Happy Cavity Nesting Families – Western Bluebird

Bird of Good Cheer and a Hopeful Spring

Throughout history, and within many cultures, bluebirds symbolize happiness, protection, and hope. People may have first taken notice of the birds because of their unusual coloring, or for their behavior; swooping through meadows and open spaces, cheerful song, or large family units raising young each spring.

When the bluebirds start building nests this spring (2021), it will signal a time when COVID quarantines and isolation may begin lifting. For those with creative inclinations, this cheer inspiring avian may, once again, be used to celebrate hope and authentic community freedom in song, writing, painting, filling in blocks of color on a coloring sheet, or building and distributing nest boxes.

Photo Credit: Julio Mulero

Secondary Housing Shortage

Bluebirds lack beak and skull adaptations to bore their own nesting cavities; therefore, they rely on second-hand holes of a certain circumference.

Like many animals highlighted on Following Deer Creek, human-caused environmental alterations – tree management practices and invasive species – have reduced their numbers.

Providing Bluebird nesting boxes (see Bluebird Nest Box Construction below) and replacing exotic plants with California native plants are two ways that individuals can contribute toward repairing California’s diverse natural ecosystems.

“Bluebird conservation is a shining example of a totally grassroots effort that has been tremendously successful. It illustrates the power of individuals and groups to make a difference.” – Elizabeth Zimmerman Smith 2020, Woodstock, CT at Sialas.org

Habitat

Nevada County Western Bluebirds are year-round residents.

During spring and summer, bluebirds mostly feed on insects. Their hunting grounds are open grasslands where they perch on branches or fence posts to watch for bugs. When they spot prey, they’ll swoop in for the catch. In addition to insect hunting spaces, bluebirds also need reliable sources of fresh water.

Photo Credit: Becky Matsubara

In the winter, they feed on berries.

Characteristics

Females and juveniles have muted feather colors compared to mature males. Both males and females have straight beaks and rusty-colored chest feathers. Mature males have bright blue heads, wings, and tails.

 

Female left, male right | Photo Credit: Becky Matsubara

Social Behavior

https://youtu.be/ml8_CN4jTd4

 

Life Span

3-5 years

Life cycle

https://youtu.be/LdLSOtijzHk

Reproduction & Family Chick Raising

Spring begins with nest building. Bluebirds choose existing cavities in which to nest.

Feb/March/April – males and females pair bond.

Females lay one egg a day for a clutch between 4 – 6 days.

After a fourteen-day incubation, with the male bringing her food and standing guard, all eggs hatch on the same day.

After hatching, both parents feed chicks for approximately two weeks.

Photo Credit: Shirley Binn

Once the young have fledged and begin traveling from the nest box to hearby branches, the female leaves to begin building a second nest while the male finishes caring for the first brood.

Bluebirds remain in family groups. First brood siblings may help raise the second brood. Inexperienced parents with failed nests may participate in helping raise their parents’ subsequent hatchlings.

https://youtu.be/8l-_mBAuP1o

Diet

Spring / Summer

  • grasshoppers
  • caterpillars
  • beetles
  • ants
  • butterflies

Fall / Winter

  • small fruit & berries
  • mistletoe
  • juniper berries
  • elderberry

 

Predators

domestic & wild cats

racoons

opossum

hawks

Nesting Box Chick Predators

  • bees
  • ants
  • earwigs
  • wasps

Undernourished chicks are also susceptible to parasitic infections.

Cavity Competitors

House Sparrows and Starlings are aggressive cavity-nesting competitors that were imported into New York between 1853 and 1890. The first to deal with inchworms and the second to introduce Shakespeare’s play birds into Central Park.

Other Birds that Compete for Cavity Nest Sites

  • Nuthatch
  • Chickadee
  • Swallow
  • House Wren

 

Detrimental Human Effects on Bluebird Populations

  • Introduction of competitive invasive species – House Sparrow & Starling
  • Tree & Forest Management practices
  • Herbicide & pesticide use
  • Wood fence post replacement with angle iron posts
  • Development of open spaces

The Bluebird Man – One Idaho Man’s Retiremet Conservation Legacy

https://youtu.be/fg7vnYDu_U8?t=44

Bluebird Restoration Project – Near Victoria, British Columbia

https://youtu.be/WCFnGXPCZJI

Bluebird Nesting Box Construction

https://youtu.be/eA0VbhOYyX0?t=38
https://youtu.be/kr59ZrQBrfI?t=7
click image to purchase
or view more Life on the Creek Art

 

click image to download FREE coloring sheet

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Resources:

Audubon – How to Build a Bluebird Nest Box
Audubon – Western Bluebird
BBC – The birds of Shakspeare cause US trouble
Bear Yuba Land Trust – Bird Banding with Allison Nelson
California Bluebird Recovery Program
Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Educators Guide to Next Boxes
Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Nest Watch – national nest monitoring program
Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Western Bluebird
Ebird – Western Bluebird Identification & Call recording
Ebird – Western Bluebird Range Map
The Hatching Cat – 1853: The English House Sparrows Who Took Up House and Hotel in Manhattan
iNaturalist – About Western Bluebird
iNaturalist – Nevada County Western Bluebird Observations
North American Bluebird Society
North American Bluebird Society – Getting Started with Bluebirds PDF
San Diego Tribune – Bluebirds of Happiness keep local resident enchanted
Sailas.org – Bluebird Nest Box Style Pros & Cons
Wild Birds Unlimited (Grass Valley, CA)
Wikipedia – Bluebird of Happiness
Wikipedia – Western Bluebird

More Bluebird Videos:

Male Song

https://youtu.be/Gyg432CPme4

Eastern Bluebird – Brain Study – Male/Female Song Area

https://youtu.be/-_7SE1a8MHg

Making of Bluebirdman

https://youtu.be/QGhmD7X-4KA?t=16

Bluebirds in Popular Culture:

From Red Dead Redemption 2 to the Wizard of Oz, Sesame Street’s Big Bird, Niel Young, and Native American folklore the bluebird makes consistent appearances in American popular culture. It has also shown up in  as well as in ancient Chinese, Japanese, Native American and European folklore, the bluebird has symbolized hope, happiness, protection and change.
The symbol of a bluebird as the harbinger of happiness is found in many cultures and may date back thousands of years.

https://youtu.be/1HRa4X07jdE
https://youtu.be/WUKfQIyd-V4
https://youtu.be/yKHY8MXgiz0

 

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