Bluebirds in Pennsylvania
Barbara Dunn is a Birds & Blooms field editor based in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. She has been watching—and photographing—eastern bluebirds in her backyard for over 10 years.
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Out with the OLD and in with the NEW!
June 28, 2007
This will be my last diary entry for the Birds & Blooms
site. I hear they'll be starting a new blogger next week from a man in Ohio who teaches people to hand-feed hummingbirds. If you'd like to continue reading about my bluebirds and lots of other birds I enjoy photographing, I invite you to drop by my blog
for a visit anytime. Here's one last entry from my backyard...
The young bluebirds come for mealworms occasionally, but Mom and Dad are tough on them. For their own good, they need to be independent. At times, the parents actually knock the little guys right off of the feeder. It's comical. I know a few humans who should be so smart!
Another reason for this "tough love" might be the NEW babies!
Aren't they hilarious? The baby in the shot below looks like one of the "Three Stooges" (for those of you who are OLD enough to remember). This one is Larry, I think. But I love the way the fragile, tiny thing is cuddled against the eggs, truly bonding with it's future siblings!
Last night the others were born and the cycle of life begins once more.
I never tire of the joy and beauty the bluebirds bring to my life. And I hope those of you who took the time to drop by and read my diary enjoyed them too!
They really are my 'True Blue Friends'! I'm signing off. Thanks and happy bluebirding!
Don't forget to check out my blog!
Baby bluebird visits begin to dwindle...
June 27, 2007
The last time I saw all three bluebird babies together was on Wednesday, June 20.
Dad seemed to be giving them lessons and scolding them when they didn't pay attention.
Then only two babies would show up for handouts.
And lately I'm seeing only one baby at a time or NO babies at all...just the parents.
All good things come to an end and I suspect these little ones are finding their own way in the big wide world that is before them. I miss their sweet little purr-like calling.
But there is a nest box full of HOPE just behind my feeding station in the yard. Stay tuned!
Havin' a little bluebird fun...
June 21, 2007
The bluebirds have been off in the fields teaching the babies to catch bugs. Mom and Dad allow them to indulge in the mealworms much less than before. After all...there are eggs that will be hatching before you know it.
It was a lovely morning and the 'sundrops' were in full bloom. I decided to pick a few and take some pictures with an old birdhouse I have. Dad drops down first to check out the new setup.
Then Mom joins him for breakfast—oh, how beautiful they are!
Two of the babies fly down to investigate, but their visit was short lived. The parents shoo-ed them away almost as quickly as they arrived! So funny to watch them.
Last night, Dad had all three at the watering can feeder and they were just darling. The two little ones waited for their turn at the worms. I just love how chubby and fluffy they look. And their expressions? Priceless!
I shot an even better "family portrait,' too. Yippee!
I'll sure hate to see them leave the yard and start new families of their own. Gee...I'll be the one with the 'empty nest syndrome'! I think mom and dad bluebird will probably collapse from exhaustion.
Mealworms are truly an amazing staple to have on hand!
June 18th, 2007
I was bored so I decided to try and get a picture of my bluebirds on my ancient Underwood typewriter. The trouble with these kinds of setups is...where do you put the worms so they don't RUIN the picture? Would you believe I picked up one end of the ribbon and there was a small tray that was just right? They went for it!
Then I saw them land on my tripod and put a couple of worms there. They kept landing in that spot all day looking, as if to say, "Now I know there were mealworms here earlier today!"
But what is truly amazing? You NEVER know what birds will decide to befriend you for a regular meal. My sister, Jan, lives in North Carolina and I got her hooked on the fun. Was I surprised (and a tad jealous) when she started sending me pictures of her red-headed woodpecker!
He comes to any setup she puts out, as well! Who would have ever thought this elusive bird would do this? My sister has red hair, too. Maybe that has something to do with it?
The moral of the story? Get those mealworms going and experiment! You may get a surprise that will blow you away!
