That bird feathered blue…is waiting for you…right in your own backyard.
It’s been almost ten years since I stenciled these words on sunroom wall at the beach-house-not-on-the-beach. The line from the song points out whimsically that although we’ve lived in many places, we chose to come back to the same area where we started, but mostly it reminds me, literally, of bluebirds. My mother had a small collection of bluebirds in various forms–plates, statues, cloisonne, and I have added to it, displaying all on that stencilled wall. It lifts my soul to see those birds.
When I was a child, bluebirds were regulars in my grandmother’s backyard. The bluebird population declined as I grew up and they slipped completely from my memory. I never saw one during all our years in the midwest, although they are working to increase the numbers now. When we moved back to the South, the first bluebird I saw was so lovely I cried.
We put up bluebird boxes immediately.
Bluebirds still hold the same magic for me. My heart beats out a chorus of Zip-A-Dee Doo Dah at the sight of one. Those gentle birds touch me to the core and remind me of the small miracle I witnessed and wrote about many years ago:
Each spring the bluebirds come. They gather around our boxes, families of them, to check our accommodations. We wait anxiously, exalting when we see a couple carrying in the makings of a nest. Here in the suburbs, what used to be pastureland becomes subdivision after subdivision as bulldozers and chemical lawn trucks patrol relentlessly. House sparrows and starlings launch territorial offenses, yet the “blue robins” have chosen to raise their family here.
Although we try not to be nosy landlords, I cannot resist peeking in one morning and I see a disturbing sight. There, next to three delicate blue eggs, is a brown-speckled one, much larger than the others. Should I remove it? If I sense it doesn’t belong there, does Mother Bluebird know it, too?
I leave a message on a friend’s answering machine and she calls back, saying, “It’s a cowbird egg. Get it out of there!”
Too late, I realize, as I approach the box, for a downy grey head peeks out of the box, calling rudely. The baby cowbird has already hatched. The adult bluebirds fly constantly, bringing back food. Nothing quells this baby’s appetite.
One morning “toddler bird” sits quietly atop the box until the “parents” appear, then it launches into a frenzied and fluttery dance. Its cries are easily translatable: FEED ME! More! NOW!
Cowbirds, I have learned, never build nests of their own. They slip sneakily into the nest of other birds, leaving an intruder egg for the host birds to raise. They cleverly foist their offspring off on smaller birds, so if there is not enough food for all, the smaller birds will be the ones to perish.
I call Animal Rehabilitation. for advice. Yes, the cowbird must be removed. If I can get it, ARC will raise it. I set upon my capture mission, but Dumbo cowbird manages to fly to the garage rooftop, foiling my plan. There it continues its dance for food, walking back and forth on the peak like a loud, wind-up chicken. The bluebird parents fly constantly, valiantly, attempting to sate Dumbo’s appetite.
I watch the bluebird house. An hour passes. Four hours without a parental visit means the nest has been abandoned. I can’t bear to wait four hours, so I drive to the pet store for mealworms, having no idea of what to do with them. Savior without a clue.
As I pull into our driveway, a flash of brilliant blue glides past. The male adult bluebird perches delicately on the wispy, topmost branch of our largest cedar. He flies straight up in the air, stops, flutters his wings as in hovers in place, then sinks back onto the branch. He repeats the ritual several times, rising, halting to flap in midair, then sinking back onto the tree. I sit in the car watching in rapt wonder, for bluebirds appear almost instanteously. . . not one or two but dozens!
Two adult bluebirds patiently work with the baby cowbird, giving it flying lessons so obvious that I think I could follow them. For the next hour, a parade of bluebirds flies a constant food chain to the bluebird house, a banquet to the bluebird babies.
The next morning just before dawn, we peek inside the bluebird house. Three fat, downy babies sleep peacefully. In the nearby trees the adult bluebirds wait, ready to begin their work. Dumbo, the fat baby cowbird dances his chicken routine on the peak of the garage roof, already calling for room service.
I remember going inside and listening to to the morning news as I watched those birds go about their mission. Political posturing. . . war. . . murders. . . the “us-es” against the “thems.” Things are much the same today. The object isn’t to get the job done, it is to make sure it’s done MY way or not at all.
How did the bluebirds get so wise? They worked their own quiet miracle. . . together.
See more of her beautiful nature photographs and writing at http://marys-view.blogspot.com/
Thank you, Mary!