Is there any sign of spring quite so welcome as the glint of the first bluebird unless it is his softly whistled song?
Before the farmer begins to plough the wet earth, often while the snow is still on the ground, this hardy little minstrel is making himself very much at home in our orchards and gardens while waiting for a mate to arrive from the South.
Now is the time to have ready on top of the grape arbour, or under the eaves of the barn, or nailed up in the apple tree, or set up on poles, the little one-roomed houses that bluebirds are only too happy to occupy. More enjoyable neighbours it would be hard to find. Sparrows will fight for the boxes, it is true, but if there are plenty to let, and the sparrows are persistently driven off, the bluebirds, which are a little larger though far less bold, quickly take possession. Birds that come earliest in the season and feed on insects, before they have time to multiply, are of far greater value in the field, orchard, and garden than birds that delay their return until warm weather has brought forth countless swarms of insects far beyond the control of either bird or man. Many birds would be of even greater service than they are if they received just a little encouragement to make their homes nearer ours. They could save many more millions of dollars’ worth of crops for the farmers than they do if they were properly protected while rearing their ever-hungry families. As two or even three broods of bluebirds may be raised in a box each spring, and as insects are their most approved baby food, you see how much it is to our interest to set up nurseries for them near our homes.
Young bluebirds taking their first walk.
But when people are not thoughtful enough to provide them before the first of March, the bluebirds hunt for a cavity in a fence rail, or a hole in some old tree, preferably in the orchard, shortly after their arrival, and proceed to line it with grass. From three to six pale blue eggs are laid. At first the babies are blind, helpless, and almost naked. Then they grow a suit of dark feathers with speckled, thrush-like vests similar to their cousin’s, the baby robin’s; and it is not until they are able to fly that the lovely deep blue shade gradually appears on their grayish upper parts. Then their throat, breast, and sides turn rusty red. While creatures are helpless, a prey for any enemy to pounce upon, Nature does not dress them conspicuously, you may be sure. Adult birds, that are able to look out for themselves, may be very gaily dressed, but their children must wear sombre clothes until they grow strong and wise.
Young bluebirds are far less wild and noisy than robins, but their very sharp little claws discourage handling. These pointed hooks on the ends of their toes help them to climb out of the tree hollow, that is their natural home, into the big world that their presence makes so cheerful.
As you might expect of creatures so heavenly in colour, the disposition of bluebirds is particularly angelic. Gentleness and amiability are expressed in their soft, musical voice. Tru-al-ly, tru-al-ly, they sweetly assert when we can scarcely believe that spring is here; and tur-wee, tur-wee they softly call in autumn when they go roaming through the country side in flocks of azure, or whirl through Southern woods to feed on the waxy berries of the mistletoe.
Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan
Author of “Bird Neighbours,” “Birds that Hunt and Are Hunted,”
“Nature’s Garden,” and “How to Attract the Birds.”
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP
1907 by Doubleday, Page & Company