Busy, Busy Bluebirds
By Lauren Miller-Donnelly
Property Manager at Mass Audubon’s SouthCoast Sanctuaries
As the days in February grow longer, Eastern bluebirds are some of the first birds to locate a place to start a nest. The male bluebird is rich baby blue on the back with an orange-brown bordered white belly and the female is a bit drabber, but a blue hue can be detected.
Technically nesting can start as early as late winter, and the female does much of the nest box selection and the nest building. The male may help her gather thin materials usually pine needles or a bunch of grasses for her nest. She is in charge of a majority of the nest incubation, as well. Dad stays close the nest through the two week incubation period in order to keep her informed of any predators or possible threats from the outside, he also may feed her.
Once chicks have hatched, the male works double-time to provide insects to the growing chicks. Once they are able to keep warm on their own, mom can take part in the feeding and both parents remove all of the waste from the nest. If things go really well, the bluebird parents will be able to raise a second brood in one summer. Amazingly, the first brood fledglings have been known to participate with chick rearing.
Bluebirds at Allens Pond
One of the most common questions I get from people is “What type of habitat do bluebirds prefer?” In my experience, Eastern bluebirds like open habitats, areas with low grass, and a mix of perches from fence posts, tree branches, and powerlines.
At Allens Pond, we have been lucky enough to see several bluebird pairs raise young at Stone Barn Farm, a site that offers these features. Of course, the boxes offer homes to other native birds. Over half of the 70 or so boxes are occupied by tree swallows, shiny blue birds with white bellies that hunt and eat insects in the air.
If you want to see tens of swallows swooping across the fields this summer, take a walk along the grassland loop in mid-May where there is a 20-box line down the center of the fields. Right now tree swallows are making their way back north, some of them having wintered in Central America.
Join Us to Help Bluebirds
The bluebird box season starts now when we start cleaning out boxes and making new ones. On March 5, Allens Pond will host a program at the Stone Barn where participants can build, clean, and install bluebird boxes.
This year, we want to thank Gurneys Saw Mill in Lakeville for donating wood for our upcoming bird box projects. We’d also like to thank the Westport Local Cultural Council—a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency—for supporting the Junior Bird Club’s bluebird-focused programs on February 21 and March 21.