As I approached a place where a meadow meets a narrow strip of woods, I noticed some movement in the shadows cast by a Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). The light was low, so I had to use binoculars to be able to see that the bird flying from the ground to a low branch was an immature Eastern Bluebird.
This is just the kind of habitat Eastern Bluebirds prefer, open meadows or even lawns with trees nearby for perching and nesting. Bluebirds nest in cavities, using natural cavities and abandoned woodpecker holes in trees. This kind of real estate is in high demand, so Bluebirds also use nesting boxes. The male brings materials to the nesting site, including grasses, spent plant stems and pine needles for the outside of the nest, finer grasses and sometimes animal hair for the inside. The female is in charge of construction, building the nest inside their chosen cavity.
This youngster was apparently already learning and practicing a common Bluebird food foraging behavior, that of sitting on a low branch and flying down to capture an insect meal. As is the case with most birds, insects and spiders are an important part of a Bluebird’s diet. Bluebirds eat quite a variety, including beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and caterpillars.
In fall and winter fruit is added to this insect diet.
While I focused on this young bird, someone else entered my line of sight. It was a vividly colorful mature male Bluebird. He landed in a low bare branch of the Tuliptree, the remnants of last year’s fruit only slightly obscuring my view of him.
This dazzling male seemed intent on mesmerizing me with his beauty so that I would forget about his offspring in the shadows behind him.
His strategy was pretty effective. While I didn’t forget about the young bird, I couldn’t take my eyes off its father.
But eventually my peripheral vision picked up some movement behind this stunning male.
A female Eastern Bluebird was flying from a nesting box in the meadow, to the far edge of the tree line. She flew back and forth, until the young bluebird finally followed her and they disappeared together through the trees. When I looked again for the male, he had also taken off.
I walked to the lawn on other side of the wood line toward the place where the Bluebirds had escaped from my view and found lots of activity. The female, now with two immature Bluebirds, flew back and forth from the lawn to the trees. Practice flights? One of the youngsters decided to stay in the grass, poking at the ground in search of insect food. Mom stayed for a while, coaching her young student.
Eventually Mom flew back to the shelter of the trees. After a moment, the young bird followed the rest of its family, disappearing into the trees.
Eastman, John. Birds of Forest, Yard, and Thicket. 1997.
Harrison, Hal H. Eastern Birds’ Nests. 1975
Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. 2001.