The Babies are Finally Coming Close!
June 17th, 2007
Feeding time is always a frenzy. The young bluebirds are nothing short of demanding little gluttons. Mom is sitting on her four eggs most of the time and Dad is dividing his time between her and the three hungry kids. Often there are four or five fledglings that make it and the parents are just run ragged!
I'm always surprised at how many mealworms Dad puts in their mouth at one time. And I wonder how they survive without this luxury—getting only one insect at a time.
The entire weekend Dad got a workout. Mom helped very little. And each time I checked the nest box, she flew immediately to the closest branch to watch me.
Since the babies are flying right to the fence next to my house now, I thought I would try to get them down to one of my photo setups. One of the little guys landed on top of the angel wing and looked down to see a chipping sparrow into the worms.
He finally threw caution to the wind and came down for the first time to eat directly from the source. Dad wasn't all too thrilled. The parents get annoyed when the youngsters begin to get a mind of their own a little too soon.
June 15, 2007
Do you know how excited I was when I looked up and saw the whole family of bluebirds on ONE branch? That just never happens. Well, they were almost all on the same branch. There's a dreamer in every family that marches to their own drum, even in the bird world. Too bad the light was so strong in the background. But at least I got all of them in one picture!
The dreamer flew away and then there were four...
Then I brought out the 'goodies' and Dad got down to business. He gets the worms and flies to a place he thinks is safe and all three kids follow him to that branch.
After a few feedings, one brave baby flies to another branch and Dad hides behind the flowers with a beak full of tempting, wiggly, mealworms. Baby is intent on getting a belly full!
Mom is getting in on the action a little more now. Maybe she's finished laying eggs. But then again, she'll have to SIT on them, too.
June 12, 2007
Mornings are my favorite time to catch birds in action. They are busy and the light—though still a challenge when shooting birds in the trees—is usually quite good. Well, this little gal seemed to be sleeping. Imagine that? Not really—she just blinked her eye and I happened to catch it!
But I was very surprised when I glanced up to the top of the tree and there was an eastern kingbird with a baby! I rarely see them since they don't come to feeders and they don't bother with the suet. Once in a while I see them on the fence hunting for bugs. And to think...they even posed for me among the Catalpa blossoms. I was lucky to have my camera settings right for the bright sun!
Further on down the tree, there was Daddy bluebird hard at work feeding one baby while the other is looking up as if to say, "Hey! When is it my turn?"
The babies eat so much and the parents work so hard to feed and nest that it isn't long until the babies appear larger than the Mom and Dad. Look how big this baby's head is! Looks like it might swallow the Dad whole!
They just never seem to get filled up. With a mouthful of worms, the little glutton is still trying to get that one dangling from Dad's bill.
There are now three eggs in the nest box, and Mom is still keeping a low profile. Poor Dad is feeding her, too.
Double Duty for Daddy Bluebird
June 11, 2007
Dad worked double shifts the entire weekend. On Saturday I rarely saw Mom help with the feeding at all. The baby blues are starting to come to branches that are closer now but the three of them are still separated.
Wow! It's tough to get pictures. You have to follow Dad with the camera and try to figure out which baby he will feed and where that baby will be! They change branches constantly! I'll be happy when they all sit together.
It's so funny to see how impatient they are when the other is getting fed. It won't be long until they start to fight for food on the same branch. The bluebird below can hardly stand watching and waiting. "Ok, Dad...any time now!"
You can see the blue on the wing and tail feathers when the sun is shining, but if you weren't familiar with bluebird fledglings, I doubt you would even know they were bluebirds since they have so little color.
When I checked the new nest box, I could see why Mom wasn't around much. She was busy laying eggs—two so far! A bluebird's work is never done. It will be a long time before they get a break. I guess Mom was pulling double duty as well!
Keep 'Em Coming
June 7, 2007
I'm starting to see the babies more and more. Mom and Dad are still coming for mealworms as many times as I decide to offer them. The best time for photographing them, is after they've fed the babies a few times. They begin to relax a bit.
