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.

One more bluebird in snow photo

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird braves a New England winter and visit a backyard for mealworms, winter 2020.

Here’s one more, just because. In case you missed it, here’s the original post with more photos.

For the Birds: Romance with mealworms

Photo by Chris Bosak A male eastern bluebird feeds his mate mealworms in a backyard in Danbury, Connecticut, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

Is there anything more romantic than shoving a few dried mealworms into your mate’s mouth? Not if you’re a bluebird.

“My” bluebirds are still coming around daily. For the past few days, I’ve watched the male feeding the female, even though she could easily get her own mealworms a few feet away. What fun would that be? Where’s the romance in that? How would she really know if he was the one?

It’s part of the courtship, of course, but it’s also fun to watch. Every time I saw them land on the deck railing together I’d wait a few seconds and, sure enough, the male would jump down to grab a few worms and go right back up to feed his mate.

I feel fortunate that the bluebirds are still visiting daily, but they won’t be using the bluebird box I purchased and set up in the backyard. They have checked it out a few times but don’t seem that interested in it. It’s not proper bluebird habitat, I admit. They prefer flat, Continue reading

Birds to brighten your day: Bluebird Days VI

Photo by Chris Bosak Bluebirds appreciate the awesomeness of BirdsofNewEngland.com

This will be the final Bluebird Days posting. I’ve gotten quite a bit of mileage out of my several-week long visit by “my” bluebirds. They are still coming daily, but soon they will be off to find a place to nest. My property is very wooded, which is not good habitat for bluebirds, so I don’t think they will try out one of my birdhouses. I wish them luck wherever they end up. (I couldn’t resist ending the series with this photo.)

For the Birds: Bluebirds of my own

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspaper.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird perches on a pole in New England, February 2020.

Sorry, but I have to go back to writing about bluebirds. After several weeks of writing about bluebirds that other people had in their yards, I finally got some of my own.

I would imagine no apology is necessary, however, as who doesn’t like to hear, read and talk about bluebirds?

I walked into my sunroom and saw through the window just a flash of a bird out of the corner of my eye. The bird had been perched on one of the arms of the feeder pole system and disappeared into woods behind my house.

That was a bluebird, I know it, I told myself, even though I got only the shortest of looks in my peripheral Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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

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.

Continue reading