Sunday, October 26, 2008


What’s that song about blue birds?

(I’ll give you a moment here to remember it, if possible you are given permission to sing a line or two before continuing... How does it go... ‘there’s a...”)

Anyway, we have a lot of bluebirds out here. During the summer you can look at that electric line that crosses the field over by the barn and at any one time there are going to be four or so blue birds perched on it looking down for a tasty morsel.

And then I do have, I don’t know, half a dozen or so blue bird houses. But really, these were an after thought.

I put up my first blue bird house after I fixed the hole in the side of our house, the place under the eve in the kitchen I added on to the house twenty-five years ago. The place where with my expert English teacher carpentry I had left a hole big enough for a pair of bluebirds to claim as the site for a nest.

And they, or is it their descendants had been nesting there year after year ever since.

Or at least until we built a new kitchen

So when it came time for us to build a new kitchen the nesting spot was closed up, the kitchen turned into a utility room and the bluebirds forced to move on.

Which means I felt pretty guilty.

And I had come to enjoy watching the bluebirds comeback each spring, discover the hole in the house each year. Clean it out, collect new nesting material and begin the process anew of raising the next generation.

I don’t know how this thing works with bluebirds, whether it’s the same couple that returns each year and uses the same nesting site or whether the old couple has died from a fatal encounter with some neighborhood cat or out here a hawk or owl or clever bobcat.

But I was left to wonder if it is now the children raising a family, sort of like the couple in a small town growing old and eventually willing their home to their children who move in raise a family, grow old, etc, etc.

So what I did is planted a locust post out from the house right at the corner where the stone wall turns and after shopping around for bluebird houses nailed one on the post facing my office window.

(yes, I know, the book says the nest should face the open field. ‘Bluebirds like their nest boxes to face the field.’ They like to get up in the morning and look out across a field, sort of like humans that like to build their houses on the edge of lakes, or the ocean, so they can get up in the morning and look out across that expanse of water).

But I put the box facing the house so I coulde watch them, watch the male land on top of the post and then drop down into the nest box, at firs carrying a twig or leaf and then, once the babies had hatched with meal for the young ones.

But, I’m sorry this isn’t what I intended to write about at all. My intention when I first sat down had nothing to do with bluebird houses and nests.

Instead, what I wanted to tell you about was the fairly remarkable sight I saw this week.

This last week I was looking out my office window, taking a brake from my intention of catching up on my paper work when right there, just past my collection of bird feeders and the daytime population of finches and tit mice must have been 50, maybe 60 blue birds.

Blue birds up on top of the empty swallow house.

Blue birds bouncing up and down on the short wave antenna, actually a wire that runs from the house out to the old black walnut tree.

Blue birds on the ground.

Flying in short circles around the field.

A regular party of blue birds.

Which made me scramble for my copy of Sibley’ Guide to Bird Life and 
Behavior, thinking, Hmm-mm. this is a group of birds migrating south.

Only, when I finally found the applicable paragraph it said that blue birds aren’t much interested in migrating., especially in such a rather southerly location at Northern Virginia.

And then it occurred to me.

These aren’t my bluebirds. These aren’t the couple dozen birds that summer in our fields and winter here.

This is a group of snowbirds.

Blue birds from Western Pennsylvania and New York. These are a bunch of Canadians that are heading south looking for a more pleasant climate to spend the cruel winter months.

Now, here it is a week after the passing of the great bluebird flight and I haven’t noticed any bluebirds out on the wire. Did our local birds join the passing flight and following the mountain range south toward a warmer climate?

We’ll see. Unlike most winters I’ll keep an eye out for bluebirds. I’ll look to see if there are bluebirds around during the winter months (the map in Peterson Field Guide says were on the northern fringe of the ‘year round’ range).

Let’s see if that’s true.


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