A Rare Find — Bluebirds at a Feeder

by Barbara Walvoord

In last week’s column about what birds are eating at Lathrop these days, I asked whether anyone had seen bluebirds at their bird feeder.

Soon after, Adele Dowell sent me her photo of a bluebird (one of a pair), on her feeder on Cranberry Lane, facing the wet meadow.

This bluebird shouldn’t actually be here. According to the Cornell University ornithology website, Eastern bluebirds do not overwinter in Massachusetts. However, Sharon and I have seen many of them in the east campus fields as we snowshoe, so we know they’re sticking around. Climate change? The relatively warm climate of the Pioneer Valley (right now–not so much)? Our feeders helping them through the winter? Perhaps.

But Cornell research also shows that bluebirds seldom visit feeders. So what Adele caught is a rare bird.

In summer bluebirds eat mostly insects. They like to perch on a branch or pole, inspecting the ground, and then pouncing on unsuspecting bugs. But there aren’t many bugs in three feet of snow. In winter, bluebirds eat berries from plants like the native winterberry at the edges of our woods. When they come to feeders, they like suet with mealworms. Karen Clark’s bird bath drew a family of bluebirds last summer. See her Lamp Post article at https://lathropland.wordpress.com/?s=bluebirds

Where is our bluebird sheltering from this bitter cold and snow? In bluebird boxes or holes in trees. Bluebirds like Lathrop because trees for nesting are interspersed with our buggy fields.

Nancy and Herb Steeper’s bluebird houses on Huckleberry Lane used to have nesting bluebirds every year, but recently English sparrows have been driving out the bluebirds. Last summer, Sharon Grace and the Steepers worked on that problem. Stay tuned.

If our bluebird couple can survive this harsh winter, they will have a couple of broods in May and raise more bluebirds for us to enjoy. If we are responsible stewards of our land, our birds will have plenty of food, nesting sites, and an environment free of pesticides that destroy insects or make them into little poison pills.

You can hear bluebird song, view nests through a webcam, and read about bluebirds’ double-nesting habits, their responses to climate change, and the first recorded bluebird twins at the Cornell website: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/eastern_bluebird/id

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