Bluebirds: Harbingers of Happiness or Avian Wackos?
There was a time when I believed that having bluebirds raise their young in the nest boxes we put up would be the pinnacle of backyard birding. Who wouldn’t yearn for a daily glimpse of these feathered jewels? I wasn’t just seduced by their dazzling blue color, though; I also loved their rags to riches story. Bluebird populations declined in the 1960s and ‘70s due in part to bad-guy birds, namely house sparrows and European starlings, outcompeting them for nesting cavities. However, coordinated efforts to provide nest boxes have these beauties on the increase in North America. Conservationist that I am, I wanted to do my part, too. So, my husband, Wes, found bluebird nest box plans online and made several houses, which he put up in our backyard and the land we hunt in Georgia.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when we saw a courting pair during a weekend turkey hunt at our Peach State hang out. It was a textbook sighting, too. The male performed the “nest demonstration display” that I had read about. He made a big show of bringing nest material to the hole, going in and out of the box and fluttering his wings while perched above. It worked, too, because we saw a female shortly thereafter, who apparently didn’t know that was pretty much going to be his only contribution to nest building. She set about with the heavy lifting associated with avian housekeeping, and he kept her company with his melodious warbling. The best part, I was witnessing this bluebird miracle about 20 yards from our camper.
After a morning turkey hunt, I sat outside the camper and watched the bluebirds. A day or two after I first saw them, I noticed the male bluebird acting weird. He was perched on the bumper of Wes’s truck and pecking furiously at it. At first, I figured he was issuing last rights to some unlucky grasshopper he was preparing to eat. But then, I saw him attack the truck’s windows and mirrors. When he had a tiny “accident” that showed up as a splatter on the window, I admit to snickering a little, imagining Wes’s reaction to this bird fouling his pride and joy.
As I was fixing a snack in the camper that afternoon, I heard a tapping on the window and turned around to see the male bluebird clinging to the window’s edge. “Well, that’s neat, I thought. Now I can get an up close and personal look at him.” And I did just that, drinking in every moment of watching this nut alternate between catching insects and thumping the windows with his beak and wings. When I woke up to this racket the next morning, though, I had to admit the novelty was starting to wear off. By the following weekend, the incessant drumming was like woodpeckers gone wild, and Wes and I were both getting tired of it.
So I consulted the all knowing “Google” for answers and found this question posted on a birding forum:
Q: “I have a bluebird that has been relentlessly pecking at our windows for days! We can’t get it to stop. Please help!”
I was relieved at the prospect of finding a solution. However, like most wildlife issues, this one wasn’t easily solved. The expert explained that bluebirds are very territorial and the male aggressively defends his territory while the female tends to the nest. When bluebirds beat on the windows, they are reacting to what they perceive to be a rival bird. The only way to deal with this problem is eliminate the reflection. I can tell you right now, forget about closing the blinds. Doesn’t work. What we ended up doing was covering the outside of the windows with tarps, which ruined our view of the pond. The good news, according to the experts, was the behavior usually ceases once the female stops laying eggs. Still, I was hoping the bluebird boxes in our yard wouldn’t pass muster because I couldn’t imagine living in cave-like conditions while a nesting pair raised two or three broods throughout the summer. Luckily, my wishes were answered, and the only backyard residents were titmice, chickadees and a peace loving flying squirrel.
Once fall arrived, Wes and I trekked back down to our hunt camp in Georgia for deer season. We were immediately greeted by the charming mumbling song of the male bluebird and I was actually happy to hear it, now that nesting season was long past. However, by the next day, the male bluebird was back at it, banging on the windows like a madman.
Back home, bluebirds started showing up in our backyard as well, not to nest, but to drive the other birds stark raving bonkers. We have an owl box that is occupied several months out of the year by the cutest of all owls, the screech owl. And for whatever reason, two or three pairs of bluebirds will fly all around its nest box and rudely poke their heads into the entrance. I am astonished they have the guts to do this, because I have seen the screech owl, in a madcap swoop, snatch a cardinal for his/her evening meal. Frankly, I don’t think this owl cares if dinner comes packaged in red or blue.
Like Hollywood’s handsome bad boy movie stars, male bluebirds just cannot behave themselves. And like paparazzi, I can’t help stalking them to admire their beauty and be shocked by their behavior. So the answer to my original question is “yes.” Bluebirds are harbingers of happiness and most assuredly, avian wackos.