Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eastern Bluebird

As a nature enthusiast and bird lover I spend a lot of time outdoors and one of my favorite pastimes is feeding and watching birds. Several years ago I was on a mission to attract Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia Sialis) to my yard; I knew they were in the area as they did frequent fly-bys through my yard, but none ever stayed. I had many feeders full, as well as bird baths, but it seemed whatever was on the menu did not appeal to these beautiful birds; as they flew over you could almost see them turn up their nose (or beak whichever the case may be) in distaste. I had numerous bluebird houses placed in strategic locations throughout my yard all met with the same disdain as the food supply. What was I doing wrong? This called for some research. I learned after much reading that they preferred berries, bugs and their favorite was mealworms. Okay, that was easy to remedy, but what about the houses? My husband (who is not a bird watcher, nor even much of a bird lover) suggested that perhaps I had the houses in the wrong location, and maybe putting them on a fencepost would be better. Thinking he was crazy, after all how would he know, when he didn’t even really like birds? I was sure they would be too low to the ground, but I agreed to move them. We took one of the houses off the tree and proceeded to hang it on the fencepost. I was willing to try anything; after giving some thought to his suggestion I did recall most of the bluebird houses I’ve seen have been on fence posts, so maybe, just maybe, there was something to what he said. After securing the bird house next to the pasture gate, all there was to do now was wait and see if any bluebirds showed up. Even though I was somewhat skeptical, I was also hopeful, I returned to the house to search the internet for a mealworm source and place an order. Approximately 3 hours after relocating the bluebird house my husband came into the house and told me we had bluebirds checking out the house we just put by the gate, thinking he was pulling my leg; after all things just don’t happen that fast or go according to plan so perfectly…right? I played along and followed him outside (expecting any second for him to say “just kidding”) to the blue bird house in question and much to my surprise and delight sat a male bluebird on top of the gate and then a female poked her head out of the house and looked at me as if to say “took you long enough!” I was so excited I know I squealed. I simply could not believe it was as simple as that; and I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed that I hadn’t figured all this out sooner. Several days later the mealworms arrived in my mailbox, and after setting up a feeding station, and supplying it with the new entrĂ©e it wasn’t long before there was a flurry of activity. Not only were the bluebirds feasting on these delicious worms, but also robins, yellow warblers and blue jays. As soon as the blue jays showed up, it lit a fire under the male bluebird and the chase was on. The much smaller bluebird ran the larger more aggressive blue jay off in record time only to return immediately and check on his sweetheart who was dutifully sitting on eggs. After making sure all was well and letting her know he was keeping vigilant guard, and that no harm would come to her or their soon to be offspring as long as he was on watch, and only after exchanging a few twitters and calls did he seem satisfied that all was indeed well. He went back to his post as sentry. This scenario played out numerous times all day long each day, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for our poor soon-to-be dad. Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse for our dedicated Mr. Bluebird, the eggs hatched! His responsibilities just increased ten-fold as he now had to keep up guard duty and help feed a hungry family. He seemed to take these new feeding duties as seriously as he previously did guard duty, frequently made trips to locate food for his hungry offspring, and sometimes even fed momma. Many times he would return to the nest with a juicy insect of some sort and feed one baby, only to be met with many more hungry mouths all demanding to be fed, which would send him off yet again in search of more food.

 In between trips he would chase off a blue jay or two then he was off again on foraging duty; this went on all day, with him only taking very short breaks on a nearby tree. Eventually I noticed the female join him on the food gathering expeditions, at which point he stayed behind to keep watch over the young featherless babies. Many weeks passed, and soon it was time for the babies to leave the nest. All the dedicated, hard work of this devoted pair paid off as all four babies successfully fledged and took flight to the nearest tree for the first time. Their first flight, though awkward, was endearing and beautiful. After much encouragement from mom and dad these young bluebirds were ready to be on their own. I spotted these young fledglings in the area for many months, and often they came to drink from a bird bath or partake of the offered mealworms. It wasn’t long before I noticed activity at the bluebird house again, and it soon became apparent that our bluebird pair was once again embarking on the family life. Our busy couple continued much the same way as they had for the first brood. Many weeks later, three more little babies took flight with the same awkwardness and courage as their previous siblings. My wish came true far beyond what I had hoped for, I not only had one bluebird, but now I had 9! They stayed throughout the summer and into the fall, and although no more babies were forthcoming it was a joy to watch these bluebirds and their activity in my yard. Later as the weather cooled I saw them rarely and eventually not at all as they headed for warmer areas. It wasn’t long before House Sparrows took over the bluebird house and used it as a winter shelter. They packed themselves into that house in large numbers. I would notice them fly out of the house one-by-one and I was reminded of the clowns in the “clown car” at the circus, as you watched in wonder as more and more clowns would exit the car, and just when you were sure not another clown could possibly exit the car, sure enough one did….it was the same with the sparrows. I allowed them their winter reprieve, knowing that once spring returned they had to be evicted. 

