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Bluebirds of Happiness

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Celebrate National Bluebird of Happiness Day on September 24!

Bluebirds have been immortalized in myth and folklore since very early times.  The Chinese used them on bone inscriptions as far back as 1000 BC.  Native American folklore include the Cochiti tribe, where the firstborn son of the Sun was named Bluebird.  The Navajo tribe associate the morning sun with the mountain bluebird and sing the ‘Bluebird Song’ to ask tribe members to wake and greet the sun each morning.  In Russian fairy tales, the blue bird is a symbol of hope.   

In 1910, a stage play named The Blue Bird was inspired by an ancient story.  The play was then adapted into a children’s novel, an opera and at least seven films between 1910 and 2002.  There is a song, “Be Like the Bluebird” in the musical Anything Goes.  And we can never forget the lyrics “Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly” from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.   

All About Bluebirds

So, what is a bluebird?  They are also known as the blue robin or the blue redbreast.  There are three species in North America, the most common being the eastern bluebird which has a spread between Canada and Texas to Florida.  It is part of the group of birds known as a thrush.  It is about the same size as a sparrow and cousin of the robin.  The male has a blue back and a reddish chest.  The female is duller in color.  Bluebirds mate for life while both of the pair are alive.  Eastern bluebirds can live up to six to ten years.  They were once common in Ohio and known for their song back when the countryside was mostly small fields, pastures and orchards.  But farming has changed over the years; the small farms have been replaced by chemicals which reduce the number of insects available for birds to eat.  The starling and house sparrow populations have also increased which cause competition for the nest sites as well.   

Bluebirds hatch two to three families of young each year, from March through August.  They have more broods in southern climates than in northern parts of their breeding range.  The nest is made of grass and pine needles by the female.  She finds a cavity or crevasse to build the nest in, which might include a tree hole or a nest box.  She will lay three to six eggs, one per day, and incubates them for two weeks.  After that, both parents feed the young for about 18 days.  Then the male teaches the young to hunt insects while the female either rests or builds a new nest.  Bluebirds like to dwell in the holes left from woodpeckers in decaying trees that are two to twelve feet up off the ground. 

The bluebird eats insects and occasionally some fruits in the summer, and mostly fruits during the winter when they cannot find insects. 

Enemies of the bluebird include the house sparrow, which will destroy the bluebird eggs.  Raccoons, cats, opossums, fox, snakes and other large birds also eat bluebird eggs or young.  Parasites, including the blow fly larvae, greatly impact baby birds. 

Attracting Bluebirds

How do you go find a bluebird to watch?  They can best be found in an open area with short grass from which they can sit on a high perch and watch for insects.  They nest in dead trees, so you might find them there.   

To attract bluebirds to a feeder, put out meal worms, suet, sunflower hearts, soft fruit including apples and pears, or whole or diced raspberries and blackberries and even raisins in winter months.  They will also eat eggshells at times the female needs the extra calcium for her egg production.  A feeder designed specifically for bluebirds has a large roof and a small entrance hole.  There are many websites and books that will teach you how to build a bluebird house.   

Bluebirds are a delight to have in your yard.  They return the favor by keeping your yard free of insects! 

Further Reading About Bluebirds

What Bluebirds Do. Kirby, Pamela F. Honesdale, Pa.: Boyds Mills Press. 2009. J598.8 K631w

Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song. Beletsky, Les. Bellevue, Washington: Becker & Mayer Books, 2018. 598.072 Bele

The Big Book of Bird Houses & Bird Feeders. Boswell, Thom. New York: Sterling Pub. Co. 2004. 598.26 B657b2