The babies are still separated and high in the trees. Since most of the blue is on the back and they are gray on their heads and chest, when they crouch on a limb you can barely see them!
This picture is a crop of the one above. When I was taking the picture, I couldn't tell if this was in fact a bird! The sky was so bright and it was dark under the tree!
I got lucky later in the day and caught a baby out on a limb for a change...
They are vulnerable out there and when Dad realized I was taking pictures. He got there as fast as he could and made sure the baby turned away from me. The worm in Dad's mouth helps—the babies will turn in any direction when the food is dangling in front of them!
These are the toughest pictures to expose, when the camera is pointing to the bright sky there is too much contrast and no matter what settings I use I'm lucky to get any decent pictures.
It won't be long until the babies have a mind of their own and follow their parents down to my setup for worms. I can't wait&mdahs;that's when the fun begins!
I Found ONE!
...More from June 4, 2007
I was determined to find the little buggers this morning, so each time I fed Mom and Dad I tried to follow them. I could tell that they moved the babies closer but still way up under the leaves. Not more than twenty minutes ago I finally found a baby. When they get older they are quite noisy so it's easy to find them...but for now, I think they've been instructed to shut-up!
I had to wait for the wind to blow the leaves so I could get a shot and even then I couldn't get the whole bird. This mom must know I'm doing a blog, therefore making it more difficult at every turn. She dive-bombs me each time I try to look in the nest box (even the empty one). And she hid all three birds in different trees!
Last year I had a ball photographing the babies. And though the parents always hide them in trees, some are just more easy going than others, I suppose. Maybe Mom and Dad will soon lighten up. I hope so.
Come out, come out wherever you are!
June 4, 2007
Still no babies in sight. I can hear their soft purr-like calls, but when I try to find them I just see Mom staring at me from high up in a tree. She cocks her head as if to say, "Just gimme the mealworms".
Mom and Dad come more often then ever to feed the demanding little fledglings...so I have lots of photo ops. I like to experiment with the flowers that are blooming in my garden. The peonies are so big the birds landed right on them.
I think the yellow daylilies might look better without the purple iris, but the blue in bluebird always looks beautiful!
And guess what? I cleaned out the old nest box and found egg number four still in tact. I noticed Mama bluebird sitting on the empty box that she spent so much time defending. When I looked in, I found a brand new nest—completely finished!
In the meantime I'm off to hunt fat little fledglings high up in the trees!
May 31, 2007
I was in the blind watching the nest box. No sooner did Dad feed the babies (which I haven't seen for a couple of days) and get out of the box, when one of the little blues poked it's head up.
How funny to see that little head there instead of the adults. Suddenly he just leaned out about as far as he could without flying and I knew— this might be the last time I saw them in the nest box. Certainly looked as if this one was the oldest!
I think they must stand on top of each other to get up to the hole and peek out. After a bit, this little fella appeared and he looked out of breath. I'm thinking this is the 'runt'.
You can't really see much blue at this point—mostly gray—but there is blue in the wing feathers.
I checked again later in the afternoon. GONE! As soon as they are out, the parents whisk them away to what I call the "fledging tree." This is where they learn survival basics. It is usually difficult to get pictures of them for at least a few days or more. Mom & Dad like to keep them hidden in the leaves from possible predators.
Now I feed them from afar and look forward to the babies coming with mom and dad for mealworms soon!
What is it about my yard and CATS?!?
May 29, 2007
I was playing around with a new setup, and the bluebirds were posing their little hearts out!
Take time to smell the flowers, Ms. Bluebird. You're so busy these days, feeding the babies.
This was a really neat shot—the male flying, the female posing on the cup and the sparrow on the walk below!
And what a surprise to see the chipping sparrow FLY right through the scene!
