Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Sports

March 16, 2014

OUTDOOR COLUMN: Bluebirds are eagerly anticipated harbinger of spring

In “Birds of America,” the bluebird is described as “the most welcome herald of spring.” That’s rating it ahead of the robin as a feathered forecaster of warmer weather. That’s the Eastern bluebird, the bluebird of Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, the bluebird of all the eastern and central states of the U.S., from the Atlantic coast to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf Coast into southern Canada during spring, summer and fall. It’s the state bird of two states: Missouri and New York.

There are two other bluebirds in North America: The Western bluebird, a bird of the Rockies, and the Western bluebird, west of the Rockies and south into Mexico. There are also birds that are blue in color. In the eastern U.S., there are the blue jay and the indigo bunting.

The Eastern bluebird is similar to the robin in many ways, not just as a herald of spring. Like the robin, it’s thrush. It’s smaller than a robin, but the relative size of body, head, wings and tail is similar. It has an orange breast like a robin, and blue on the head, back, wings and tail, the area where a robin has black and gray. The bluebird feeds on the ground much of the time, as the robin does, but instead of probing the ground for worms, the bluebird catches grasshoppers and other insects.

The nesting habits of the bluebird are different than those of a robin. Bluebirds nest in holes, natural cavities where tree limbs broke off and rot created cavities: Deserted woodpecker holes and birdhouses, often made and put out especially for them. Robins, of course, build cup-shaped nests of mud and grass.

The history of the Eastern bluebird has been up and down and up again since settlers came to America from Europe. It is not a bird of forests, so before settlers began to clear the forests, it was limited to forest openings.

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