 (Bluebird letting a sparrow know she was not welcome)

Spring arrived and along with it the bluebirds, I cleaned the house out of all sparrows and old nesting materials and was rewarded once more as nest building resumed. It was time to order more mealworms. I chose a different supply house where I could buy in larger quantities and purchased 2000 of them. I came home from work to find a card from the post office in my mailbox letting me know I had a package to sign for; this could only mean the mealworms had arrived. I made a quick dash to the post office and handed the clerk my card. After signing on all the appropriate lines she went to retrieve my package, it was at this point I hear a loud squeal and the clerk uttering the words “Oh my goodness what are those things and where did they come from?” Ever get that sinking feeling in your gut? Well I had it, that ominous feeling that says you’re in trouble, thru no fault of your own. I had two choices at this point I could make a break for it, or stay and take my medicine. Well the decision was made for me as the post master came out of his office at the sound of the commotion and I hear him speak rather loudly “Shelly, what did you order?!” It was at that precise moment that I envied the ostrich its ability to bury its head, because if any sand would have been forthcoming that is exactly what I would have done! The post master came out from the back room to the front of the lobby where I was standing. He had my box in one hand and a handful of mealworms in the other. I took the box, and noticed more mealworms were beating a hasty retreat from the confinements of the box. I placed the box on a nearby table and tried with much difficulty to replace the errant mealworms back inside, and then took the ones the post master was holding, so patiently; and also tried to put them back from whence they came. 

After securing all the escapees I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, because it was at this point the humor of the whole situation was hitting me and I didn’t want to crack up laughing at this apparent “serious” situation. Before I could leave though, he had to ask me “Why can’t the birds find their own worms?” I just smiled, since I really didn’t know how to answer him and I was afraid if I opened my mouth all that would come out would be a giggle! I left in short order and got into my car and proceeded to laugh so hard I cried, and each time I pictured that woman squealing and thought about all the customers that would be coming into retrieve their mail only to find hitchhikers in the form of mealworms, I would start laughing all over again. After I returned home, my sides hurting from all the laughter, I finally secured all the mealworms including the escapees in my car seat into an escape proof container. Two weeks later a good friend of mine called me and wanted to know about the mealworm incident at the post office, seems this little matter was the talk of the post office and the town. I was shocked she had heard about it, but explained it to her, after having a good laugh all over again, she said the post master told her they were still finding mealworms, I told her wait until those worms turned into big black beetles and they tried to figure out where they came from!
My suggestion, if you order mealworms online, try to make sure you are home when the box is delivered, unless you want to be the story of your local post office and hometown.

These wonderful birds were worth a little humiliation on my part, and I continue to enjoy them each year. It was in 1927 that Missouri declared the Eastern Bluebird the State bird and I can’t imagine a better choice. Their bright blue wings and gorgeous cinnamon colored chest helps them stand out as one of the most beautiful birds to call Missouri their native home. Often considered a symbol of happiness, and anyone having heard their melodious song can attest to this being true. You can’t help but smile as these lovely birds sing their way into your heart. While these birds are in our area year around the most common time to see them will be from April through November.  If you too would like to attract these wonderful little birds to your yard, all you need is a water source, a suitable house, placed on a fence post or other similar location, away from trees and preferably near a open field (for insect hunting). And if you are feeling brave, provide some mealworms you’re sure to be glad you did once these endearing birds brighten your landscape as they have mine. 

1 comment:

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