Bird Drama

A Bluebird Update

"Landscape," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache

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.

"Bluebird Houses," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2016

“Bluebird Houses,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2016

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.

"Bird Drama," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2016

“Bird Drama,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2016

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.

"Bluebird on a Fence," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015

“Bluebird on a Fence,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015

14 thoughts on “Bird Drama

  1. Nancy

    Wonderful! How exciting. Love the bluebirds. We have had marvelous bird viewing this spring here. Don’t get the swallows, though. But stately red breasted grosbeaks, all kinds of woodpeckers, and finches and cardinals. We had fun this year putting out mealworms for the bluebirds. They loved them and eagerly came to feed.
    Also loved your drawings, Carol. I could picture being at your house and looking out the window or sitting on the porch watching the bird houses.
    Thanks for the new blog!

  2. Netzy

    Hi Carol, beautiful and fun paintings! You used a new word to me – kerfuffles – wonderful way that word tickles my mouth and imagination.

  3. Margaret Campion

    What a jolt of joy I get when I see you in my inbox, CCB! Hooray!
    Ahhh …. bird drama … We know it well.
    The bluebird house just (barely) off our back deck has 2 or 3 clutches of bluebird eggs each season. We are on #2 right now. And … I say “eggs” because they do not ALWAYS manage to hatch and … if they do, it now seems to me pure luck (as well as a black snake hunting profitably elsewhere) when they successfully fledge. It was several years ago when I first looked out the window to check on the bluebirds and saw, not the head of the blue bird Momma, but the head of the black snake snaking out of the hole. I – WAS – HORRIFIED and yelled for Ed: “THERE’S A SNAKE IN THE HOUSE! THERE’S A SNAKE IN THE HOUSE!” He came running up the basement stairs, armed, looking everywhere for the snake. It took us both several beats before I realized that he thought it was OUR house and he realized that I meant the BIRD house. There was nothing to do, though. All was already done. The snake couldn’t actually get OUT on his own. He (maybe she, I suppose, but – ugh – it’s even worse to imagine eating another mom’s babies) was more “bulgy” than when he’d entered, so after we calmed down “we” (Ed) opened the house and cleared him out. Traumatic. It really was. But now, nearly 10 years removed, I have much more equanimity about it all. I love our black snakes, too. (Among other things they eat mice and copperheads and I really do NOT want copperheads around), so I carry on, as the bluebirds do. 48 hours after one nest has been cleared out, they are building another. Life goes on. And I’m grateful for the events that give my heart the occasional rush.
    Thank you, Carol! For the story and for the paintings of beloved Whirlwind Hill, and to Kirt for sending the update. I wish them well!!

    1. Carol Post author

      You REALLY had nature running wild in your yard! Seeing a snake in one of the birdhouses would wake up some kind of primal terror in me! I haven’t seen a snake anywhere on or near Whirlwind Hill for years. They used to be everywhere. And you sound like you’re having wonderful luck with your bird families this year.

  4. john crump

    Living in Colorful Colorado we are blessed with an abundance of birds. A joy to watch every year. Reading the comments we did one year have a bird box on a tree, a snake took care of that.

  5. vagabonde

    I love your bird story and the drawings accompanying it. Bluebirds are so cute. I do not see them often around here, so when I do I remember it. We saw a pair of them by the lake next door a while back. In our back yard we saw one last spring. We do have so many birds though coming to our bird feeders – cardinals, blue jays, yellow finches, purple finches, black hat chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, red-bellied woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers, wrens, mourning doves, brown thrashers, Eastern Phoebe, warblers and more that I don’t know the names. My husband can spend hours watching them flying around in our backyard. I keep the feeders full of seeds so that the birds will keep coming.


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