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 identity. I had seen several other large flocks of juncos in other areas so I was convinced it was going to be another banner year for the small sparrows.

As the winter progresses, however, I’ve seen fewer juncos. Meanwhile, my inbox has been lighting up with people seeing eastern bluebirds throughout New England. Personally, I haven’t seen many bluebirds this winter, but a lot of people have, that’s for sure.

Bluebirds are not a rarity for a New England winter. They are not common by any means in the winter, but a certain number each year brave our coldest seasons. I remember when I was looking to purchase a house about five years ago. It was early March and as we pulled into one particular driveway, a small group of bluebirds was resting on a blanket of fresh snow on a bush along the driveway. I ended up buying the house.

I’ve heard from several readers about their eastern bluebird sightings this winter. Marge from Sullivan wrote to say she had several bluebirds at her suet feeder one morning. Raynee from Walpole sent in a photo of a bluebird inspecting a birdhouse in her backyard. She mentioned she does not have nesting bluebirds. It could be that the bluebird was looking for suitable respite from the cold. Jane from Marlborough had a pair of bluebirds visit her feeders a few weeks ago. She sees them in the summer but can’t recall ever seeing them in the winter before.

What about you? Can you confirm more bluebird sightings or is there another surprise visitor in your yard? Drop me a line and let me know.

Susan Stevens of Portsmouth NH, took this photo of a group of Eastern Bluebirds eating hulled sunflower seeds at her window feeder in March 2015. She said the bluebirds also eat suet.
Susan Stevens of Portsmouth NH, took this photo of a group of Eastern Bluebirds eating hulled sunflower seeds at her window feeder in March 2015. She said the bluebirds also eat suet.

Love those bluebirds (plenty of photos)

Photo by Chris Bosak Eastern Bluebird at Mather Meadows, a property of the Darien (Conn.) Land Trust.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Eastern Bluebird at Mather Meadows, a property of the Darien (Conn.) Land Trust.

Eastern Bluebirds are nesting again at Mather Meadows, a property of the Darien (Conn.) Land Trust. Here are some photos I took during a quick visit on Tuesday morning. (More photos below — click on “continue reading.”)

Eastern Bluebirds have made a strong comeback following a decline due to several factors, including competition for nesting sites with introduced species such as House Sparrows and European Starlings. The comeback has been bolstered in large part to humans offering nesting sites to bluebirds, a.k.a bluebird houses. The houses are built to specific dimensions, including the entry/exit hole sized to keep out sparrows and starlings. Bluebirds still face competition for those homes from Tree Sparrows, but the competition is not as fierce.

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