But the REAL surprise is when I noticed the CAT observing my photo shoot! Geesh—it looks like the same darn cat I just got rid of.
I guess you can figure that I gave it a little , "SHOO!!!" Me thinks the little fur ball was about to have 'feathers for lunch'!
Some things don't change...
May 29, 2007
When I checked the nest box today, the door was actually open at the bottom. I knew I had to do something to keep it closed or it wouldn't be long until the chubby little bluebird babies would fall out. So I taped it shut and got this one last picture. They are so BIG!
Some things don't change. The tree swallows are still tormenting. Trying to look in the box and flying by often to see if the box is available...I guess.
The robin still uses the nest box as a perch to rest between feeding babies and looking for worms.
Mama is still making a million trips a day in an out of the box to feed her growing children...
...and Dad is helping with clean up duty. It won't be long until I see the kids peeking out through the hole!
Who Would Have Thought?
May 25, 2007
The bluebird babies are getting huge, and the nest box door stays closed with only the power of a small magnet. I refuse to open the box again unless there is an emergency. The little darlings may fall out too soon. So no more pictures from inside the box. Bummer.
Not much going on with the bluebirds except the regular routine of feeding and cleaning. This is always the best time to take pictures. As long as they can watch me...the pair will take mealworms from almost any location. Hubby planted this old snag for me in a flower bed close to the house. I've been feeding Mr. and Ms. Bluebird there on and off since April.
The other day I heard the beautiful song of an oriole and decided to put an orange on top of the snag. To my utter amazement-, I looked out the window to see both the male and female oriole sipping orange juice. WOW! This was the single most exciting event that has happened in my backyard since I got my first bluebird nest. And then I thought— maybe they will like oranges as much as the bluebirds like mealworms.
I was playing around with some different photo setups that I use for greeting cards. The bluebirds look so nice against the white of my garden angel . Hmm...I bet the orioles would look gorgeous as well.
Who would have ever thought that orioles would go anywhere for oranges? Certainly not me! I've been trying to get them close for years and never had ANY takers. First the female came—she seems to be the brave one.
Then the male came. He was very nervous and kept looking at her face, but after a few times, he just hopped up and enjoyed the sweet treat. Does it get any better than this? Bluebirds and orioles hanging out in my yard and waiting for hand outs from me!
No parenting classes needed here!
May 21, 2007
It's been cold enough that the furnace kicks on at night. Mama sits outside the kitchen watching my every move—hoping I'll notice her and get those mealworms out ASAP! She looks as fluffy as she did in March....trying to stay warm.
The babies have grown so much in just a few days. A little bit of down on their heads and pin feathers are already looking blue. And their eyes are starting to look like they match their heads! I took an umbrella with me to take the picture of the them. Mama didn't bother me.
There is no evidence now of the fourth egg—must have been a dud. I read somewhere that the bluebirds will often bury an egg deep in the nest if it's a dud or take it out of the nest box. Some people take the duds out, but I'm just going to let nature take its course.
Mom and Dad are so busy. They see themselves coming and going! They share equally in the feeding and the cleaning. That makes it even more fun to observe their super parenting skills.
One thing about bluebirds—they keep a CLEAN house! That's just one more reason to love them.
Mama is on diaper duty, but Dad is never bothered by a little "doo doo," and he always does his fair share.
Mom has the jitters
May 17, 2007
Those tree swallows just won't take “NO” for an answer, and they never shut up. They want in this nest box and that's all there is to it. I've never seen such 'gutsy' and demonstrative birds.
But Mama bluebird won't have it—she leaves the babies and clings to this box as if she owns it.
Well...the fights are on! The tree swallow attacks from behind, and they engage in a battle that has me holding my breath. I've never seen Mama blue so upset. She sure doesn't need this aggravation while she's raising babies.
I couldn't stand it a minute longer and finally had to do an intervention. It worked, and the two little tree swallows sat on the open next box a bit bewildered.
