Eastern Bluebird

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"How the waiting countryside thrills with joy when Bluebird brings us the first word of returning spring....Reflecting heaven from his back and the ground from his breast, he floats between sky and earth like the winged voice of Hope."

- W.L. Dawson. The Birds of Ohio, 1903.

Facts

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Scientific Name: Sialia sialis
Habitat: Grassy fields and roadsides with scattered trees; orchards; and short grass areas, such as golf courses and parks.
Adult Weight: 1-1.25 ounces
Adult Body Length: 6.5 - 7.5 inches
Nesting Period: March - August
Broods Per Year: 2
Clutch Size: 4-5, average
Life Expectancy: 1 - 2 years, average
Foods: Insects in summer, fruits and seeds in winter.

Notes

Bluebirds are cavity nesters, often moving into abandoned woodpecker holes. After the young leave the nest, the male teaches them to hunt for insects, while the female rests or begins to build a new nest. During the winter, many bluebirds may be found roosting together in order to keep warm.

History

Settlement

In the late 1700s, Moravian missionary, David Zeisberger, described the Eastern bluebird as having "...a reddish breast also, otherwise its color is a beautiful azure. It makes its appearance in spring before any other bird."

19th Century

Ohio's Eastern bluebird population expanded their range in the 19th century and were widely distributed by the end of the century. Severe and unexpected cold weather, as well as competition with other species for nesting cavities, caused bluebird numbers to change dramatically from year to year. In the spring of 1895, a sudden return of cold weather almost wiped out bluebirds in the Great Lake states and New England.

20th Century

With changes in farming practices during the 20th century, food and nesting sources for bluebirds decreased. There were fewer wooden fence rows, short grass pastures and animal manure in which insects breed. Pesticides and herbicides also eliminated the bluebird's diet.

As cities grew and nest trees were cut down, introduced species of birds, such as the English house sparrow and European starling began to compete with the bluebird for nesting areas. These more aggressive species forced the bluebird out of the area.

Severe winters in 1958-60 and 1976-78 caused a decline in populations. Although recovery is usually quick, it sometimes takes 3 - 6 years for bluebirds to recover after a severe drop in numbers.

Bluebirds are most common in southern and eastern counties. They are less common in areas with extensive farming, such as northwestern and west-central Ohio, where nesting cavities have been removed.

Today, there are groups such as the Ohio Bluebird Society, who are dedicated to encouraging the return of the Eastern bluebird in Ohio. One of their projects to provide proper habitat is the establishment of bluebird trails. These man-made nesting boxes are monitored regularly to eliminate competitive species that often force out nesting bluebirds.

See Also

References

  1. Hulbert, Archer B., and Schwarze, William N., eds. David Zeisberger's History of the North American Indians. Columbus, OH: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1910. 
  2. Peterjohn, John. The Birds of Ohio; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN; 1989.