Something Wild: A Soft-Spot For Bluebirds

May 15, 2015

I've learned that a sighting of a bluebird on a bird watching field trip stops everything. We'll pause a long time as people take turns looking through the spotting scope. Involuntary gasps of pleasure, "oohs" and "aahs" and "ohmygods."

For some, the sighting is a first. Others, older, tell of bluebirds of their youth. Part of their appeal is that bluebirds are not in a hurry, they allow lingering looks and close approach. Also, the bluebird family bond is strong. See one and you know there's a mate and perhaps young close by. In late summer, if a pair has successfully raised two broods, a large family grouping forages together. A family sighting really halts a field trip.

Perhaps another reason we're drawn to bluebirds is that we humans helped them recover from a population crash attributed to several causes: loss of natural tree cavities to nest in; competition with introduced species like starlings and house sparrows; and loss of open field habitat through development.

Eastern bluebird at a nest box. Hadley, MA.
Credit Keith Carver via flickr Creative Commons

Almost 40 years ago the alarm was sounded. The bad news: All three North American bluebird species had declined precipitously. The good news: These cavity nesters accepted manmade nesting boxes. Scouts, school groups and Audubon societies built and mounted nest boxes in fields around the country—and bluebird populations rebounded.

The appeal of bluebirds goes way back in time and legend. In one Native American legend, the gods grew to favor a bird pleasingly gentle in spirit but drab in color. One day they invited the bird to bathe in their sacred lake. The bird emerged transformed, its feathers as blue as the sacred lake itself.