Two-Ah-Wee

Pair of Eastern Bluebirds.

Image via Wikipedia

My husband and I have spent a lot more time in Oak Openings, a nearby portion of the Liberty Prairie Reserve, since we adopted a Golden Retriever puppy from a nearby shelter. On this morning’s walk, we were fortunate enough to see three, male, Eastern Bluebirds calling to one another at the prairie’s edge from the low branches of the surrounding trees. Shocked by the sight of these “snowbirds,” I stood and watched them for what seemed to be an eternity, making mental notes on their physical appearance and song.

The Eastern Bluebirds, Sialia sialis, were a stunning sight to see on this bleak gray day; their vibrant royal blue heads and wings complimented by feathers of orange and white on their puffy breasts and bellies, respectively, in vivid contrast to the gold and browns of winter’s prairie. With a robinesque like body, the bluebirds are between 6 and 8 inches long weighing in at a little over 1 ounce. While at rest, their wings look small, surprisingly, when extended, they ultimately span a width of between 9.5-12.5 inches.

Seemingly unfazed by the presence of the puppy and me, the three birds called to one another from adjacent trees. They used a call that sounded like they were saying two ah wee. We never once heard the bluebirds sound their danger call of  “chit-chit-chit,” despite the fact that we could be considered by them to be ground predators. Spending a good amount of time in the spring and summer on the ground feeding on insects, as well as wild fruit, and berries in the winter, these ground foragers are ever vigilant at keeping an eye out for potential predators.

Oak Openings is a relatively open parcel of prairie land surrounded on one side by a small forest of trees with few understory plants and creek, the perfect habitat to host the Eastern Bluebird given that it is believed that their original habitats included open, frequently burned pine savannas and mature woods,  and beaver ponds. Today, with the help of man-made nest boxes, bluebirds are commonly seen along pastures, agricultural fields, suburban parks, backyards, and golf courses. The Eastern Bluebird geographical distribution ranges from North America east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to El Salvador and Honduras. During the winter months, Eastern Bluebirds retreat from the northern part of its breeding range, which varies from year to year, according to the severity of the weather. Within the United States, the winter range extends north to extreme southeastern Arizona, central Texas and central Oklahoma, as well as eastern Kansas, eastern Nebraska, western Iowa, southern West Virginia, southern Virginia, Maryland, southeastern Pennsylvania, and southern New York. This year, as a result of the mild winter, we are spotting these blue beauties in northern, Illinois, too!

In the twentieth century, aggressive, invasive European Starlings and House Sparrows competed with bluebirds for nesting sites  and as a result, the bluebird populations declined. Toward the latter half of the twentieth century, birders established campaigns for bluebird trails and Starling proof, nest boxes, which alleviated much of the invasive species competition. As a result of these aforementioned Eastern Bluebird campaigns, the bluebird population has experienced continuous positive growth and not on the United States WatchList. The WatchList is a joint project between American Bird Conservancy and the National Audubon Society identifying endangered bird species. If you are interested in helping the Eastern Bluebird continue to thrive, Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology web site, “All About Birds,” supplies readers with a link for downloadable, bluebird nest box plans.

Resources

“Conservation and Population trends.” birdzilla.com. Birdzilla.com: the number one internet birding site, n.d. Web 2 Feb. 2012.

“Distribution of Eastern Bluebird.” birdzilla.com. Birdzilla.com: the number one internet birding site, n.d. Web 2 Feb. 2012.

Gowaty, Patricia Adair and Jonathan H. Plissner. “Eastern Bluebird.” allaboutbirds.org. Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All ABout Birds, 1998 Web. 1 Feb 2012.

“The WatchList 2007.” abcbirds.org. American Bird Conservancy, 2007 Web. 1 Feb. 2012.

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