About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Migration of Eastern Bluebirds

I was surprised that I’ve been feeding bluebirds all winter. Are the bluebirds that are eating from my feeders now going to be around during the nesting season or are they just here for the winter? Colin in DeWitt, MI

This was a very big winter for bluebird watchers in mid-Michigan. I’ve never ordered so many mealworms from December through February. The Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store even had to get a larger fridge to store extra worms.

Usually, the Eastern Bluebirds will gather in large family flocks at the end of nesting season and live more in the woods. They forage on fruit, nuts, and berries. If you have fruiting trees or bluebird feeders and a reliable source of water, you may host the bluebirds year-round.

But are they the same bluebirds you had last spring? The Eastern Bluebirds are considered partial migrants. Scientist believe that a certain percentage of bluebirds aren’t genetically programmed to fly south in the winter.

According to SandyTSeibert’s article titled “Bluebirds Migrate to Find Better Weather and Better Resources”: “Eastern bluebirds do not simply shift southward. In some of the warmer areas of the country, many are year-round residents. Often, the birds from Canada and the northern U.S. will leapfrog over areas with many resident birds in order to avoid competition for food. These birds will travel as far as Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and the southern portions of Alabama, Georgia and Texas.
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Not all northern bluebirds exhibit this type of migration. Some will migrate shorter distances and remain with resident birds throughout the winter. They will face more competition for food but, if they survive, they will have the benefit of being the first to return to their breeding area in the spring. This gives them the benefit of being able to claim the most desirable territories.”

So why did we see so many bluebirds this year? One answer could be that the population may have increased. Another answer could be that we had such a mild winter that more bluebirds were noticed or more may have survived.

With the lengthening of daylight the birds are becoming more active. Nesting season is just around the corner. Make sure your houses are ready and feeders and baths are full. We will continue to stock everything you need to keep your bluebirds happy and healthy.

16 comments:

  1. We had 15 healthy bluebird babies this summer. The last 5 fledged just 90 days ago. My concern is that we may be moving within the next few months and whether or not to continue feeding mealworms. Will they begin to migrate South? Last year we only had one brood but this year we had three! Hopefully the people who will purchase our house will take care of them but who knows! We are located 30 miles east of Philadelphia.

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  2. Correction: The last 5 fledged "9" days ago.

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  3. Congratulations on your successful nesting season! You probably don’t have to worry about them. Birds only supplement 10 to 20 percent diet at feeders. Most birds prefer to forage for food. You may have noticed that Eastern Bluebirds begin to gather in large family flocks in September as nesting season ends. They take shelter in the woods and their diet switches over to more fruit, nuts, and berries. If you have fruit trees, a feeder or a reliable source of water, you may host the bluebirds year-round.
    You can contact your local Wild Birds Unlimited for specific information. Pennsylvania like mid-Michigan can see Eastern Bluebirds year-round. As I wrote before they are considered partial migrants. Scientist believe that a certain percentage of bluebirds aren’t programmed genetically to fly south in the winter. Our bluebirds can stick around or move further south if the weather becomes too harsh.
    It’s more important that you tell the new owner of your house to monitor your nest boxes next spring. Bluebirds may raise 2-3 broods in one season. Some studies have shown that about 30% of adult bluebirds return to previous nesting sites the following season.

    Eastern bluebirds prefer to nest in cavity holes excavated by woodpeckers with a grassy clearing nearby for hunting bugs. You probably know from the late 1800s to the 1960s, Eastern Bluebirds’ population declined almost 90% in part because of loss of habitat. However, since 1966 the population has increased 2.4% each year due to nesting boxes, better landscaping, and bird feeding practices.

    It is very important to be a good landlord and monitor nest boxes so you will be alerted to any problems. And the nests should also be cleaned out after each successful nesting. By monitoring and cleaning out a nest box, you help deter parasite infestation and a predator’s ability to disturb a nest that is built on top of old nests.

