Flashes of Blue

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

"There goes number three!" I shouted as the third bluebird fledgling rocked back and forth in the entrance hole of the bluebird box in my backyard. Suddenly he took a headfirst plunge into flight and landed in a nearby tree, leaving behind the safe confines where he spent the first 17 days of his life with his four brothers and sisters. Number four took her first flight to the neighbor's roof, nearly 75 feet from her nest box. Would all five successfully leave the nest?

I held my breath as another small, blue, spotted face with big, dark eyes peered from the nestbox. After a few moments hesitation, he sprang from the box as if crying "Yahoo," and he, too, was quickly gone. Seeing those five bluebirds take their first flight turned me into a lifelong "bluebirder."

The eastern bluebird, Missouri's state bird, has won many hearts across their eastern U.S. range, but especially in Missouri. Their gentle ways and pleasing looks have made them a favorite of many people. Bluebirds have come to be seen as symbols of hope, spring and happiness. Bluebirds are desirable neighbors, and they consume many nuisance insects, such as grasshoppers, making them a favorite with gardeners.

The bluebird, known to early settlers as the "blue robin," readily accepted man's habit of clearing the land for homesteads. This cousin of the American robin then began to lose its foothold on our landscapes. Destruction of natural bluebird habitat and competition for nesting sites with introduced species, such as the European starling and the English house sparrow caused bluebird populations to shrink. Until recently, many Missourians had never seen the brilliant flash of blue or heard the uplifting 'chur-a-lee' of the bluebird song in spring. Fortunately, eastern bluebird numbers have rebounded and reports show them four times as numerous as they were 20 years ago.

Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, meaning they are unable to excavate their own nesting cavity. They depend on abandoned cavities of other species of birds, such as woodpeckers, that excavate a new cavity each year. However as people removed older, rotting trees, bluebirds were left with fewer nesting options.

Concerned citizens joined together to help save the bluebird. They placed artificial, handmade nesting cavities wherever they found good bluebird habitat, including suburbs and on large open lawns with few bordering trees. Bluebirds readily accepted these artificial nesting sites and their numbers soared. A drive along many of Missouri's

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