In my twenty years of feeding and caring for my back yard visitors, I’ve had a lukewarm relationship with bluebirds. It was years after I put up my first houses that I even had any of them look at them. Then, it became a yearly dance where sometime in late February/early March, a male would show a female one of the boxes she would ultimately reject. It didn’t matter how vocal or persistent he was. She just knew it was not where she wanted to set up home. While I was always disappointed to see this, I respected that she knew better than I did where she needed to nest.
My Luck Begins to Change
Finally, in the mid-late twenty-teens, she decided it might be a great place after all. Since then, I’ve had at least one brood raised there every year. I look forward to them returning but it always seemed they were reluctantly agreeing to nest there. They would fly away every time I walked outside and even my wife thought the males were “snooty”. You know, not really wanting to be in the same universe with you. Let alone the same back yard. But as long as they kept coming back, I was happy to have them because I’d spent a great deal of effort to discourage their nestbox competitors and encouraging them. They would start nesting in April or May at the latest. Having them thank us by raising their young here was a gift.
Keep in mind, other than the last couple of years, I haven’t been actively feeding them. They did seem to appreciate the dried mealworms I started putting out in winter. They also moved on to live insects as soon as they could. Plus, I had read that feeding mealworms in summer could cause them to extend their breeding season beyond when they should. So I was careful to stop offering them once they really didn’t need them.
Changing To Homemade Suet
Then, I got a recipe from my favorite birding and bluebird expert, Julie Zickefoose. It’s called Zick Dough Improved and it was a hit with everybody! Easy to make and exactly what the birds need in winter. This year was the first year I’ve made it and it was a thrill to watch them gobble it up! I put it in a domed feeder right outside my back door to discourage starling hoarding. Getting to sit in our den and watch all our birds come by and say good morning just starts your day off right! Julie had told me that, like the mealworms, the suet should be stopped when the weather warms. All was good until just recently.
Should You Be Doing That Now?
Early last week, I noticed my bluebird couple were visiting “their” box very frequently. It has been customary for them to check in from time to time during non-breeding seasons. Didn’t necessarily alarm me. That is, until I noticed she had started taking materials into the box. Now, I live in middle Tennessee and I’d had chickadees nest as early as late February. Plus, we were having a little warm snap so I just trusted again she knew what she was doing. After all, warmer weather is never far away here once you reach March.
Shock To My System
I thought I’d write Julie and update her on how well her dough was doing here and tell her about my early bird bluebirds. To say she was concerned would be a huge understatement! She lives on a huge wildlife area that is their farm, is a licensed rehabilitator, accomplished author and probably the best friend ANY animal could ever find! So her concern that my early bird bluebirds may not be able to hatch or feed their babies put a lump in my throat I’m still coughing on. The really bad part for me was the possibility that the dough may have contributed to this! She advised me to stop feeding the dough immediately.
Unfortunately, when I received this warning, the bluebird mom had already built her nest and laid her first egg. She has now laid four eggs and has been spending a LOT of time incubating them. We’ve had a downturn in temps which is only increasing my anxiety about this. I have enjoyed watching the male feed and take food to her in the box. That is about as sweet as watching male cardinals feed females near a feeder! But I’m still worried how this will turn out.
Will This Have a Happy Ending?
I have no choice but to trust that they know what they are doing! Period! Any studies to the contrary aside, I think birds are way more intelligent than most humans give them credit for. I mean, what human is born knowing how to build a nest?
Others in my area are saying they have early bird bluebirds as well. I will post an update when this finally plays out. In the mean time, any support by way of comments you can give me about YOUR early bird bluebirds would be GREATLY appreciated! Good thoughts and prayers would be a welcome bonus.