The Bird's Blue!

Another guest blog post from Sawyer to enjoy!

It's that time of year again. The Western Bluebirds around my house are getting noisy. I hear and see them everywhere. I guess that's because we have their ideal habitat (open woodlands, farmlands, and burned areas), along with their ideal food (insects in the summer and berries and fruits in the winter). Their blue bellies and tails perfectly balance their chestnutty brown chests. Last week there were 15 or so hopping around the oak trees right outside my front door.
My mom and I love the western bluebird; sadly, it is declining in population. Here's why:

According to an article in the Scientific American, in the late 1800's, a group called the American Acclimatization Society was working to import every bird mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare into the United States. In 1890 and 1891, at least one hundred European Starlings were released in Central Park, in New York City, because Henry IV, Part I mentions a starling (Hotspur says, “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’”). Today, the starling can be found everywhere in the United States.
Where I live in California, clouds of starlings can be seen making spiral shapes in the sky as they hunt flying insects. Though interesting to watch, these large, iridescent birds are a menace to the Western Bluebird. They knock the eggs, or even chicks, out of the bluebird's nest and seize the nest for themselves. Because of this the bluebird population has gone down. But there is something people can do to help bluebirds: nesting boxes.

Female and male Western Bluebirds, photo by Kevin Cole.
The Western Bluebird nests in cavities such as small holes in a tree. They make nests out of dried grass, straw, and/or conifer needles. They will also nest in boxes, and nesting boxes are easy to make. What is special about them is the diameter of the hole: it is large enough for the bluebird to get through, but not the starling. These boxes are a simple way to help out the declining western bluebird population. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides blueprints for the easily built nestbox.  My dad and I are going to make one over winter break.

Bluebirds eat insects in summer. They will perch on a tree branch and wait for prey to walk by on the ground; then they swoop down to grab their meal. Sometimes they beat their larger prey against a tree before eating it. They switch to a diet of fruits and seeds in winter. Here also is a nice receipe for bluebirds from For the Birds, a book of recipes from Birds and Blooms.

Bluebird Miracle:

1 cup lard or melted beef suet
1 tsp. corn oil
4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour

In a large saucepan, melt the suet over low heat. Remove the pan from heat and stir the othe ingredients in. After mixture cools and becomes hard, cut into chunks and serve in a suet feeder or as slices on a tray feeder.

Yields: 2 large suet molds or 10 slices of suet

Who else out there is going to make a bluebird box?

Happy Birding,
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