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by Shelby Stephenson
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Bluebirds have helped salvage my life. My wife Nin and I have raised about 20 per year for several years. Finches Nursery in Bailey, North Carolina helped us with this project.
When I started my attempt to raise them, I put up the poles and bought the boxes from the nursery. They are distributed in garden-centers all over eastern North Carolina. I put five up. The front flap opens very easily on the Finch Bluebird Box.
I'd go back to Finch's Nursery now and then just to be close to this man who loved the birds as part of the landscape around. I told him I put the boxes out in the meadow away from temptations of other birds like the English house sparrow and the starlings.
He said, "Shelby, you don't have to do that. Put a box right next to your window where you eat breakfast. The bluebirds will come to you." And he was right. He was right. One clutch fledged right on our windowsill.
When I was starting, trying to raise the birds, monitor their nests, and make sure they got their chance among all the stronger birds around, I kept wondering if I could win over the male house sparrow that kept throwing a bluebird's nest out and making its own in the scraggly and scattered, weedy way that sparrow does.
I called the nursery one day and got the assistant on the phone. I told her my story, how "this sparrow" kept tearing out the bluebird's nest. Finally she said to me: "Look, do you want sparrows or bluebirds?" I said softly, feeling a little scolded, "Bluuuue-birds!" And then she asked me if I lived in town or country. I said, "Country." In towns around Paul's Hill here, within city limits is considered bird sanctuaries. Then she told me Mr. Finch had a BB air rifle and he scared the birds that were trying to take over.
And I got the message.
You've got to help the bluebirds. Without help they would not survive. We must put up the boxes and monitor them daily. After 14 days the little ones start clamoring for the air and they fly out and over and land like the wobbly little balsam planes I used to make and wind up using a rubber band. A beautiful sight to behold to see the little ones fly.
The snakes are another thing -- the rat snake, especially, what we used to call the chicken snake when I was little, growing up here on Paul's Hill. They climb up the poles into the boxes just as the babies are hatched. So I put PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe around the stakes I hung the boxes on. Snakes can just about climb air.
The main thing is to go get a bluebird box and put it up on a pole. Monitor it. The bluebird must have a home and we must help them out in that desire. The reward is that we get to see the most beautiful blue in the world. At dusk they do die-does and twists and turnsin air, as they catch the insects and go perch and eat them, or as they fly low to the bird-box to feed the little ones.
What a sight to behold! And we get to hear that "blu-luup" of the song and see wings ruffle a little when one lands, settling on a limb or perch the way my mother would fluff a sheet or throw to make a bed.
How the bluebird reminds that we all need each other!
Latest update from Shelby:
I was just out this morning. So far got 4 beautiful blue eggs in one nesting box in the meadow. I love the way the female kind of tips her wings when she lands in a nearby bough.
And the box near the house here: I won out over the male house sparrow (the one with the badge) simply by throwing out the nest and throwing out the nest again and again, always remembering Mr. Finch's assistant, Damon, who said to me over the phone: "Look, do you want bluebirds or sparrows?"
And this morning I saw the nesting box way down in the meadow (free of clamboring trees) is about an eighth full of pine straw. The bluebird makes a very set and formed nest of grass and straw, usually straw, if there is a pine tree near.
And the purple martins have come in. Their churbles, oh what music. And what mystery. They come up from Brazil. I've got 3 poles, on one, a condo and a tv antenna for perch. And about 10 birds so far make their home and sing and do di-does in the air hunting and catching insects. Like the bluebird, the purple martin feeds on insects. The martin loves dragonflies.
Main thing: do anything you wish to salvage the bluebird: one must monitor the birds. Yes, they need help: without the bluebird trails the bluebird population would be in trouble. I love them. They are the sweetest birds I know.
To give you an example of what can happen if one does not monitor: parasites! I got too busy with work (school) and let the nest alone. And, lo, parasites, got in the sides of the nesting box. Made little houses of white pulp. Got in the babies. And when I lifted the box-lid after they were born (after about 14 days) the little birds were lifeless.
That's the way it goes. And the red-tailed hawk is ever-circling too. How anything survives anything is a wonder. What was it Thoreau said somewhere? In "Economy" chapter of Walden? The buebird carries the sky on its back. Something like that.
Nature! The landscape within and without! 3 years ago I got too busy and did not monitor the martin gourds sufficiently. Snakes crawled up the pole and ate the little, just-born babies. And the next year and the next (two years hand-running) the martins did not come back to our gourds. Last year they did. I did some research: I put some netting around the pipe or pole the martin houses rest on and I hope that will deter the snake I can free if one is ensnared.
I suppose the moral is that we need one another. How true. How true.
I feel part of the cycle of the bluebirds. I monitor their boxes and clean them out. The female sits on the eggs or the little nestlings and cocks her eye at me. She trusts me. Isn't that wonderful. One cannot ignore the chore (fun) of being close to the bluebirds.
And in winter my wife Nin and I will make a kind of suet for the bluebirds and place in a little station outside our window.The birds depend on us.
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