We’re approaching one of my favorite times of year. It’s bluebird season! We currently have five bluebird boxes on our property. Last year, one was filled with bluebirds and the others were claimed by wrens, swallows, and other cavity nesters.
Now, as a responsible home owner, it’s time to clean them all out. House Wrens typically clean out their own boxes, but bluebirds depend on the landlord to take care of it. That means us. And it’s critical that the box get cleaned before the birds arrive and start to move in. That means now!
I haven’t been birding much this summer. Finding time was difficult since I’m now at least somewhat gainfully employed. What time I did have was spent learning new plants. I found myself staying up much too late to get up before dawn, especially around the midsummer solstice. Added to the hot weather, the hurdles seemed insurmountable.
The few times I did go out, I didn’t see many birds. Nests had been built, nestlings were demanding more and more food, and the poor birds didn’t have the time or inclination to sit on a branch and sing.
Maybe birding results from having a “collection gene.” (At least a bird collection—aka a “life list”—doesn’t take up any space on a shelf, and as a bonus, it never needs dusting.) I don’t just collect birds, I seem to also accumulate books. Like many birders I have a shelf full of delightful books, each chronicling the nature experiences of an author. From a Victorian lady’s garden journal to the a thin volume exploring the seasons of the north woods, I can immerse myself in the great outdoors from the comfort of my favorite chair.
I have to admit, however, that many of these books work equally well as sleeping pills. Reading detailed descriptions of the weeds on someone’s farm just doesn’t generate the page-turning anticipation of a good adventure story.
I just got back from my first birding conference—the annual Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Convention. This year it was held in Grand Junction, on the western slope of the Rockies. My friend Debbie (above) and I enjoyed three days of beak-geek heaven, plus a full day each way for the 5 hour drive from home. Sometimes life can be pretty sweet.
As a newbie attendee, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I had heard about the amazing field trip possibilities. After reading all the glowing descriptions on the conference website, I signed up for three outings, one a day. As far as the rest of the activities… well, I’d just have to wait and see.
While we’re still shoveling snow and scraping windshields, bluebirds are thinking about spring. Colorado has three species of bluebirds, Eastern, Western (seen here) and Mountain, and all of them are what birders call “early nesters.”
Why do they arrive here so early in the year? Maybe it’s because they don’t travel very far for the winter. While other kinds of thrushes migrate to central America, bluebirds tend to stick closer to home.
Bluebirds living in the southern parts of the United States stay there year-round. Western Bluebirds from harsher climates winter along the Pacific coast or in the dry scrubland of the Southwest and Mexico. A few stay in Colorado.
You see them everywhere… singing outside your bedroom window, eating squashed bugs off your car windshield, cleaning up spilled crumbs at sidewalk cafes. They mob bird feeders full of millet and take up space in nest boxes intended for other species. I’ve even found them in a tiny town in the middle of the Utah desert, miles from anything wet or green. One would think that House Sparrows are one of the most successful species ever to populate planet Earth.
Not closely related to North American sparrows, House Sparrows are relative newcomers to the Western Hemisphere. They were deliberately introduced during the latter half of the 19th century in repeated attempts to establish a breeding population in the U.S.
While the story is a bit foggy, apparently the birds were imported to eat insects that were damaging crops. If so, it was an egregious error. House Sparrows are primarily seed eaters, and according to one study, 78% of those seeds come from agricultural crops intended for livestock or human consumption.