Outdoors Recreation

A Bird’s Note: Eastern Bluebird

By  Casey First

The Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) is part of the Thrush family, and is the state bird of New York and Missouri. Along with the Cardinal, it is an iconic and popular backyard bird, and one that even the most novice birder can identify. This popularity is not surprising because the male has an unmistakably striking bright blue upper coat contrasted with a rusty throat, breast and sides with a white underbelly. The female counterpart is equally as stunning, having the same colors, just more muted.

Eastern Bluebird. Stephanie Sipp, illustrator

To many, the sight of Bluebirds (just like Robins) means the arrival of spring, although they are year-round residents to much of the eastern and mid-northeastern US. Even avid birders can’t help but take pause and find awe in seeing their beautiful blue colors streak cross the sky.

Bluebirds have long been a symbol of hope and the harbinger of happiness, dating back thousands of years in many cultures. Sizing up at just about 7 inches, these birds are about the size of a large Sparrow. Eastern Bluebirds thrive in open areas like farmlands, parks, golf courses and sparse habitats with minimal trees except for at the edges. They are also frequently found in urban and suburban backyards where they can be seen foraging on the ground or perched on telephone wires or on fence posts overlooking an open grassy space.

Eastern Bluebirds will happily come to a feeder and prefer live or dried mealworms, fruit, suet and sunflower hearts. In nature, their diet consists primarily of insects like beetles, spiders, caterpillars and grasshoppers. In the cooler months when insects are less plentiful, they gravitate towards berry-producing trees and shrubs.

Aside from their year-round habitat of the eastern US, this Bluebird has breeding grounds that start in the lower Midwest and extend north up through Canada and over to the extreme northeastern states. These birds will migrate to the south and winter there, and some will even migrate southwest to parts of Mexico.

The western US is reserved for this species’ cousins: the Western Bluebird and Mountain Bluebird. Here in Western NC, be on the listen for a soft and low-pitched “tu-a-wee” call with a querulous tone to know the Eastern variety is nearby. Their song is also low-pitched and consists of several short warbling notes. Male bachelors will often sing this song from a high perched place in hopes of courting a mate during their nesting season which starts in early March and lasts through the summer months.

If you’ve ever played a round of golf or walked through public parks or around lakes, odds are you’ve seen their nesting boxes. Bluebirds are secondary cavity dwellers, nesting in pre-made nest spots like backyard boxes or natural openings. Putting up a nesting box in your backyard and being a “landlord” to these beautiful birds can be very fulfilling and they will reward you with their acrobatic displays of building and defending their nest.

They typically have 1-3 broods and lay up to 6 eggs per brood (depending mainly on the age of the female). And it’s not uncommon for the same pair to build nests in the same box year after year. A great success story over the past 50 years is that human-made nesting boxes have help revitalize a Bluebird population that was once on the brink due to deforestation and urban development. Just one more reason they can give us the hope they represent in the world, and at a time when we could all use it most.

Casey First is owner of North Asheville Wild Birds Unlimited, located at 946 Merrimon Avenue, Suite 120. Monthly bird events are free and open to the public, with no registration required. To learn more, visit NorthAsheville.wbu.com. Stephanie Sipp is a professional nature illustrator and educator who creates joyful images of animals, birds, flowers and places which are celebrated by followers both regionally and online.

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