Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bluebirds in the Back Yard

Well back in the fall when we first bought Chateau Papillon, we noticed an Eastern Bluebird poking around in the leaves along the edges of the back yard, which was quite an exciting discovery for us.  At our rental home in Vienna, we had a good list of back yard birds, but bluebirds were not among them.  So it was with great anticipation we awaited spring.

Bluebirds aren't typical back yard feeder visitors in the eastern United States, nor are they all that common in the yards of suburbia, period.  One reason is that bluebirds are (like several other species) cavity nesters, meaning they build their nests inside hollowed-out holes, typically in dead trees.  The problem is that bluebirds can't hollow out their own nest cavities, unlike woodpeckers, and we humans typically cut down the best trees as unsightly or dangerous, near our homes.  On top of that, bluebirds face fierce competition for suitable nests from a non-native pest species, the House Sparrow.

House Sparrows will enter a bluebird nest and kill both any young and their mother if given the chance, and unlike nests with openings too small for the pests to enter (such as for House Wrens and Chickadees), bluebird nests require an entrance hole perfectly sized for House Sparrow entry.

Between (human-driven) habitat loss and nest competition from (human-introduced) pest species, bluebirds face a tough road.  That's why it's so special for us to have these beautiful birds in our yard!

We're seeing at least one pair of bluebirds in the yard several times a day now; though they do visit the feeders, they're not big fans of the black-oil sunflower seed we've put out for our other birds.  So, today, we picked up a small mealworm feeder and a hundred live mealworms for the bluebirds.

We've got a few bluebird houses to go up around the yard as well; the one pictured above, which came from Beth's former boss Joy's yard, had hardly been in the ground a day when the bluebirds started to check it out.  As yet, they haven't started moving in any nesting material, but we're hopeful they'll decide the home suits them.  My parents send us another, which we'll erect out of sight of the first (bluebirds can be territorial, after all), and we've got a third to go up as well.

So far, we don't seem to have a House Sparrow problem, either; part of that is the lack of suitable shrubs around the house, as in Vienna, the Azaleas were home to dozens of the pests.  Though we do put out one feeder with cheaper seed (including millet, a favored House Sparrow food), so far it hasn't brought any of the pests around, and given that our Dark-eyed Juncos love the cheaper seed, we're hopeful it won't.  Too, putting up multiple nest boxes can serve as a decoy for the unwanted House Sparrows, and given their non-native status, we can always take out any sparrow eggs, one at a time, and sterilize them before returning them to the nest--ensuring we don't see a bumper crop of the pests.  But this does mean we'll have to be careful going forward as we work on our yard landscaping and outdoor renovations, too.

So, we're hoping we'll get to see some baby bluebirds as spring progresses, and that Beth will get over her squeamishness and be able to handle the little mealworms the bluebirds so love.

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