For the Birds: Bluebird finale

Annette Connor of New Hampshire got this shot of an eastern bluebird this winter.

The reports keep coming in so I’m going to ride the Eastern bluebird train for one more week.

In what is shaping up to be the unofficial Winter of the Bluebird, many sightings continue to come in from throughout New England, and beyond. Bluebirds, as I’ve written before, are not uncommon in New England in the winter, but the sheer number of reports this year is unique.

In case you missed the column from a few weeks ago, each winter seems to have a bird that shows up more frequently and noticeably than in typical winters. In recent years we’ve had the winter of the snowy owl, barred owl, American robin and dark-eyed junco. I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that this is highly unscientific and based on my own observations and the anecdotal observations of others.

I’ll run down the most recent sightings sent in and then close with a few fun facts about bluebirds.

Dick and Pat from Westmoreland wrote to say they had four bluebirds on their roof one recent morning, presumably drinking melted snow as it rolled down the shingles.

What’s better than having three bluebirds show up in your yard on a consistent basis in the winter? Having four show up, of course. That’s what Kathy from Swanzey is experiencing this year. She was pleasantly surprised to host three bluebirds last winter; this winter she added one to the count.

“We see them almost every day. It’s wonderful to hear their chirping on a cold winter day,” she wrote.

They also have two bluebird and two swallow families in their boxes each summer.

Margaret in Meredith was sad when their summer bluebirds disappeared. Her husband discovered them back in the yard a few weeks ago and since then the couple has seen them numerous times each day. They have had as many as six at one time and, like many other people, have had luck attracting bluebirds with dried mealworms. “Bluebirds of happiness. Yes, they are!” she exclaimed.

Anne from Sandwich also has mealworm-eating bluebirds this winter. “I have lived in Sandwich for 50 years and have had bluebirds every summer in my three boxes but never (before) in the winter,” she wrote.

Bill and Annette of Somersworth had four bluebirds at their feeders this winter. Guess what the birds were doing? If you guessed eating mealworms you are right. The couple sent photographic proof of their visitors too. They also have at least 50 juncos visiting daily eating sunflower seeds and cracked corn.

I even heard from southwestern Pennsylvania where Julie wrote to say a small flock of bluebirds is hanging out in her yard.

Now for those fun facts I promised you:

Homemade birdhouses have led to a remarkable population comeback for bluebirds.

Bluebirds often have two (or even three) broods in one year and the young birds from the first brood sometimes help raise the babies of the later broods.

Adult bluebirds typically return to the same nesting area each year.

Bluebirds are only found in North America.

The song of the bluebird, according to AllAboutBirds.org is “a fairly low-pitched, warbling song made up of several phrases, each consisting of 1-3 short notes. Harsher chattering notes may be interspersed with the whistles.”

For the Birds: More on those bluebirds

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird, Brookfield, CT, fall 2018.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers …

It’s still too early to make any official declarations, but it is looking more and more like the Winter of the Bluebird.

After last week’s hint that it might be heading in that direction I received several more emails from astute birdwatchers finding eastern bluebirds. It’s not that bluebirds are a rare New England winter sighting but it appears that more people than usual are reporting them.

Similar to the American robin, another member of the thrush family, many eastern bluebirds remain with us throughout the winter. The trick is finding them. 

Although I have still been shut out of the bluebird frenzy this winter, many others have written to tell me about their encounters. I appreciate the reports. Keep them coming.

Celia from Keene said there was “no missing the blue” of the bluebirds she saw on the rail trail in her city. She said they were the first ones she had seen during the winter. 

Celia added that bluebirds nested on her property for the first time last summer. The way she described it explains in a nutshell why I love New England so much: “We put a bluebird house up in our yard overlooking the pumpkin patch …” Who else but a New Englander could start a sentence that way?

Elena from Winchester reported that a friend of hers saw a large flock of bluebirds near the Connecticut River in the Hinsdale area. Elena, like me, has been shut out of the bluebird party this winter so far, but she did report that a small flock of red-winged blackbirds continues to eat suet and sunflower seeders from her feeders.

Marie Anne from Guilford has had bluebirds visit her backyard for the past seven winters. She has had as many as eight but this year she has four “cranky little guys arguing over the mealworm feeder.”

“Their winter presence brings me as much peace and joy as their sweet complaints do during the gardening season,” she wrote.

Last but not least, Andrew wrote to let me know that bluebirds were at Brentwood Golf Course in Keene last week. I didn’t save this sighting for last because I’m going to make a birdie joke, I’ll spare you that much, but it’s a good segue into how to find bluebirds in the winter.

Just like in the spring and summer, bluebirds are most often seen in open spaces in the winter. Golf courses and cemeteries are good places to look. For whatever reason, I’ve always had good luck finding bluebirds around playgrounds in the winter. My yard backs up to thick woods and I’ve seen them in the trees on the edge, but never very deep in the woods. 

Bluebirds are a good conservation success story. Changing landscape (fields and farms to woods) and competition for nest cavities from house sparrows and starlings depleted the bluebird population in the early 20th century. Conservation efforts and manmade bluebird boxes, thankfully, led to a strong rebound for the iconic species.

And thankfully, many of them stick with us throughout the winter. There’s nothing like seeing that bright baby blue color against the backdrop of freshly fallen snow. Well, except for maybe the red of a male cardinal against snow. Tough call.

Chris Bosak may be reached at chrisbosak26@gmail.com or through his website http://www.birdsofnewengland.com

For the Birds: Winter of the Bluebird brewing?

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern bluebird scans a yard in Danbury, CT, March 2019.

I thought it was going to be the winter of the junco again, but it’s looking more and more like the winter of the bluebird.

Last year was the winter of the barred owl. As you recall, barred owls were being seen in great numbers all throughout New England. Experts had conflicting theories on why so many of these beautiful owls were being seen, but there is no denying that more than usual were found. On one trip to visit my brother in upstate New York, I found two barred owls. The second owl was perched atop a Welcome to New York sign on the Vermont border.

Several years ago, Christmas Bird Count results were teeming with huge dark-eyed junco numbers. Whereas there are usually hundreds of juncos in a particular count area, there were thousands that year. I dubbed it the winter of the junco and have been on the lookout for similar anecdotal phenomena since then.

Who can forget the winter of the snowy owl a few years back? I can recall robins and pine siskins being highlighted in previous winters.

As I drive to work every day, one stretch of a particular road often has a large flock of juncos. They scatter as I drive by; their white-outlined tails giving away their i Continue reading