“Gone away is the bluebird” laments the popular song Winter Wonderland. That tune was written in 1934, when few Eastern Bluebirds could be seen in Connecticut during the winter. Since the 1980’s, bluebird populations have increased, and more bluebirds appear to be spending Christmas in Connecticut. In fact, many no longer consider bluebirds, or their cousin the American Robin, to be harbingers of spring. Great Backyard Bird Counters spotted 1,072 robins and 386 Eastern Bluebirds in our state in February 2007. That number is just a small sampling of individuals actually in the area.
Researchers around the world are finding that many birds are changing their migration patterns, apparently as a result of erratic weather and loss of habitat. Some birds have stopped migrating altogether with warmer winters in the north, according to Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species. This puts them at risk when the next cold winter hits.
If birds arrive too early or late to find their normal diet, they can starve. Over the course of a year, about 68 percent of a bluebird’s diet is made of up insects. However, insects are not active when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Bluebirds generally do not eat birdseed, although if they are really hungry, they may take shelled sunflower kernels and chopped nuts. Therefore, during the winter months, they rely on persistent fruit from plants like hollies, Flowering Dogwood, Winterberry and Eastern Red Cedar. Hoards of alien, introduced birds like Starlings can wipe out all the available fruit. To help winter residents survive, I trained some local bluebirds to eat at a suet feeder last spring. They have been coming for suet on a daily basis all winter. If you have birdhouses, bluebirds may use them for protected roosting at night, which helps them survive frigid blasts.
Family Fun: The next 2008 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is February 15-18. The GBBC is an annual four day event that engages birdwatchers of all ages. The count is used to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent. “Each tally helps us learn more about how our North American birds are doing, and what that says about the health and the future of our environment,” said Tom Bancroft, Chief Science Officer for Audubon.” Anyone can participate. Count as many birds at as many places and on as many days as you like – just keep a separate list of the highest number of species you see at any one time per day and location, and enter your results at http://gbbc.birdsource.org/gbbcApps/input. Last year the “winner” in the Quiet Corner was Woodstock (including Woodstock Valley), with 26 checklists submitted recording 28 species. Eastford came in second, with 16 checklists and 27 species. “The GBBC is a great way to engage friends, family, and children in observing nature in their own backyard, where they will discover that the outdoors is full of color, behavior, flight, sounds, and mystery,” said Janis Dickinson of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Eagle Action. If you have a high-speed Internet connection, you can watch live footage of a pair of eagles nesting in Florida. It appears that at least one eaglet had hatched by January 11. Last year, none of the pairs’ eggs hatched. See http://www.audubonofflorida.org/friendsoftheeagle/cam.html. The CT Audubon Society’s Eagle Festival is February 16-17, 2008 in Essex CT – see http://www.ctaudubon.org/about/eaglefestival.htm. There will be 2 days of free famly events, including land-based eagle viewing, life birds of prey demonstrations, bird carving demonstrations, nature exhibits, interactive children's nature programs, storytelling and other great entertainment, plus paid guided eagle viewing boat tours.
Upcoming Bluebird Slide Shows:
- Sunday, February 24, 3-5 p.m., Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic, members $8, non-members $10, See http://www.dpnc.org or call 860.536.1216 for more information.
- Friday, February 29, 7:00 p.m. at the Elmer Thienes Elementary School Library in Marlborough, CT. Sponsored by the Marlborough Arts Center. See www.marlborougharts.org or call 860.295.9389. Suggested donation $5.00. Bluebird nestboxes will be on sale.
- Saturday, March 29, 7:00 p.m., Black Tavern in Dudley, MA. Sponsored by the Dudley Conservation Land Trust. See http://www.dudleyclt.org/calendar.html or call 508.949.2468.
Kids riddle: What kind of bird is with you at every meal? Answer: A swallow!