Bluebirds Everywhere!

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back” is perhaps one of the most known and loved quotes of Thoreau’s many musings on bluebirds. A lesser-known quote clearly exposes his deep appreciation of bluebirds. “If there is no response in you to the awakening of nature – if the prospect of an early morning walk does not banish sleep, if the warble of the first bluebird does not thrill you -know that the morning and spring of your life are past.”

Bluebirds had long been considered a true harbinger of spring but the fact of the matter is clear; many bluebirds stayed here all winter. But now that the dawn of spring is behind us bluebird sightings and their gentle warbling songs are increasing all across the favorable habitat. Favorable habitat is key for bluebirds and I am more than pleased that bluebirds consider my roughly kept front yard and the field behind me as favorable. It’s unlikely you will find bluebirds living in a forest or a highly urbanized region. However, you may find them at the very edge of a woodland near a meadow where they might nest in a cavity of a dead tree. The presence of the meadow is critical, it’s their close-to-home hunting ground. In many ways, you could look at it as their all-you-eat buffet table.

Bluebirds are marvelous birds to capture through the lens of a camera equipped with a telephoto. Sometimes it’s surprising easily, especially when a bluebird is perched on my car’s mirror going head-to-head with its own reflection. The males boast a brilliant royal blue on their backs and heads and a reddish-brown on the breast. Females are less brilliant but the blue tinges on their wings and tail feathers give them a truly elegant look.

The eastern bluebird is what biologists refer to as a “specialist species.” Specialist species need specific habitat conditions to survive and thrive and thankfully those conditions are found in many parts of Oakland County thanks to our numerous parks and the actions of many homeowners that provide bluebird houses. A closely cropped lawn bathed in insecticides is never going to lure bluebirds. Although bluebirds will scrounge for seeds and dried berries in winter, they are in fact voracious hunters of both flying insects and insects that crawl on the ground. Last year I added dried mealworms to one of my bird feeders and it did not take long for bluebirds to arrive. But now that the warm days of April have arrived Mother Nature provides an all-you-can-eat café for these beauties.

Now that the winter of subsisting only on dried berries has rapidly ended in mid-April, they can feast on protein. I feel extremely fortunate to have captured, although it was quite by accident, the downward swoop of a bluebird that was perched on a branch next to my yard; the photo I used as the lead image. I was about to focus my camera on that bluebird and just as I started to snap the image it took flight for an insect located between it and me. Of note, most bird books state that bluebirds migrated south for the winter. My observations clearly show some did not – unless perhaps I was seeing bluebirds in the woodlands and fields of Oakland County that migrated south from the Upper Peninsula.

I frequently wander at Independence Oaks County Park. During all my recent meanderings along the trails, both in their main section and the smaller north unit of the park, I have seen bluebirds. Many of today’s images were captured at Independence Oaks, while others are from my meadows, woodland edge and my bird feeder in Brandon Township. That swooping bluebird image was a lucky capture at the edge of my woodlands. The bluebird was not heading for me, but it dove to the ground to capture a tiny creature unseen by me.

As I write these words on the first weekend of April, I’m still watching bluebirds at my suet feeders and think back to the snowy days when they hopped about under my bird feeders in search of spilled seeds. Many bluebirds overwinter in Oakland County and seeing them in winter is no longer a rare sight. But I confess that seeing one hunkered down on a tree branch on blustery late winter or early spring days is always pleasurable. As their territorial behavior accelerates, I’ve been watching one male bluebird battling its reflection with the mirror on my car and another frequently perches on my favorite yard art.

Unlike robins that hop about newly green grass to search for worms, bluebirds have a finely honed “sit and wait” hunting strategy that goes something like this: An ever-alert bluebird selects a branch with a clear view of the field or grass below. Although the bluebird barely moves its body except for the head tilting forward, it’s constantly scanning watching for the slightest movement of an insect. When that moment of opportunity arrives the bluebird swoops down for capture and consumption. Then it’s back to the hunting perch for the next meal to crawl or fly into view. In these middle days of April and all summer long, these skilled and rather beautiful birds that inhabit many sections of Oakland County usually do not have to wait long. Grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and small flying insects that are now emerging are all on the menu.

I often get asked where to look for bluebirds and my answer is almost everywhere except for the city and manicured suburban yards. Open fields and meadows, the edge zones of golf courses, cemeteries and of course the parks managed by Huron-Clinton Metro Parks, Oakland County Parks and most of our nature conservancies, especially those managed by Six Rivers Land Conservancy are good places to look. Walk slowly, stop often, look about and you will likely see bluebirds. It’s almost impossible to walk at Addison Oaks County Park, Independence Oaks County Park, Stony Creek Metropark, Indian Springs Metropark or the Timberland Nature Sanctuary in Springfield Township without seeing bluebirds. 

Last spring I watched bluebirds in the field behind Lake Orion High School and just today I watched bluebirds flitting about just yards from me at Independence Oaks County Park while photographing a pair of Bald Eagles in their lofty nest in the park’s North Unit. Explore that nature-embracing site with some patience and maybe you will see the eagles and bluebirds too!

Jonathan Schechter is the nature education writer for Oakland County Government and blogs about nature’s way on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

Follow along with Oakland County on FacebookInstagramLinkedInPinterest, Twitter, and YouTube using #OaklandCounty, or visit our website for news and events year-round.

2 thoughts on “Bluebirds Everywhere!

  1. Thank you for Jonathan for another enjoyable blog on the wonders of our beautiful county. Our suet feeder is drawing a lot of beautiful birds including the blue birds. A neighbor saw one of the eagles over Whipple Lake just to the south of the nest. The robins have been enjoying meals from the ground of late versus looking for berries in our trees.

    • Thanks for your note Jim! Great you are enjoying the bluebirds. And I’m about to head over to Indy now to check on eagles and a hot day meander around the lake. (I would not rule out snow flurries on monday, even though its in the 80’s today!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *