2/16/2018 3:37:00 PM The early birds Outdoors with Walter Scotts
Either not all birds that are supposed to migrate did so or they are coming back north earlier than usual. Bluebirds usually go south for the winter, leaving in November, and come back to our area in the middle of March. My wife and I have both seen flocks of male bluebirds in the last week. They are back and out scouting for nesting sites a full month earlier than usual. I always thought they lived on a diet consisting entirely of insects. This must not be true as we have a real shortage of bugs at this time of year. With the temperature near zero, a person will not see even a slow-moving bug. The birds must eat weed and grass seeds also or they would starve to death in short order.
Saturday morning, while staring blankly out of the window, I saw a bluebird checking out the purple martin house. He was hopping from one door to the next, looking into each apartment. He left after seeing all the doors were the wrong size and the neighboring apartments were too close. Martins enjoy close neighbors, bluebirds like more privacy. I told my wife we need to get out and clean the bluebird houses to get ready for the spring nesting season. She reminded me that she already did that late last fall. Of course, I remember. Some days I cannot remember why I went to the kitchen. I would certainly remember she cleaned the bluebird houses last year. Though I did not remember, I was glad we do not have to go out into the cold, take bird houses apart, clean them, and put them back together. A person needs to have the nesting boxes ready when the male bluebirds start scouting for nesting sites. If they do not find something to their liking, they will move on and check out other areas. I like to encourage as many as possible to nest near our yard. They are not only pretty to watch, they eat large numbers of insects. With bluebirds, purple martins, and barn swallows living close to the house, we have very few annoying insects during the summer.
This is the time of year I also try to find time to make a few new bluebird houses. Some houses will need to be replaced each year from the wood deteriorating over time or squirrels enlarging the opening to move in. A pair of bluebirds will nest two or three times during the spring and summer. That same pair will most likely return the following year and some of their babies will follow them back. They will also be ready to nest. With a minimal amount of effort, a person can encourage a large number of bluebirds to live at their place.
Easy to build house plans can be found online from many websites such as the National Audubon Society and Pinterest. If a person does not have the inclination, pre-made houses can be purchased at most hardware stores. I find building my own out of scrap lumber makes the project very inexpensive and helps clean up the shop.
Though it seems early, I think it is time to plan for the spring arrival of the female bluebirds. They might be back too early to get the worm, but they will be ready to nest in the house their mate has chosen when they get here.
Walter Scott is a freelance writer from rural central Iowa.