The bluebird can always find a nest in this paradise

OUTDOORS

February 28, 1993|By LONNY WEAVER

I don't know about you, but I've about had my fill of winter. Let's think of something other than cold winds, stuff falling out of the sky and the 16 inches of snow covering my lawn.

A robin at my bird feeder would be nice, but I'm thinking that a bluebird or two would be even nicer.

The little bird with the sky-blue back and the rose-tinted breast is the hands-down favorite of the Weaver family. Fortunately, we have managed to play host to a number of these little beauties over the years. This wasn't always so. In fact, it wasn't that long ago when a bluebird was a rare sight.

According to my friends at the Audubon Society, the unusually severe 1957-58 winter destroyed up to half the nation's bluebird population.

Long ago, Indians hung hollow gourds around their villages to attract the then-abundant bluebirds and purple martins, both of whom are voracious insect eaters, to control pests such as mosquitoes. Early American colonists admired the bluebird because it reminded them of their European robin.

Since the 1930s, bluebirds have experienced a steady population decline. Our Eastern species is reportedly the hardest hit of all, with losses of as much as 90 percent during the past 50 years. The other two species are the Western and Mountain. Each are similar in size, averaging between 5 1/2 and 6 inches in length.

They rely on insects during the spring and summer and fruit the rest of year as food sources. It's preferred habitat features open areas with scattered trees.

My wife once read and then subsequently observed that it takes most bluebirds between four and seven days to built a nest consisting primarily of grass or pine straw (both of which I have in abundance).

The birds then lay, we have found, from three to seven pale blue eggs (though we occasionally get white eggs), which incubate between 12 and 16 days. Out of that number, I am sad to report, we're lucky if one or two live.

Two of our bluebird boxes are within open sight of our patio and we love sitting there in the cool of the early evening to watch the feeding procession. Both parents feed the newly hatched birds, and this goes on for quite some time -- up to may be three weeks -- before the babies are able to make it on their own.

The bluebird's natural enemies are sparrows, starlings, raccoons, snakes, parasites and people. We had a tough time with sparrows last summer and lost nests in two of our three boxes. In one instance, the sparrows got into the box and killed the four babies plus the father. Don't kid yourself -- the bird world is a violent world.

In the second box, the nest building of a mating pair of bluebirds went for naught on two occasions when sparrows tried to move in, uninvited. In both instances I had to discourage the sparrows.

Bluebirds are cavity nesters -- building nests and raising their tTC young in holes in dead trees, rotting fence posts or in boxes put up in lawns and pastures for their use.

With the expansion of urban and suburban areas, dead trees are removed, orchards are pruned and sprayed with pesticides and old wooden fence posts are replaced with metal. The constant land clearing also removed many important food sources.

And, the English sparrow and starling compete directly with the bluebird for the few remaining nesting holes. Many die from pesticide poisoning by direct contact and by eating contaminated insects.

There are a number of good sources of information on bluebirds.

"The Bluebird Book, The Complete Guide to Attracting Bluebirds," by Donald & Lillian Stokes and published by Little, Brown and Co., is one of my standard references. It's available at most area bookstores.

Then there's the Audubon Society's "Bluebirds Across America," available from P.O. Box 123, Horatio, S.C 29062. Ask them for their superb Bluebird Fact Sheet, which also contains nesting box plans.

Safety courses offered

A number of Department of Natural Resources, Coast Guard and U.S. Power Squad outdoor recreation or safety courses are offered locally over the next couple of weeks.

Call (410) 267-9244 for a bowhunter course at the Patuxent Research Center beginning March 13.

A boating safety course is set to begin Tuesday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Annapolis High. Anita Murray at (410) 757-4848 has the details.

If you miss that one, try the boating course scheduled to start March 10 at the Taylor Avenue Fire Hall in Annapolis. Call Carl Smith at (410) 956-6979 for details.

Ed Bromble (410 761-2089) is the person to call about the hunter's safety course to begin March 23 at Fort Meade and Earl Zoeller (410 360-0872) is the person to talk to about the same course at the Stoney Creek Club beginning March 15.

The Three Rivers Sportsmans Club is scheduling a hunter's safety course beginning March 8 and Buddy Abner at (410) 987-0107 is the person to call to register.

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