November 20, 2014

Eastern Bluebird - winter's blue

The Eastern Bluebird is more an icon than a native New England bird. Immortalized on sweatshirts and as porcelain figurines as well popularized by a widely followed conservation movement the Eastern Bluebird remains a fan favorite. Known as a partial migrant the bluebird sometimes stay on their breeding grounds in unseasonably warm winters or during bumper fruit crop years and can be found in New England all year long. As omnivores, bluebirds subsidize their summer diet of insects and grubs with winter berries and fruits. A picture of tranquility however, bluebirds are not. Territorial wars with other cavity nesters like  English house sparrows and European Starlings can turn deadly.  A bird of open ground such as meadow or pasture, the decline of the bluebird was in part due to these invasive birds competing for limited cavity nest sites in a sprawling suburban world. The extensive loss of farmlands in the Northeast since the 1970s was also to blame. But, the outlook for the bluebird is good. Christmas Bird Counts show a near 14% increase in bluebird sightings between 1964 and 2008 while the 2011 Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas give bluebirds a “likely increase” status. It seems that substantive nest box building projects cut down on competition and have allowed these midsized song birds to flourish. In the winter watch for bluebirds flying from ground to fence post in barren farm fields or orchard edge. For all their marvelous color bluebirds can be inconspicuous, appearing grayish in the long winter light. Watch for a characteristic flight style, with long wings that seem to lap the air like a dog’s tongue, pushing downward and barely rising above the back.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works at the Summer Star Wildlife Sanctuary and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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