds are territorial during nesting season and will not tolerate other birds of the same species poking around. Robins and cardinals are also notorious window attackers.

To prevent this from happening (perhaps anyway), try placing stickers on the outside of the window to break up the reflection. You can also try to dangle something in front of the window or put a planted flower on the outside windowsill. Anything to break up the reflection. This, of course, is also effective in preventing bird strikes.

Last year, Jim and Eleanore sent me a charming story about a baby robin that they cared for last summer until the mother bird was able to take over. The story is a fun read and is now on my website, www.birdsofnewengland.com, if you care to check it out.

Another question came in from Renee who inquired about how far bluebird boxes should be from each other. She also has tree swallows competing for the houses and wondered if that impacted the distance.

I checked out information from the North American Bluebird Society and it suggested that eastern bluebird houses should be at least 100 yards apart. That’s an entire football field (minus the end zones) so quite a bit of space is needed to attract more than one bluebird pair. However, the distance shrinks substantially when tree swallows are around and the goal is to have a bluebird pair and tree swallows pairs together.

“When paired, boxes should be mounted 5 to 15 feet apart. This provides nesting sites for both species and helps to prevent competition between them. Different species of native birds usually do not mind nesting close to each other,” the NABS site reads.

I am hopeful that the abundance of emails about bluebirds means that the species is doing so well that more and more people are seeing them because there are that many more bluebirds around. I know I hosted my first bluebirds at my backyard feeder a few years ago. What a thrill that was to see them daily in the backyard.

I hope more people feel that joy in the years to come.

For the Birds: Helping birds this summer

Photo by Chris Bosak A young pileated woodpecker knocks on a fallen tree trunk as it looks for insects, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019. Dead trees are valuable to birds as homes and food sources.

It may be early in the summer season, but it seems like a good time to prepare for the hot days ahead.


Here are some things you can do to protect and help birds this summer:


Feeding hummingbirds is one of the great joys of summer in New England. No matter how many times they have visited already, it is always a thrill to see one land on your feeder, or better yet, feed from flowers planted in your yard. It is important, however, to keep the sugar water fresh and the feeder clean.


Sugar water should be changed every couple of days during hot weather. It can be a bit cumbersome, I know, but it is worth the effort as it keeps the birds happy and safe. Also, sugar water should be made with four parts water and one part sugar, and that’s it. No red dye. It’s unnecessary and potentially harmful to the tiny birds.

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Sandhill Cranes in New England

Kevin Peters sent in these terrific photos of a sandhill crane family he saw last week (mid-June 2022) east of Plainfield, Massachusetts. I’ll add these to the Reader Submitted Photos page on this site, but I thought sandhill cranes in New England warranted a post of its own. According to eBird reports, other people have reported sandhill crane sightings in the Berkshire region this year. Numerous sources say sandhill crane sightings are increasing in New England. Definitely something to keep an eye on. Thanks for the photos Kevin!

From reader Jim Smart of New Hampshire: Baby Robin Eric and I

Baby Robin Eric and I
by James G. Smart

On the morning of July 1, this year (2021), I walked out between our screened-in porch and a row of arbor vitae trees. I saw a cute little toad. Ah, how nice I thought. Not far from the toad was a bigger surprise—a baby robin, looking cold and afraid. We had had a strong wind storm the night before and I saw where the robin’s nest was overturned. I ran to my wife, Eleanore, and asked “Should we let nature take its course”? Or should we rescue the baby robin, knowing full well, we would rescue the baby robin.


Thus began the story of Eric. I decided to name him after Leif Erickson, the ancient traveler and wanderer. Eleanore thought I should be sole parent realizing his diet had to be consistent and that live worms would soon be his main diet.


Eleanore fixed up a nice cardboard box for him padded with paper towels. I returned outside and picked him up. He had no feathers on his rump. It was just red skin with hair on it. His little feet felt uncomfortable on my hand, a sensation I had never had before. Of course he has scratchy feet I said to myself—he’s a bird! I placed him in the box, went to the kitchen in search of food, found some blue berries and some leftover cooked farina. That was his first diet in his new home. He was so anxious to eat, it was hard to feed him. He yakked so much his bill often knocked the food out of my fingers. But he got enough.

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For the Birds: Love those cooperative birds

It is hit or miss when it comes to photographing birds. It is mostly miss, but that just makes the hits even more rewarding.

Once in a great while, I have come across very cooperative birds. One of the more memorable times took place on a small lake in New Hampshire where a great blue heron stalked its prey on the shoreline as I silently approached in my canoe. The bird never broke its glance on its prey as my canoe drifted into range.

There have been a few times when a loon, or a loon family, has approached me in my canoe. Talk about a wonderful experience, especially when they sing or call from close range. There is no better wilderness experience than that.

Feeder birds can often make for a similar experience, but there is nothing like finding a cooperative bird in the wild. This particularly goes for birds that you otherwise wouldn’t see in your backyard. These moments come along often when I visit family in Florida, but New England birds are much more challenging.

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Common yellowthroat, just because

Photo by Chris Bosak — Common yellowthroat in New England, spring 2022.

Here’s a shot of a male common yellowthroat. They are a common warbler that nests throughout most of the U.S. and into Canada. They migrate south in the fall, but in my observations, stick with us a little longer than many of the warblers.

For the Birds: The colors you’ll see

Photo by Chris Bosak An indigo bunting perches in a tree in New England, July 2021.

I’m not going to try to emulate Dr. Seuss, but I think he would have drawn plenty of inspiration from a walk in the woods in New England in May.

His classic “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” comes to mind, but only altered to “Oh, the Colors You Can See.”

A recent walk made me think of this. The majority of the walk was along a wide dirt path with shrubby habitat on both sides. Beyond the thickets on one side was a large field and beyond the thickets on the other side were deep woods. It is perfect habitat for a bird walk.

The first bird I saw was a male eastern towhee. It was once called rufous-sided towhee because of the unique dark orange color of its sides that complement the otherwise white and black plumage of the bird. The bird’s red eyes are visible when it approaches among the shrubs closely enough. I did not see a female towhee on this particular day, but they are lighter brownish-orange where the male is black.

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A walk among bobolinks

Photo by Chris Bosak — Bobolink in New England, May 2022.

One of the highlights of the post-spring migration rush in New England is to visit a field in New England where bobolinks nest. Luckily, I have one fairly close to where I live — Happy Landings in Brookfield, Connecticut. The bobolinks’ bubbly song (which reminds me of R2-D2) fills the air as red-winged blackbirds and yellow warblers provide an apt auditory background. Here are a few shots of a recent walk in the field.

Photo by Chris Bosak — Bobolink in New England, May 2022.

Photo by Chris Bosak — Bobolink in New England, May 2022.

Photo by Chris Bosak — Bobolink in New England, May 2022.