April showers bring May flowers. April also brings on a flurry of activity in the bird world, with migrants returning to their nesting grounds for the breeding season, songbirds sounding off to attract mates, some birds molting their winter plumage and growing colorful breeding feathers, and birds of all kinds looking for the perfect spot to nest and raise a new family.
If you live in or have traveled through the eastern half of the United States, you may have spotted a beautiful flash of blue in the air or witnessed a pair of blue-backed birds with white bellies and orange breasts sitting on a wire as you drove down a country road. Sightings such as these are sure bring a smile your face…you must have seen a “bluebird of happiness!”
The Eastern Bluebird is a small thrush. (Members of the thrush family include the American Robin, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Wood Thrush and others.) The male of the species sports a bright blue coat, while the female’s blue is slightly duller (but still beautiful).
The female Eastern Bluebird is on the left, and male is on the right in this photo.
Eastern Bluebird male below and at the top of the page
Eastern Bluebirds like open areas, where they can sit on wires, fence posts or branches and look for insects. You may see them fly down to the ground from one of those perches, and return with a tasty cricket, spider or even a caterpillar! Eastern Bluebirds also enjoy fruits and berries, so you can also find them in trees that produce these morsels.
Bluebirds that nest in the northern part of their range migrate to the southeastern U.S. or Mexico in the wintertime, but those who nest in the southeastern U.S. are year-round residents or may move just a short distance south to over-winter.
This is one of my resident bluebirds who stays through the winter. Even a rare southeastern ice storm didn’t phase him.
Lots of people try to attract Eastern Bluebirds, and many people have invested in bluebird boxes in hopes of attracting nesting pairs. It is becoming more common to see nest boxes in parks and on golf courses.
If you do decide to put up a nest box, be sure to ask the experts at your bird store about proper placement and box maintenance. You can also learn how to maintain (and even make) a nest box at this informative website from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
My Eastern Bluebirds are perfectly fine with the freeze-dried worms for themselves. They do feed their young live prey, so you may want to have live worms during nest time.
Note: The bluebirds’ thrush cousin, American Robin, has learned that ground feeding under the meal worm dish is a great place to find free food in my yard! This bluebird shows how they sometimes really “get into” their worms!
My bluebirds are so used to coming to my yard for freeze-dried meal worms that they have also ventured out to the other feeders to try suet, fruits and even seed and peanut butter!
Challenge: Looking at the two photos above, of bluebirds on the suet feeder, can you tell which is the male and which is the female? See answer at bottom of page.
This Eastern Bluebird is trying out a seed and nut cake and some peanut butter!
Nesting: Eastern Bluebirds find cavities in trees (such as those left by woodpeckers) or use human-made nest boxes as the location for their nests. The male brings nesting materials, but the female takes on the duty of nest building, using pine straw and grasses.
Many Eastern Bluebird pairs successfully raise more than one brood (group of babies) per year. A bluebird clutch (set of eggs) typically has 2 – 7 eggs. The bluebird pair that occupies my nest box has raised three broods in one season.
Bluebird nests, like those of many other birds, are prone to predators who may raid the nest for eggs or young birds. Guards can be attached to the nest box posts to deter predators.
Can you see the baby peeking out of the nest box in this photo?
These two Eastern Bluebirds are fledglings (birds who have just left the nest). They have a lot to learn about the world, including how to feed themselves and how to protect themselves from predators.
Unfortunately, not all babies survive into adulthood, because there are many dangers as they are growing. This is one reason why it is a good thing that the parents can have more than one brood each year.
Eastern Bluebird parents bring insects to their babies in the nest and for a while after they fledge, until the babies learn to catch prey on their own.
In the photos below, you can see the parents bringing a variety of nutritious food to their young.
To learn more about these beautiful birds, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website dedicated to the Eastern Bluebird by clicking the link below. You can also find out how to put up nest boxes and how to report nesting activity at this informative website:
Challenge Answer: The female is in the left-hand photo on the suet feeder; the male (brighter blue) is in the right-hand photo.