The other day I was watching a mixed Eastern Bluebird/House Sparrow flock in the trees along the West River in Brattleboro, VT. They flew off in all directions just as I was getting my camera ready. I didn't get a good picture of a male Bluebird, just got a fleeting look at one in the thicket, but a female obligingly perched on a shrub along the road for a photo shoot.
Compared to the modest attire of the female, the male looks over-the-top extravagant. I pulled these photos from my archive:
The Bluebird is beloved by many because of its gentleness and sweet song. In many cultures it is thought of as a symbol of hope and happiness. Some Native American tribes considered it sacred. It is often featured in songs and tales. So, it's an appropriate symbol for the Christmas season when we are reminded to be charitable to the neediest and lowliest among us. Looking at the bird world I would include the lowly and despised House Sparrow (HOSP), but how wrong I was! The HOSP is an aggressive and deadly competitor for nesting sites. It probably contributed to the decline of the Eastern Bluebird population after its introduction in 1851.
"don't know any Bluebird hosts who enjoy killing anything, including HOSP, but the two species are on a head on collision course and there is so much proof that the HOSP will win (and by that I mean kill) your Bluebirds eventually."
- Dave Kinneer, Bluebirding Forum, 2008
- Dave Kinneer, Bluebirding Forum, 2008
From the North American Bluebird Society FAQ
"Q: I came out to check my babies, and found several of them dead and strewn out on the ground. Others were still in the box, but looked like they had been battered on the head and eyes. HELP!"
A: House Sparrows, which are exotic pest species, will enter a box and peck the occupants to death. Clean out the box and either take steps to either eliminate the sparrows or move the box to a more suitable location. House Sparrows are found only around human dwellings, in cities and around farm buildings. To minimize competition from this aggressive predator and competitor, place your boxes where sparrows are not likely to be a problem. Please see our House Sparrow Control page for more sparrow management techniques"
So the Bluebird may well consider the House Sparrow a devilish competitor.
We are reminded this time of the year to give generously to charitable organisations. Along with mail order catalogs our mail box is stuffed with requests for money. It seems whenever we donate to an organization it soon comes back asking for more. And this is not just my impression. Here is a link to an article in the NY Times. Bill and I make a list every year and in general stick to it. The Charity Navigator is an invaluable source to help with the selection.
Good news on the home front:
According to an article in the NY Times Vermont is rebounding quickly from Hurricane Irene. Now all we need is lots and lots of top soil to replace what the flood has washed away and we also badly need snow to attract skiers to support our local economy.
And Happy Birding in 2012!
i didn't realize the house sparrows were killing off the bluebird population. we have lots of bluebirds here but few house sparrows - i guess because it is more rural. nice shots!ReplyDelete
A wonderful holiday message! Terrific images! Bluebirds make me smile. They are one of my favorite birds. Over the last few years we have placed six bluebird nestboxes up. This year we had three successful bluebird broods! Hoping for four or more next year.ReplyDelete
Wishing you all the joys of the holiday season.
I, too, go to Charity Navigator before choosing a new charity. It is a useful resource.ReplyDelete
The bluebird is no slouch when it comes to defending a nest box. I've seen them attack swallows who were checking out our nest box, the blue bird won. The swallows nested after the bluebirds fledged but it was too late, the weather was too hot and the nestlings died.
Gorgeous shots! Well done!ReplyDelete
WOW!! Great shots of a gorgeous little bird!ReplyDelete
I was just thinking that female looks so lovely with her blues, and then I scrolled down to the male... he is stunning!!
Bluebirds are definitely beautiful, even the females... Lovely shots, though the HOSP problem is a bummer...ReplyDelete
Oh yeah and I LOVE the Snow Bunting header!!!ReplyDelete
Great close ups!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.ReplyDelete
Great photos of the Bluebirds and I like your thoughts about how to celebrate the holiday season.ReplyDelete
Lovely images of the Bluebirds Hilke.. I really do love watching my House Sparrows though.ReplyDelete
We have really messed up the planet..
I wish you and yours all the best for Christmas.
