Missouri's State Family

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

battles with insect pests, gardeners encourage it. Natural homes for the bluebird are holes in trees or fences. But starlings and house sparrows, rel atively recent arrivals from Europe, displace bluebirds in cavities with large openings. A bluebird box - built with a hole just one and one-half inches in diameter - admits bluebirds and keeps out larger competitors.

Bluebirds frequently fledge two sets of young a year. Pale blue eggs number four to seven per clutch; young birds are spotted. If those read like robin traits, they are. Both bluebird and robin belong to the thrush family.

Missouri's bluebird is the eastern bluebird: blue back, head and tail; reddish throat and breast; white belly. (Move to the Rockies and west, add red wing bar and blue throat, and there's the western bluebird. Climb to a high Rocky Mountain elevation, and subtract all red to see the mountain bluebird.)

Nineteenth century ornithologist Florence A. Merriam (Birds Through An Opera Glass, 1889) called the bluebird "the poetic symbol of spring." What an apt appraisal! In the bluebird's back, Henry David Thoreau saw the sky. In its red-orange breast, John Burroughs foun d the earth. In its totality, Emily Dickinson saw "independent hues."

Colors are subdued in the female. Her back is grayish blue. Just a hint of blue etches her wings. Yet both male and female are rounded in shoulders, large in head and eyes. Those juvenile (neotenic) features in the adult birds play with our affections. Offering houses to bluebirds seems the least we can do.

E.E. Rexford likened the bluebirds' song to: "The sound of the laughing waters, the patter of spring's sweet rain." A more melodious singer than cousin robin, the bluebird's vocalizations are distinctly "thrush."

The bluebird typically chirps hoarsely (coughs) in clusters of two or three sounds. It sings in a trailing, muted whistle. Ornithologist Merriam heard the song as "tru-al-ly tru-al-ly." Poet Dickinson emphasized the melody repeats at the bird's "discretion," and thus signaled something of the temperamental nature of the avian beauty.

According to Edward S. Gruson (Words for Birds, 1972), Sialis, the scientific n ame for the bluebird derives from the Greek word for saliva. That origin recalls the hissinglike chirps.

Gruson noted etymologists argue over the Old English root word for "thrush." It links to the Latin word for bird. But it also corresponds to the Greek word for "to twitter."

In all ways, the bluebird gets noticed. The newsletter of

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