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Bluebird survival is up to all of us

| Friday, May 27, 2005

I'm not a bird watcher unless standing in six inches of water in a goose blind can be considered one form of bird watching. Even if I don't spend any time checking the local birds, there are plenty of folks who are dedicated to this hobby.

For instance, bluebirds come to mind around this time of year.

A variety of organizations and clubs sell bluebird boxes. Why are we so interested in bluebirds'•

Well, for one thing, the rapid decline of bluebirds during the 1950s/60s throughout most of United States is of grave concern to all students of nature.

Few, if any birds, have been held in such high esteem since the day our forefathers set foot upon this side of the Atlantic.

For many decades, the bluebird was one of the most common birds that thrived around human beings. It's true that the bluebird has always been a symbol of love and happiness, and the true harbinger of spring.

Many robin fanciers will take issue on that statement, but it happens to be true.

According to “Blue Birds for Posterity,” outdoor fans who haven't witnessed the courtship of a bluebird pair when selecting their nesting site in the early spring have missed one of the most beautiful and appealing events in nature.

From a more practical standpoint the bluebird is a top insect eater. Except in the winter, the bluebird's diet consists mainly of a wide variety of insects, many of which are harmful to crops.

During the cold months, the bluebird's diet is mostly wild fruit. Cultivated fruits and crops rarely are eaten by bluebirds.

The bluebird is truly an All-American bird. Of the three species, one can be found in every state in the lower 48.

The Eastern Bluebird, the male of which has a bright blue back and rusty throat and breast, breeds in all states east of the Rocky Mountains and winters in the southern part of that area.

The Western Bluebird is similar to its eastern cousin but has a blue throat and the rusty color of its breast also appears on the upper part of its back.

The Mountain Bluebird is found in the mountainous areas of the West and is entirely blue except for its white belly.

The females of all three species resemble the males but are much duller in color.

The disappearance of the Eastern Bluebird is blamed partly on severe southern winters and bitter cold weather in the North when bluebirds are returning to the their nesting sites It is generally believed that pesticides could be a contributing factor to the bluebird's decline.

The scarcity of nesting sites may have an im-pact on the population. That's probably the reason for organizations and conservation agencies to sell bluebird boxes.

Bluebirds are pretty particular where they nest. Basically, they use cavities of some sort - tree cavities and bluebird boxes to name two.

The heavy demand for fire wood has reduced the dead tree population significantly.

Live trees do not have as many cavities as dead trees. Wood cutters should spare standing dead snags and trees that have visible cavities.

With a shortage of nesting sites, there is a good bit of competition. There are other birds that will steal the bluebird's box.

Keep an eye on your box to make sure only a bluebird is its resident.

(Don Lewis is a longtime outdoor writer for the Leader Times as well as other publications. He is also the author of several books. His column appears each Friday on the Armstrong Afield page in the Leader Times.)

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