Thanks goodness for Dad. He fed the babies during the "show down." I tried several times to get a picture of the nestlings and especially to see if the fourth egg hatched, but Mom has the jitters and literally dive bombs me each time I try! Maybe this weekend when hubby is home to help me.
Moral of the story: Never put your nest boxes too close.
As soon as these bluebirds fledge, I'm putting this box elsewhere!
One Busy Bluebird Weekend...
May 14, 2007
I'm happy to announce that Mr. & Ms. Bluebird are the proud parents of three healthy baby bluebirds—so far!
Saturday morning I checked the nest box and found one egg hatched. Later that afternoon, another egg hatched. Welcome to the world little bluebirds!
Today, both birds were watching over the nest box when I looked out around 7:00 AM. I decided to deliver a gourmet breakfast right to their door. It was cold out last night with expected frost in our area. I knew they would appreciate some help.
The fourth egg is still in tact...BUT...We're still holding out for number four to hatch!
Quiet on the Home Front
May 11, 2007
For the most part, it's been quiet at the nest box. Mama stays close to home and when she's not warming eggs, she sits in a neighboring tree where she can see everything. Sometimes, the pair goes bug hunting together, but only for short periods.
Yesterday I went out to check the eggs and there on a limb directly above and to the right of the nest box was a napping squirrel. The bluebirds were visibly upset. I watched as they “stormed” the critter in a flurry of flapping wings. Each time the squirrel climbed a few feet they repeated their attack. In my years observing bluebirds, I've never heard them make this peculiar 'clicking' noise. It wasn't really loud, but together with their frantic wing flapping, it was very effective. The squirrel retreated rather quickly!
While my female is totally wrapped-up in the nesting process, I have fun luring the male close for pictures. When conditions are right for a fast shutter speed, it's a challenge to freeze Mr. Bluebird's action. For these pictures, I set my camera on continuous shooting (burst mode) and caught him in mid air. Next, I get him with his wings out, about to land. Sometimes it's hard to focus during this kind of movement. It's so exciting! And there he is, sitting pretty as a picture! Getting birds to come close is the easiest way to get good pictures. Sometimes I spend hours just trying to catch the bluebirds flying. It won't be long until the eggs hatch. These things happen so fast when you aren't waiting!
It all comes with the territory...
May 7, 2007
While my expectant mother spends a lot of her time in the nest box sitting on four eggs - her man is busy delivering meals and defending the territory. He is like a little blue 'Superman'!
It got cold enough to turn the furnace on this weekend. When that happens, mealworms become a precious commodity. Sometimes it seems like Mr. Bluebird is run ragged. He is watching over Ms. Bluebird, defending the feeder and the nest box. But I know when the kids come—it really gets crazy!
A few weeks ago, I noticed a chickadee carefully observing my bluebird feeding routine. I decided to stretch out my arm and offer the little cutiepie a snack. To my surprise he hopped right onto my hand! I was excited. The bluebirds were not. There is also a nuthatch and a chipping sparrow that come for a free handout. They watch for any stray worms that either wiggle off the feeder to the ground or are dropped by the bluebirds.
Not only is my pair of bluebirds defending the nest box they occupy, but they are vehemently defending their OLD nest box. The tree swallows give it a go nearly every day‐but the bluebirds won't budge. Must be that the boxes are too close?
Earlier in the spring, I watched them chase off another pair of bluebirds (darn).
Trouble in Paradise...
May 2, 2007
This is the first year that my bluebirds actually come right to the door for breakfast every morning. It started when it was so cold and snowy—I just put the whole container of mealworms right outside the door. But I normally just offer them a few worms in a small tea bag holder. It works out nicely to have my seed feeders in the front yard. That way, I can feed mealworms in the backyard without the other birds taking notice. Aren't they cute?
Imagine my surprise when I looked out to see Mr. & Ms. Bluebird and instead I see a CAT! We don't have a cat! But there it was laying right next to the 'bluebird' feeder!
