Here’s my For the Birds column from last week. Since I wrote it I have received a few more emails from readers who have seen bluebirds this winter. In fact, one reader wrote to say he saw seven Eastern Bluebirds pile into a single birdhouse to stay warm. (Note, the above photo was taken by a reader from New Hampshire).
It seems that every winter has its bird. Last year, of course, it was the Snowy Owl. A few years ago it was the Common Redpoll and, before that, the Pine Siskin.
Every year it seems a certain species of bird “irrupts” into New England and sets the birding world abuzz. An irruption is when birds come to a region in large numbers, presumably because their food source is scarce on their typical wintering grounds. The term usually refers to northern birds, especially finches, coming south for the winter.
I can remember a winter when the Dark-eyed Junco was bird of winter. We see them every winter in New England, but during this particular winter, they were everywhere. Literally thousands of them were counted on the various winter bird counts.
So what is this year’s bird? There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut bird of this winter, but my vote would go to the Eastern Bluebird. I’ve seen them on a few occasions and I’ve received word from several readers of this column about bluebirds. One reader from New Hampshire had bluebirds at her birdfeeder.
Seeing Eastern Bluebirds in the winter in New England is not a new phenomenon. Each winter some bluebirds remain with us, just like their thrush cousins the American Robin. The tricky part is finding them.
Bluebirds are one of those species, again similar to robins, in which individuals or families do different things in terms of migration. Some migrate long distances, some short distances and some not at all. The birds weigh the pros and cons of “to migrate or not to migrate.” The risks are great in both.
It seems each winter is different, too. Sometimes it’s as if all the bluebirds have decided to fly south. Some winters, like this one, many choose to stick around New England and take their chances with the weather. Bluebirds that do stick around in winter survive mainly on berries and even crab apples. Overwintering robins do the same thing.
It’s always a thrill to see Eastern Bluebirds in the winter. It’s a thrill anytime, of course, but especially in the winter when their bright blue sticks out against a snowy background. One of my sightings this winter came as fresh snow fell from the sky. The bluebirds, about six of them, darted from one low evergreen bush to another. (Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy. I know, I should know better.)
I enjoy seeing bluebirds at any time of year and especially like to watch parent bluebirds catch insects for their babies tucked away in bluebird boxes. But that recent winter experience just may have been my best bluebird sighting yet.