The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bluebirds are with us for the winter
by Ro Wauer

Bluebirds and robins seem to have a lot in common; they are two of our best known songbirds. And both of these lovely creatures are commonplace again. We can pretty well depend upon them to be with us throughout the winter months.

Although bluebirds are resident in much of South Texas year-round, they are far more numerous in winter than during the warmer days of summer. Our bluebirds, actually Eastern bluebirds, are a good example of "winter Texans," moving south for the colder months to increase the resident populations. The majority of the northern birds will be with us through March before they move northward to their breeding grounds. Others may actually nest and raise a family before they go north.

Our Eastern bluebird is a lovely creature. Males are especially colorful with a bright blue back and rufous chest and throat. Females are a duller color. The male's rufous throat is what sets it apart from the Western bluebird that possesses an all-blue head and throat, but only rarely gets to South Texas. And a third bluebird, the mountain bluebird, is also occasionally found here. Male mountain bluebirds are a sky-blue color. While females are a duller gray-blue.

All bluebirds are cavity nesters, utilizing holes in trees, posts, and other sites. They also utilize birdhouses placed at strategic locations at the edge of fields. They will not utilize houses in or facing nearby wooded areas; they rarely spend much time in locations without adequate open space. All bluebirds are insect-feeders, utilizing grasshoppers, crickets, and a wide assortment of other insects, as well as various other invertebrates. But in winter they often feed on berries.

Bluebirds are members of the Turdidae family, along with robins and thrushes, some of our most vocal songbirds. Although bluebirds can hardly compete with such marvelous songsters as the hermit and wood thrushes, their springtime song is still rather enchanting, like a musical "chur-lee chur-lee." In winter they rarely sing, but their call notes, a rising "chur-lee," is often commonplace. They call from either a post or in flight, and often times one can detect their presence long before they fly by. Both their songs and calls are most pleasant.

Few birds are so well known and appreciated as bluebirds. Yet, because they depend primarily on insects for food, they are extremely susceptible to pesticides. Their survival depends upon our prudent use of these poisons. In some areas where their numbers have declined, bird lovers install "bluebird boxes" along fence lines and at other appropriate places. This practice has greatly enhanced their numbers. Increased numbers of bluebirds, at any time of the year, will not only help in keeping insect pests under control but also add to our enjoyment of one of nature's most lovely creature.

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