‘Bluebird weather’ takes on a whole new meaning

Published 11:29 am Wednesday, January 24, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Bluebirds that found their way to Dick and Mary Fox’s Gatling Pointe home during the deep freeze must have felt they had hit the jackpot.

The birds were treated to a steady supply of mealworms and fresh bubbling water kept running with a heater, said Dick.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

At one time, there were 20 bluebirds at the feeder.

“That’s a lot of bluebirds,” said Dick. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“You put out the meal worms and they’re pretty fearless,” he said, adding that during the really cold weather, when temperatures were in the low single digits, the birds hovered nearby as the feeder was replenished.

The bluebird population had seriously declined in the past due to loss of habitat and nesting sites, according to the Audubon Society.

However, efforts by many individuals and groups, such as the Historic Southside Master Naturalists and the Isle of Wight Ruritan Club locally, in setting up bluebird box trails have their numbers increasing again, according to Audubon.

Dick said the couple has fed bluebirds for years, but has noticed an increase in the population over the past two years.

The Master Naturalists have noticed an increase in the number of eggs, hatched eggs and fledged bluebirds since 2015, according to bluebird box monitoring project leader Linda Langdon. The group currently monitors 52 boxes.

From 2015 to 2017, there was an 81 percent increase — from 175 to 317 — in the number of fledged bluebirds — babies that managed to leave the nest.

Another reason the bluebirds are thriving is that the Master Naturalists are removing the nests and eggs of the non-native house sparrow, said Langdon.

The non-native house sparrows are aggressive and peck open bluebird eggs and peck young hatchlings to death, and sometimes even kill the adult bluebirds, sand Langdon.

“The house sparrows are cute … but mean. We don’t do them any harm, simply remove their nests and eggs from our boxes,” she said, adding that the group plans to add 17 bluebird boxes at Nike Park this year.

The Foxes have several bluebird boxes themselves and have noticed more nesting pairs and fledglings in recent years.

The Foxes put out the mealworms four times a day, and Mary would signal a fresh batch with a cowbell, Dick said.

Sure enough, the birds would respond, he said. 

Bluebirds eat mostly insects and berries and remain in the Mid-Atlantic region year round, according to Audubon.

The Foxes also had visits from several cedar waxwings that particularly liked the bubbling water, said Dick.  {/mprestriction}