The colorful and cheerful bluebird is often called the “Bluebird of Happiness.” Hearing their first spring song or seeing their bright blue bodies coming to land on a fence post is as joyful to me as having one land on my shoulder. They bring life to a landscape, and that’s the truth.

My mother's "Bluebird of Happiness," made by Ron Ray, 1994

My mother’s “Bluebird of Happiness,” made by Ron Ray, 1994

When I talked to my brother recently, he was sitting on the front steps of our house on Whirlwind Hill drinking a glass of wine and looking over the front yard to the reservoir. I asked why he wasn’t sitting out back on the deck, which is the usual place to relax on a late spring evening. He told me it was because of the bluebirds. They had returned, and he didn’t want to disturb them.

"View of the Reservoir," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 1992

“View of the Reservoir,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 1992

My mother, Janet Hall Crump, kept a pair of binoculars close by in winter when she sat at the kitchen table looking at the bird feeder and in summer as she enjoyed the peaceful view over the fields toward the ponds. She grew up watching birds and learning their habits, songs, and nesting patterns. In her later years she got more and more involved in the fluttering and tweeting world of her back yard. I know she was lonely much of the time, and for her the birds were cheerful, entertaining, and often dramatic neighbors.

Cousin Sue and Janet Crump sitting on the deck, spring, 2006

Cousin Sue and Janet Crump sitting on the deck, spring, 2006

In the 1980’s, when an effort to bring bluebirds back to the New England countryside caught her fancy, she joined the crusade. Because these birds like to nest near open fields, experts advised building nesting boxes to certain specifications in order to encourage the “good” bluebirds and discourage the “bad” imports – European starlings and English sparrows.

"Bluebird House without Bluebirds - Whirlwind Hill," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 1991

“Bluebird House without Bluebirds – Whirlwind Hill,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 1991

My mother had birdhouses built out in the fields along the fence line and around the horse ring. She read books, followed the directions for maintaining the nesting sites, and spent hours behind her binoculars watching and waiting. Her obsession led to many years of her giving and receiving bluebird-related greeting cards, gifts, and trinkets.

Bluebird book - gift from Janet Crump to Carol and Mara Bryner - paper cover made by Carol and Mara

Bluebird book – gift from Janet Crump to Carol and Mara Bryner – paper cover made by Carol and Mara

On a June day in 1992, my mom, my daughter Mara, and I drove to Cheshire, Connecticut to watch a “bluebird banding.” In a letter to a friend I wrote about that event:

June 23, 1992 – “I had wanted to draw a bluebird house. But the day got away from me. We were busy all day. Went at 12:30 to see a man band baby bluebirds – they are trying to bring bluebirds back to this area. We each held one (5 altogether) until he put them back into the nest. What a beautiful spot it was.” – Carol Crump Bryner

Bluebird banding, summer 1992

Bluebird banding, summer 1992

Determined to raise as many bluebird families as possible, my mother waged a one-woman war against the English sparrows. She was unabashedly anti-immigration as far as this bird species was concerned. Through her we got excited about the nest building, suffered through the waiting and hoping and watching, and then all too often received sad news about the dramatic destruction of the bluebirds’ nest, eggs, and babies.

When I was on Whirlwind Hill this spring I didn’t see a single bluebird. But after I left, my brother cleaned out one of the old nesting boxes, and shortly after that a bluebird family moved in. They built their nest, laid their eggs, and now it’s my brother’s turn to be the watcher. He tells me that Mr. Bluebird sits on top of the house all day long, guarding his potential offspring. We wish him well and hope that the children will come back year after year with their songs of happiness.

"View from the back yard - Whirlwind Hill," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and pencil, 1992

“View from the back yard – Whirlwind Hill,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and pencil, 1992


11 thoughts on “Bluebirds

  1. MIchael Foster

    Another great story, beautifully illustrated. I can picture your mother soaking in the calm and sense of peace that comes with being part of the natural world, away from most of the man made cacophony that we so often live with. That sense of well-being is what I miss most about Whirlwind. I don’t remember bluebirds around our house although my mother assures me they were there. I was startled a few years ago to see a flash of blue and then another of red on the rail trail near our current home. Two bluebirds landed in the tree in front of me and I was treated to their unique beauty. Your mother supported a worthy cause in fighting to bring them back. I am glad that there are birds returning to your fields.

    Jill has a glass blue bird from her mother very similar to the yours. It sits on the widow sill above the sink where we see it many times a day. Very satisfactual.

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks Mike. Yes, my mother did get so much peace from sitting out there looking back into her childhood, mentally and visually. I hadn’t realized that the little bluebird I brought from the Whirlwind Hill house was a “Bluebird of Happiness” until I saw the signature etched into the bottom and looked up the man’s name. I always learn something from writing these blog posts.

  2. Bonny Headley

    When I married in 1968, a glass bluebird was supposed to bring happiness, and we received one. I had forgotten about that tradition. I think my bluebird has flown to other perches. My mother was an avid birdwatcher, and we heard many times about how wonderful her ornithology professor had been. It was a lifelong interest, an example of education enriching life.

    A trip to Sapsucker Woods on the Cornell campus is an indelible childhood memory. It was my first experience of a boardwalk, long before I walked the boardwalks of village Alaska.

    Zip ah dee doo dah, indeed! Thanks for a wonderful Monday surprise! Each past is a treasure.

    Thanks, Carol

    1. Carol Post author

      Sorry your bluebird has “flown,” but I know there’s still much happiness in your life. Now that you’ll be on the east coast maybe you will see bluebirds – the ones not made of glass!

  3. Vagabonde

    What a lovely post! I like to watch bluebirds too – they come to our bird feeders once in a while but we mostly have blue jays. I can visualize your mother with her binoculars looking for the birds – birds are fascinating. My husband also can sit for a long time by the kitchen window looking at the 6 bird houses in our back yard, but the problem is that the squirrels come and eat all the seeds, even though we have squirrel guards, somehow they are acrobatic and can jump high onto the feeders. Your illustrations are lovely too.

  4. Pingback: Bird Drama | On Whirlwind Hill

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