Just beautiful. Love the feather detail in the female's photo.ReplyDelete
Hilke, folloeing your blog has been a pleasure and delight. Thank you for all all of it. I know just how much work it takes. The blue birds are spectacular. I had a flock of 17 this late fall. It nearly made me want to cry! I also got one while with my son who was paragliding from Blue Hill I you guessed it: Blue Hill Maine! So, guess I should post all that, eh?ReplyDelete
I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a splendid New Year in 2012' love RRR
Lovely post and beautiful shots of the bluebird. Seeing them makes me happy. I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas!ReplyDelete
The female Bluebird, photographed so well by you, is an elegant little bird!ReplyDelete
Blue ti full! Wishing you and yours a Very Joy filled Christmas and a Happy New Year!ReplyDelete
I've never seen a blue-bird before. I'd certainly heard of the 'bluebird of happiness' perhaps in old songs... As a young girl I remember having an enamelled bluebird on a gold-heart locket pendant. My, your blue-bird photographs are so captivating. You have such beautiful birds to photograph. Being in the right place at the right time is a bonus.ReplyDelete
Beautiful photos of these fellows!ReplyDelete
They sure make me happy looking at them :)!
The Bluebird is a real beauty.ReplyDelete
It's a bit strange reading all the bad press the House Sparrow gets. Behaviour I've never heard of or witnessed here before in the few decades I've managed to survive so far.
Lovely images Hilke and love the look of the blog.ReplyDelete
I love both, the flamboyant male and modest, but elegant female:)ReplyDelete
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Interesting this blood sport between Bluebirds and Hosp's. Funny in a ironic way that human sentiment maybe a positive factor in the BB's survival. I like that. Crazy that UK birders report the HOSP's slow demise there in it's home base. Hmmmm.ReplyDelete
In any event, I appreciate your call to charity this season. We all need that reminder even though the charities themselves have figured out those annoying high powered computer driven fundraising schemes. I like the bell ringers! Special regards to you and Bill this Holiday!
Thank you for interesting and thoughtful comments and compliments! Just want to make clear, I have no bad feelings toward House Sparrows. It was news to me too to read about their deadly competition with Bluebirds. We don't have many HOSP here, have never had one at my feeder. Tree Swallows are the main competitors here for nest boxes. On fundraising I have learned never to answer any phone calls from numbers that start with a toll-free number. Also they never leave a voice message.ReplyDelete
Yes...HOSP are a huge problem and I feel for the people who have blue bird nests and it can also happen to other nesting birds...it's awful what a non-native species of any kind can do...ReplyDelete
I didn't realise that House Sparrows could be so vicious! They look so innocent in my garden.ReplyDelete
Wonderful photos! Lovely to see birds that we don't see here. I didn't realize house sparrows were aggressive in behaviour. Good to learn something new about birds that I see every day.ReplyDelete
Merry Christmas and have a great holiday season! Happy birding to you too!!
I found your post very informative. The shots of the female Bluebird were great. We have many Bluebird trails here in southern Alberta especially towards the mountains but as you mentioned House Sparrows are not present in these areas. In a talk I attended on the trails they mentioned that they were worried about raccoons which had only started to move into Southern Alberta. I remember one trip we took to see a trail with the man who maintained it as our guide. The Bluebirds only used every other box the boxes in between were used by Violet-green Swallows. It was a really beautiful trip that I have always remembered.
All the best for the holidays.
Hi there - the female is hardly ugly! Very nice bird. Shame we have moved so many species to new regions. Australia has more than its fair share of issues in that regard!ReplyDelete
Catching the osprey with the fish in its claws was luck! But I'll take it when it happens
Hope you have a good Christmas.
Stewart M - Melbourne
I love those little bluebirds but have none in my backyard. May be due to the HOSP ... which I have a lot of. Thanks for this informative post! Hope you have Happy Holiday!ReplyDelete
wow! glad to see this!ReplyDelete
what gorgeous shots of a beautiful little bird!
thanks so much for sharing.
wish you and yours a merry Christmas!
