Bluebirds signal spring arrival

OUTDOORS

March 20, 1994|By LONNY WEAVER

A little over a week ago, a flock of about a dozen robins sat down in our front lawn to buoy our wintered spirits. Then, to assure us that the long winter was indeed wanning, the first bluebird of the year arrived last Sunday morning and by Monday afternoon was busy building a nest in the front lawn's bluebird box.

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.

Long ago, I have been told by my birding friends, Indians hung hollowed gourds around their villages to attract the then abundant bluebirds and purple martins, both of whom are voracious insect eaters, to control pest such as mosquitoes. I am told that 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 over the last 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.

Bluebirds rely on insects during the spring and summer and fruit the rest of year as food sources. In fact, as soon as my wife spotted our first bluebird of 1994, she scattered raisins around the wooden nesting box to hold the bird. Do not put out plain peanut butter because it is too hard for the bird to swallow and causes digestive damage.

Its preferred habitat features open areas with scattered trees -- like your own backyard, I'd guess.

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 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 and watch the feeding procession. Both parents feed the newly hatched birds and this goes on for quite some time -- up to maybe 3 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 again last summer and lost nests in all three boxes. In one instance, sparrows got into the box and killed the four babies plus the father. The bird world is a violent world, indeed.

To discourage the sparrows, you need to destroy their nests every time they invade your bluebird house. They eventually will get the message and leave the area.

Bluebirds are cavity nesters, building nests and raising their young in holes in dead trees, rotting fenceposts or in boxes that we put up in our lawns and pastures for their use.

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," P.O. Box 123, Horatio, S.C. 29062. Ask them for their superb Bluebird Fact Sheet, which also contains nesting box plans.

Turkey clinic

The Central Maryland Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will conduct a day-long spring turkey hunting clinic Saturday at the Meyer Station Range in Odenton. Reservations are required and may be obtained, along with full details, by calling Chuck Lewis at (410) 255-4341.

Also, you may want to order your tickets for the chapter's popular annual Fundraising Banquet and Auction set for April 6 at Blob's Park in Jessup. Banquet tickets, which also buy a year's membership in NWTF and a year's subscription to the official magazine, Turkey Call, are $35 for individuals or $50 per couple. Call Dane Lance at (410) 730-9780.

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