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Bluebird Emergency!

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

If I really prized my peace of mind, I would lower the blinds on all my windows in the spring and keep them that way until the fall.  There\’s only so much drama I can deal with, and every time I look outside I find some reason for concern:  the phoebes in the front porch building their nest too early;  the frogs  coming out of hibernation ditto;  the apples blooming in a rainstorm;  and worst of all, the bluebirds.

Initial elation (could it really be…yes, yes, it\’s a bluebird!) was followed by doubt (are they serious about this nest thing?) and then worry (why are they away so much?).  As I wrote in my last post, after consultation with my bluebird guru I looked in the box and almost fainted at the sight of those bright blue eggs.  After worry, ecstasy!

But feelings, the Buddha tells us, change, and sure enough, today my ecstasy was quickly followed by worry tinged with panic.

This afternoon the sun was out, the breeze brisk, the air like wine.  I saw the male bluebird bringing take-out (in the form of a fat white butterfly) to the nest.  I hoped that meant that the female had finally decided to settle down and keep those poor eggs warm.  Since checking the nest box involves my dragging a chair into the flower bed and standing on it, I asked my taller, more colorful mate to see if anybody was sitting on the eggs.  He said there was.

My bird experience being largely confined to chickens, I know that there is a big difference between a hen laying eggs, and her \”setting\” on them.  Even if the eggs have been fertilized by a rooster, if she doesn\’t set, doesn\’t \”go broody,\” all they\’re good for is omelettes.  So I was pleased to know that the female bluebird was on the job.  And it was touching to see the male being uxorious, bringing her tidbits like a young husband going out at midnight to fetch the traditional ice cream and pickles.

I was basking in the glow of bluebird domesticity, reading a New Yorker article about the degradation of the English language, when something blue flashed in the direction of the nest box.  But it wasn\’t a soft, bluebird kind of blue.  It was an electric, iridescent blue.  It wasn\’t a plump and cuddly bluebird shape either, but smaller, sharper, and extremely fast.

A while later, it came back–fast and metallic and piercing to the eye–and fluttered around the nest box.  The third pass sent me to the bird book.  It is as I feared:  the prospecting stranger is a tree swallow, the bluebird\’s worst nightmare.  As I stared at the book, the recent conversation with my bluebird guru came back to me.  \”Tree swallows,\” she said, \”compete so fiercely with bluebirds for nesting places, that the only solution is to set out nest boxes in pairs, so that each bird can have his own.\” 

The tree swallow was clearly just scouting this afternoon, whereas my bluebird couple are clearly settled in.  But I wonder, are tree swallows capable of ousting bluebird pairs after the nest has been made and the eggs have been laid?  What if my bluebirds are young and inexperienced and/or frivolous and irresponsible enough to go off in search of better housing–perhaps one of those pileated woodpecker holes that dot our woods–and abandon their babies-to-be?

I\’m also wondering what has made for the sudden popularity of this nest box.  It was already in place when we moved in, and in the past only wrens have been attracted to it.  But since the bluebirds came, not just tree swallows, but starlings also have shown interest.  Real estate always was a fickle business.

The sun is starting to go down now, and while I\’ve been writing the swallow hasn\’t returned, which is a good thing.  But neither has the male bluebird.  What does he think he\’s doing?  Has he forgotten his wife?  Doesn\’t he know it\’s supper time? 

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