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.

Bluebirds in a New England winter — not that uncommon

Photo by Chris Bosak An Eastern Bluebird perches near a lake in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Eastern Bluebird perches near a lake in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 2016.

Eastern Bluebirds, similar to American Robins, are thought of as mostly a spring and summer bird in New England. I love finding an active bluebird box in April or May and watching the parents go back and forth feeding the youngsters hidden inside the box.

But Eastern Bluebirds are also commonly found in New England during the winter. I love seeing them after a snowfall; how their bright blue and orange seem even brighter against the white backdrop. Bluebird Continue reading

Bluebirds — the bird of winter 2014-15?

Elena from Winchester, N.H., got this shot of Eastern Bluebirds at her warm-water birdbath during the cold snap of Feb. 2015.

Elena from Winchester, N.H., got this shot of Eastern Bluebirds at her warm-water birdbath during the cold snap of Feb. 2015.

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).

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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 particula Continue reading