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It’s in your nature: Eastern bluebird readiness

I’m not trying to rush spring, but I bet a few of you wish I could move it along quicker.

Birds though, do notice its approach and the lengthening daylight is their key.

As the photoperiod lengthens, male birds internally are cued by the increasing amounts of hormones. They can’t help it. This is what spurs them to begin singing and in many cases, to move northward to their breeding areas.

Not all of our bluebirds migrate. I’ve seen small groups of bluebirds on and off most of past few months in East Penn Township, around Beltzville State Park, Franklin Township, and at my Northern Lehigh area home.

The well above average January temperatures even had a male, trying to push the season by flying between the nest boxes in the yard, and even singing. Although his rendition was a bit rusty.

If you haven’t built or purchased your nest boxes yet, it’s time to get going. Males will be selecting their territories shortly and “singing their heads off” doing their best to keep their previous mate or to entice a new arriving female. If building your own nest box, either make the roof or one side removable to facilitate cleaning it. The nest box opening needs to be 1½ inches in diameter.

Place it on a post or pipe about 4 to 6 feet off the ground. It can’t be left hanging from wires like a wren box. Face the opening to the southeast. I like to use galvanized pipes, threaded to fit into a pipe flange fastened to the box bottom.

Remember, like robins, most bluebirds have second broods so if you know when the first nest of young fledges, you can clean the nest box out removing some of the parasites that might remain there. If not, empty the box out in autumn for a special reason.

A gentleman who reads my column and friend, Al Miskevish, is an avid protector and bluebird conservationist. Al has a number of boxes on his property (some pasture area with fence posts), ideal conditions for bluebirds and it brings results. In addition, he has one box that is used all winter by bluebirds each evening for roosting.

Al, regularly from either his front porch or family room window, watches the evening nature show. About a half-hour before dark, bluebird after bluebird slip into the box for the night. Currently, eight of them.

Finally, about 5 minutes later, a lone male enters to fill the box with 9 roosting birds. They do this communal roosting of course to share body heat and conserve valuable energy. Winter is not the easiest season to find enough food to stay warm.

Bluebirds, like most thrushes primarily eat insects. Even on warmer winter days I watch bluebirds dropping to the ground to snatch up a few “bugs.” However, they do eat berries, and it may surprise you, the red seed clusters of staghorn sumacs are excellent winter foods.

Al goes another “rung higher.” Waiting until at least midday, he places a used tuna can on one of the fence posts and supplies a buffet of meal worms for them. By waiting until later in the day, less starlings and crows steal the bluebird’s intended food.

So, get those boxes ready, maybe ask a neighbor who has good habitat and erect another box or two. You won’t miss the bluebird’s company. Thanks, Al, for all you do for the beautiful bluebirds.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: True/False. You don’t see the birds entering your boxes, but when you lift the roof, the nest is lined with feathers, then you know it is a bluebird nest for sure.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: A female Pennsylvania black bear, on average, has three cubs.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

Remember, your bluebird box should not have a perch, have a 1½-inch opening, and my preference, is to place it on a galvanized pipe - harder for predators to climb.
Your boxes not used by nesting bluebirds may be utilized by tree swallows. They'll arrive here in about 5 weeks; another reason to get your bluebirds erected soon.
The male bluebird is still beautiful in fall. I like to have a few flowering crabapple trees in the lawn. As fall and winter approach, the drying fruits are craved by bluebirds, robins, mockingbirds, and unfortunately, starlings. BARRY REED PHOTOS
Besides enjoying the bluebird's beauty and singing, they feed mostly on insects in spring, summer and autumn. Here a female eastern bluebird returns to feed her young with a grub, maybe from your lawn.