Bluebirds of happiness

“A man who never sees a bluebird only half lives.” – Edwin Way Teale

I think I might agree with Edwin Way Teale after watching bluebirds up close for the past few days. My life is genuinely enriched by knowing these remarkable birds.

There is a reason bluebirds are a symbol of happiness in so many cultures. It’s hard to frown when you’re gifted with the sight of their bright blue feathers or hear their cheerful, melodious songs in spring.

Lately, we’ve been watching them flit around the branches near our treehouse porch. They visit our bird feeder, too, even though we don’t provide mealworms for them. I can’t help but smile every time I see one. The males are brilliant in their bright blue breeding plumage. Females are duller, but do sport some blue streaks on their wings and tails. Even though we see their feathers as BLUE in color, that’s quite an illusion. Here’s why. Gotta love science!

“When nature made the blue-bird she wished to propitiate both the sky and the earth, so she gave him the color of the one on his back and the hue of the other on his breast.” ~ John Burroughs

If you grew up in the country with farms and fields or meadows nearby, you might have seen bluebirds perched on a fence post or telephone wire. They tend to like golf courses, too, because of the open spaces.

Bluebirds eat mostly insects (caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers), with some fruits and berries also on the menu, and more rarely a snake, lizard, or tree frog. They can spot prey over 60 feet away! When they locate an insect near the ground, they will flutter their wings and approach it slowly, then grab it and fly quickly back up to a perch.

Eastern bluebird populations have been increasing in the US since the 1960’s. But that hasn’t always been the case. In the early 1900’s populations plummeted due to the introduction of non-native European starlings and house sparrows who out-competed the bluebirds for nest cavities in trees. Bluebirds have been very responsive to bluebird nest boxes and “bluebird trails” put up by human friends, though, and that has helped improve their populations.

Nest boxes are easy to construct. If you want to install a nest box, be sure that it faces east and toward open habitat (not too close to the woods or a road). Here are some instructions for building an Eastern bluebird box. That way, you can have bluebirds of happiness near you, too.

For more info about bluebirds and how you can help them, check out this comprehensive website, Sialis.

“The soft mellow warble of the bluebird, heard at its best throughout spring and early summer, is one of the sweetest, most confiding and loving sounds in nature.” ~ Thomas Roberts

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