Someone must have decided they didn't want a cat anymore and dropped it off on our country road. How sad is that?
Now I'm worried. I'm wondering if the cat already had a 'bluebird breakfast' when my little friends came for their handouts? I quickly made my way to the nest box . As I got close, I saw Ms. Bluebird peeking out the hole. Oh, happy day! Was I glad to see her.
So now I had to get creative since I couldn't offer the mealworms in the usual way and place. I have a teacup feeder that I made a few years ago that mounts on a copper pipe. I filled it with mealworms and called, "Here bluebird, whoop, whoop!" He posed for a nice spring picture and I got a chance to try out my new camera.
And a happy ending to a nerve racking few days. My best friend gave the cat a new home and there are now FOUR eggs in the nest box. I'm still hoping for egg number five!
One Little, Two Little...EGGS!
April 26, 2007
Mr. & Ms. Bluebird have been working hard. I watch them as they make trips to and from the nest box and I wonder what it is they actually DO in there???
I've been checking the box daily—nothing changes—but yesterday I found the first egg! This afternoon I found the second egg. I'm hoping for five (which is the usual).
Mr. Bluebird is on "high alert" and his watchful eye doesn't seem to wander. When they first return—it is 'he' that is brave and carefree. The female is a bit skittish. As soon as the eggs arrive the male seems to know he is in 'protector mode'. Yes, male chivalry is alive and well! At least among my beloved bluebirds. In this picture, he waits and watches while she spends time in the nest box.
When they come to the deck for mealworms—he's in the background watching her.
You can almost see it on his face. "I will soon be a proud father."
The tree swallows have been tormenting a bit today. They land on the nest box pole and peek in the entrance hole. They'd love to steal the nest site and Mr. Bluebird is well aware that he must defend the territory.
Maybe tomorrow there will be more eggs!
The Newlyweds are House Hunting
April 24, 2007
Mr. Bluebird likes to "court" his lady by feeding her. It is so cute to watch. I haven't been able to catch it with my camera yet. You never know when he will eat the mealworm himself or try to impress his gal. She often waits in a tree or on the nest box and he feeds her there. So sweet!
House hunting is fun to watch. The couples act like an invisible Realtor is "showing" nest boxes. They try it out by sitting on top and flying in and out to see how the entrance works. They investigate every house on the property until they finally make a decision. Sometimes they start building in one box...stop...and start building again in another box. In this picture, Mr. Bluebird waits and keeps watch while his lady is checking out the inside of this nest box. I suspect she thinks the entrance hole is entirely too big. I can almost hear her saying, "We're not that desperate, honey!"
Mr. Bluebird likes this box."We've been building in this location for the last 5 years, with no problems," I imagine him saying. "I say we stick to this one. Besides, we've already got a nice nest started."
"Oh, but just look at the new design on this one!" she retorts. "It has such nice touches. Like the decorative roof and a dragonfly below the entrance to the front door. Let's move in!"
In the end, Ms. Priss gets her way. They work fast and furiously and the nest is finished...in the new box! Topped off with a feather. Nice touch.
Now we wait...for eggs.
Bluebirds in the Snow
April 16, 2007
My "true blue friends" came looking for mealworms while the snow was still on the ground.
The weather is crazy, as it often can be in Pennsylvania. It was warmer on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day than it was on Easter! We had frigid temperatures and a snowstorm on Easter Sunday.
But that makes for perfect conditions if you want to help the bluebirds. Those mealworms never looked so good and I know my bluebirds were thankful for a handout this spring!
When the pair first arrived, the deck was snow covered, so I put a plastic container in one of my baskets. I have a garden chair with a wooden birdhouse that sits on top-the birds like to have a place to perch and watch my every move. They know what is coming and they just wait patiently.
I always think they are young fledglings from the last brood-but maybe they just look younger when they are all puffy to stay warm. I love to take pictures of them when their feathers are fluffy like this.