Living with Bluebirds by Connie Darago
Vol. 9, No. 14
April 5-11, 2001
Current Issue
Living with Bluebirds
Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Burton on the Bay
Chesapeake Outdoors
Not Just for Kids
Good Bay Times
What's Playing Where
Music Notes
Sky Watch
Bay Classifieds
Behind Bay Weekly
Advertising Info
Distribution spots
Contact us
If you put up a bluebird house, chances are very good that bluebirds will come.

original painting by John Taylor
You might think it's a fierce Star Wars attack at first glance. Think again. These brilliant-colored creatures - six to seven inches long, weighing a couple of ounces - are only attacking invaders of their territory and nesting area.

It is, after all, their motherland. Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) do not migrate. Most young stay within a mile of their birthplace after leaving their nest. Some return to their parents' home to endure harsh winters, often crowding 15 or 20 into a box. If a severe winter persists, Maryland birds may fly a bit farther south to Virginia or North Carolina. Pennsylvania birds may move south and winter in Maryland boxes. All fly back to their homes to nest in early spring.

Bluebirds begin preparing their nests the first warm day of spring, as early as March. Building a nest of sticks and twigs lined with grass, hair or other soft material, they immediately start raising young. An average pair nests three times a year, producing about five eggs per nest.

The spunky bluebirds were all but lost in the late 1960s with the entry of the grackle into North America. Ninety percent of the bluebird population fell victim to starvation and evacuation as grackles ate their food, overtook their nestings and forced them into the deep woods where they had little protection from predators.

But thanks to humans who've provided support and shelter, bluebirds have a second chance. They're back and thriving in Bay country. Their numbers are again strong in back yards, on farms and along bluebird trails. In that success, bluebird houses play no small part.

He Built

I awoke to the sound of a whining table saw winding down. A familiar sound, but not on a Sunday morning. Snuggling deep under the covers, I hoped for more sleep. But it was not to be. The house echoed with the zinging sounds of the miter saw, humming of the sander and the rat-tat-tatting of a hammer. I gave up, got out of bed, dressed and went about my morning chores.

But the sounds continued and curiosity got the best of me. Eventually I headed for the makeshift workshop in the garage. As I opened the door and stepped inside, a redwood birdhouse caught my eye. Inspecting the fine specimen, I realized it was just the beginning. Pat was written on the front of the house. Carpenter-hubby George always wrote that mark when he made a pattern for building. A picture of a birdhouse rested beside the sleek, neat, perfectly built house, as did a set of hand-drawn blueprints. Stacks of redwood sat atop the workbench like a grand assembly line. It was clear this was the first of many to come.

George continued his work, gluing each piece before nailing with the tiny brads as I admired his masterpiece.

A large flat piece, complete with pre-drilled hole for hanging, served as the back. Sleek, narrow side pieces were nailed in place snug against the edge of the back. The angle-cut top sat securely on the slightly angled sides with an overhang to keep water away from the tiny round opening on the front panel. A square, flat bottom had removable screws for future cleaning. It was truly a work of art.

"What kind of houses are these?" I asked.

"Well, I hope the bluebird will like them," he answered. "I just read an article about the little guys and they seem intriguing."

"Why so many?" I pressed.

"We have plenty of room, and maybe we'll get birds in some of them," he replied.

Back upstairs, I continued with my day. The workshop stayed alive. Familiar sounds floated throughout the 100-foot-long house. Hours later, I went back for another peek.

The stacks of redwood had disappeared. Twenty-five beautiful houses sat ready to go.

But George insisted they weren't quite ready. So for days the shop hummed: after work, on weekends, until each and every one was smooth, splinter free and a true work of art. They lined the shelves, benches, corners and even the floor. Forty bluebird houses later, the shop quieted down.

Hubby beamed as he announced they were now ready. He strategically placed 10 about the yard, giving a bird's-eye view from every window in our ranch-style home.

They Came

The phrase "build it and they shall come" was an understatement. The birds seemed instinctively guided to the new houses. In a couple of days, bluebirds were dropping from the heavens like large raindrops in a spring downpour. They swooped and dove, circling houses - picking a home and mate at the same time. All were filled by week's end. The era of bluebird watching began at our house.

We were thrilled at the way our population grew. The yard was alive, and we compared each beautiful blue hue to another. It was comical to see an occasional wren try to take over a house. The wren would swoop in and take up residence in a house with no eggs in the nest. The bluebird hubby and wife would play a tag-team game to lure her out and then rush into the house, defending it from the wren. They would always win, and the wren would fly away.

Sharing the Wealth

Visitors to our house never left empty handed; for the remainder of the year the workshop hummed. Our houses and stories went to friends and far-away visitors. Most remained in Maryland. Prince Frederick, Waldorf, St. Leonard, Port Republic, White Plains, Sunderland and Calvert Cliffs State Park got their share, while others traveled to West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and North Dakota.

We told our story to those who left with a house in hand. Put the house up and they will come. It's fascinating to observe the tiny blue creature with strange living habits, we promised.

Others seemed to feel the same.

Photographer Michael Smith of Largo won money and fame when he set up a camera one cold February day in 1979. He wasn't trying to become famous; just take a photograph of a bluebird. As it turned out, the bird that perched on his fence wasn't just an ordinary bluebird, but a grumpy old dude - or so he appeared to humans in the photo, for at last count more than 102,000 signed prints of "The Mad Bluebird" have sold. Smith thinks the bird was only cold, causing his frown, but he says the photo just wouldn't have been the same had it been called the Cold Bluebird.

Will the bluebirds survive?

Certainly so - if humans continue to give them a home. Or, in George's case, 40 homes.

How to make a bluebird house:

Click on image to enlarge.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly