A Bluebird Update
A recent newspaper article told about the removal of a popular “bird-cam” from an osprey nest. Viewers were outraged when the mother bird didn’t seem to be doing proper mothering. They demanded that someone take those baby birds away from the unfit mother and “raise them right.”
Interfering with Mother Nature is a hard call. Here in Alaska we had a governor who said, “You can’t just let nature run wild.” (This was not the same governor who could see Russia from her house.)
Nature did run a bit wild on my recent visit to Whirlwind Hill. My brother had put up some new bluebird houses, cleaned up the old ones, and was excited to tell me that the bluebirds had arrived. But when I looked through my binoculars, I saw he was mistaken. The birds on the house were tree swallows. Tree swallows have shiny blue backs, but the color blue does not necessarily a bluebird make. The male bluebird has a reddish breast, where the swallow’s is white. A swallow’s flight pattern is swooping and diving, and the bluebird’s is fluttering and dipping.
For the next week of my visit, my brother and I enjoyed monitoring the birds (swallows, sparrows, starlings, red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, finches, and one huge wild turkey) and their ongoing kerfuffles over feeder access and home ownership. We could see three equally occupation-ready birdhouses from the kitchen window, but all the birds wanted possession of the same one – the old house in the middle.
There was not a bluebird in sight. One morning, my mother’s sworn enemy, the English sparrow, ravaged the swallow’s nest in the popular house and then sat on top guarding his new property. A male sparrow will bond with a house before it bonds with a mate, and this particular sparrow had fallen in love with the swallow’s house and was not about to give it up. The next day some big starlings tried to drive away the little sparrow, only to be chased by red-winged blackbirds. A starling tried to squeeze into one of the new boxes, but after a while he lost interest. My brother chased away the sparrow. The swallows moved back in. Another sparrow showed up, but was routed by a larger group of swallows.
Then, one evening, I saw a bluebird. He sat on a limb of the dogwood tree in the puffy, peaceful way of a bluebird. And two days later we noticed that while our attention had been on the drama we could see from the window, the bluebird had quietly built a nest and installed his wife in a house far removed from the action. My brother confirmed that there were indeed eggs in the nest, and just yesterday told me that all was still going well for the bluebirds. We’re hopeful that the turf wars settle down, and that the bluebird and swallow babies will hatch and come back next spring to raise their own families.