I am well aware of the HOSP killing Bluebirds for nesting space. Since they are not protected under the Migration Act. http://sialis.org/mbta.htm . I will do what I have to do to protect my nesting Bluebirds.ReplyDelete
Merry Christmas Hilke!!!
First I must say that I love your photos of the female Bluebird showing her subtle beauty. The showy males often get so much attention that I think the beauty in the female Bluebird is often overlooked.ReplyDelete
Being a Bluebird Trail monitor and the Shasta County Coordinator for the California Bluebird Recovery Program, Bluebirds are my favorite passerine. If you are interested in putting up nestboxes for Bluebirds, you may be able to attract them to your area. I wrote a post with some links on "Bluebirds Back From the Brink" that would get you started.
House Sparrows definitely were the main reason Bluebirds across the country began to decline in the early 1900's. It's a shame that they are now declining themselves in Europe but we certainly don't want them breeding here in the US.
We rarely saw a Bluebird around our house when I moved to Shasta County, now they are seen in many places and their beautiful songs are heard by more and more people every year!
Please contact me if you are interested in helping this beautiful bird recover its numbers in the US
trekking your superb blog! keep blogging and inspiring people! happy holidays!ReplyDelete
I live in the country in KY and we have lots of Eastern Bluebirds and at least where we live no House Sparrows. They live a little further toward small city limts from me. I have tried Bluebird boxes, but am pretty much in the woodlands and they do not work as well. My neighbors all do better than myself. Your images are all very delightful and I enjoyed my visit~ Merry Christmas!ReplyDelete
Concerning the birdhouses; you don't want to keep out the native species like the Tree Swallow. As a matter of fact, if you mount two houses about 25 feet apart, Bluebirds and Tree Swallows many times will each use one of the houses and help each other fend off intruders! True, Bluebirds will not nest in the woods unless there is sufficient open spaces nearby but they will use nestboxes at woodland edges.ReplyDelete
Beautiful photos of the bluebirds! Bluebirds are doing very well since people started putting up nestboxes. I haven't got it in for House Sparrows like some folks do. We brought them here and they are just doing what comes natural to them.ReplyDelete
A great series Hilke. My best wishes for 2012!!ReplyDelete
I swear I'm so fed up with House Sparrows driving all the more interesting birds away from my feeders that I'm about to stop feeding the birds entirely! I have a flock of anywhere from 30-40 of the dratted birds hogging the feeders whenever I put out fresh seed. SIGH...ReplyDelete
On a much nicer note... your bluebird images are marvelous and the information you provided in this post, both on sparrows vs. bluebirds and on charitable donations is helpful. I haven't been around much for the past couple of months but finally posted a belated holiday greeting on my photoaddictshowcase (also blogspot.com) blog if you care to have a look. I'm going to try to be around more in 2012... best wishes to you for a great new year!
Hi Hilke....Dec 23rd I posted photos of Bluebirds in the snow eating red winter berries....I was so excited to see them, but knew they where still here because of there tell tale song...I believe our mild weather has kept them in the area...not unusual though!!ReplyDelete
I have them ever summer having up to two broods of 5 and 6 this summer..I haven't had the problem with House Sparrows in some years now.
I will admit to have done to what the Bluebird Society subjected ,because after finding a female bluebird with her head pecked into dead on a nest of eggs I was outraged!! There are so many House Sparrows in the city at Wal Mart, Lowes and etc...I don't think there will be a decline fro these sort of actions!!
Sorry for going on...Bluebird are a passion of mine ...your shots are gorgeous!!
Thank you for your comments! I hadn't realized what a vicious pest HOSP are since there are none around our house. I agree that you sometimes have to take aggressive measures to keep them out. Happy New Year!ReplyDelete
Happy New Year to you and yours and many thanks for the beautiful and educational posts (all year). I appreciate that you are such a good teacher along with your beautiful photos. And that you are not afraid to mention that not all birds are entirely good (as in this post -- the house sparrows and other introduced species particularly).ReplyDelete
And, happy birding 2012 to you as well.ReplyDelete
Well, I am a bit late to the game, but Happy New Year Hilke! Love the bluebirds!ReplyDelete