Catasauqua Press

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PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE A male bluebird on a nest-box with a mealworm. PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE A male bluebird on a nest-box with a mealworm.

May the bluebird of happiness ... nest

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 by BUD COLE Special to The Press in Focus

The song, "Happy Days are Here Again," was written in 1929 with music by Milton Ager and lyrics by Jack Yellen.

It's best remembered as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's campaign song during his first successful 1932 presidential campaign.

Some historians have said the song became very popular with the repeal of Prohibition on April 7, 1933. The song is No. 47 on the Recording Industry Association of America's "Songs of the Century" list. As of 2006, there were 76 commercially-released versions of the song.

Since the bluebird is known as the "bluebird of happiness," the familiar song came to mind with the return of bluebirds to our backyard.

Last year, we thought the bluebirds were nesting in the bluebird nest-box located closest to our patio. The male spent several days at the bird-box, going in and out.

We were away on vacation. I assumed the female had made her nest of grasses and laid her eggs while we were gone.

Suddenly, the male disappeared. We feared he had been taken by a hawk or neighborhood roaming cat. I decided to check out the nest-box and to our disappointment it was empty except for a few sticks, most likely placed there by a house wren.

This year's bluebird pair must have raised their first brood somewhere else in the neighborhood. Mid-July is the time when most bluebird pairs breed, nest and raise their second brood. Because we were away during the first two weeks of July and we saw the male and female checking out the nest before we departed, they had enough time for the baby bluebirds to hatch.

On a recent morning, I watched the male and female bluebird taking turns catching bugs, flying to the nest-box and feeding the hatchlings. There is something about their color and duty to their nestlings that has endeared them to me. Bev and I have enjoyed many hours observing our birdfeeders and nest-boxes.

We feed birds year round in order to enjoy the neo-tropical birds that visit our feeders. Neo-tropical birds are the colorful species that spend their winters in Central and South America. They include orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, redstarts, northern towhees and the many warblers.

I cleaned out the beginnings of several house wren nests in the bluebird boxes. The house wrens finally used the wren house and the gourd that I drilled and cleaned of seeds about eight years ago.

The gourd hangs from the branch on one of our native dogwood trees. Their broods have already bred, hatched and fledged.

The house wrens usually beat the bluebirds to the bluebird nest-boxes and use them as nest sites.

A quote from the 1989 baseball movie, "Field of Dreams," starring Kevin Costner, apples to bluebird enthusiasts: "If you build it, they will come."

Bluebird populations dwindled as their preferred cavities in dead trees and old wooden fence posts were removed. Today, thanks to the efforts of many birders, nest-boxes built and placed specifically for bluebirds are bringing this bird linked to "happiness" back in greater and greater numbers.

I placed our first bluebird nest-box in our yard one early spring when we moved to our home in Lehigh Township in 1993. We have had off and on years, sometimes with no bluebirds and other times with the same pair raising two broods in the same nest-box.

Although I have five bluebird boxes scattered around our acre of woodlands, we have only ever had one box used by bluebirds at any one time. From what I have read, bluebirds don't tend to like neighbors of the same species.

Now that the bluebirds are back, we are enjoying their company. Unfortunately, we missed seeing the female bring nest materials to the box while the male stood guard.

In previous years, the female worked on the nest as her mate chased away squirrels, red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, catbirds and other intruders that came too close to the nest-box. The male and female like to perch on the top of the windsock pole, which is near the nest-box.

The nests are constructed of dry grasses, pine needles and other soft materials. Females lay one egg per day. An average clutch size is three to five eggs about the size of a marble.

Incubation begins after the last egg is laid. This allows most, if not all, of the eggs to hatch on the same day. As incubation begins, the female creates a "brood patch" by pulling out feathers from her lower abdomen. This bare area increases the amount of body heat transferred to the eggs.

Incubation lasts from 12 to 14 days, sometimes longer if the weather is cold. Bluebirds raise one to three broods each breeding season.

Nesting females spend about two thirds of the day and the entire night incubating the eggs. The female leaves the nest for short feeding periods during the day. The male brings food to her while she is nesting. The eggs are constantly turned and rearranged during incubation.

The babies fledge about 16 to 22 days after hatching. The male and female attend to the young. The parents spend the daylight hours flying to the nest to feed their young. It is a very busy time.

This is also the time when I begin providing mealworms for the pair's hatchlings. The adults soften the mealworms with their beaks. The parents consume about one out of every eight mealworms and take the other mealworms to the nest-box for their offspring.

Please email me your interesting bluebird stories for consideration in a "Bud's View" column.

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