    Hopefully the new owners will help in the ongoing effort to promote and facilitate bluebird conservation.
    Sarah
    Store locations:
    Wild Birds Unlimited
    2200 Coolidge Rd. Ste.17
    East Lansing, MI 48823
    and
    Wild Birds Unlimited
    1745 W. Grand River Ave.
    Okemos, MI 48864

    email: bloubird@gmail.com
    web: http://lansing.wbu.com/
    blog: http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/
    Twitter: http://twitter.com/birdsunlimited
    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lansingwbu

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    1. As a native of Michigan I was surprized to see an Eastern Bluebird mixed in with some local birds that I feed seeds in Clearwater Florida about September 22 2012. I may try a deep box with a triangular entrance that my Dad used in Holland,MI some years ago, with his admonition "bluebirds do not tolerate traffic noise, so they might avoid low placement of the boxes. Please help if you can. By the way my red blossoming Hibiscus was visited by a rare Hummingbird this week also;This Hawk territory, so tiny birds are scarce here.
      Please advise if you please.---dewitt_bill@yahoo.com

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    2. Looks like a win for this novice;please write some encouragement? THX---Bill

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  4. Thank you so much for getting back to me. I am continuing to feed the worms and will stop when they run out (just placed an order for 5000 more).
    I am also planning on planting some bushes with berries they prefer in the next month. We already have several in the wooded area next to our home but would prefer to have more. I am very sad to say good-bye to them but have many wonderful pictures and great memories. Here's wishing for another owner who will be interested in these wonderful, delightful birds. Keeping my fingers crossed! Take care.

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  5. We just had a small flock of blue birds in our yard and trees yesterday Sat. Feb. 4th. 2012.
    Bill Stellin. Cascade Twp/Thornapple River

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    1. Thank you for commenting. If you spot a bird that you think is unusual for this time of year you can check with eBird.org. For a real-time, online checklist program, eBird has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on birds’ distribution.

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  6. I live just north of Atlanta GA and last year raised my first bluebirds. It is now mid=April and a single male has been doing two things for the last week. First, he flies up and down on a window each morning and secondly, sits all day on or beside a bird feeder on my deck. Is he (a male) waiting for his mate mate - or any mate?

    Thanks,
    Steve

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    1. I love it when people share their bird observations! There is so much we don’t understand about the bird world and when you study and raise questions about bird displays, it’s the first step toward learning more.

      Like humans, birds communicate through sound and gestures. In the spring bluebird family groups break up and previously unattached males and females move to new territories. The young will move from the parental territories eventually to another location before choosing a mate. This is called natal dispersal and reduces the chances of inbreeding.

      Older birds can quickly re-establish their connection and begin nesting as soon as the weather permits. Young birds at the beginning of nesting season start singing loudly from tree tops to attract a mate and announce his presence to neighboring males.

      Once he attracts a female, the songs become quieter and used more as a communication between pairs. You may also observe different visual displays. The wing-wave is where a bird sort of twitters his wings like a baby bird to get a females attention, usually near a nestbox. They also use a lopsided flight or hover flight to show off a potential nesting site.

      Nest building can begin immediately or not. They may check out several sites or even begin to nest and then stop. Many factors are involved in nest building like competition from other birds, weather, loss of a mate or just a feeling of security.

      However your male sounds like he got stuck in the first phase of establishing a territory. When he sees his reflection in the window, he thinks it looks like another bird just his size trying to steal his territory. His aggressive behavior is stimulated and he tries to scare away the interloper. With his increased testosterone, batting against the window and guarding the food source becomes his focus instead of wooing a female.

      The best thing to do is try and break the bird from flying at the window before it becomes a habit.

      Some tips to encourage the bird to begin looking for a mate again:
      • Cover the window with screens
      • Shut the blinds on your windows when you are not at home and at night.
      • Rub the window with a bar of soap or liquid soap to decrease the reflection.
      • Hang balloons or Flutter Scare tape.* Anything that moves and repels the bird from that area will be effective.
      • Post a hawk silhouette outside a window.* Hawks prey on birds, so their images will keep birds from flying towards your window.
      • Install a window feeder.* This breaks the reflection and other birds interrupt the birds battles with himself.

      *Available at Wild Birds Unlimited

      Good luck, Sarah

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  7. Thanks Sarah, you have encouraged this novice birder:
    seen in Clearwater,Florida: one Humming bird & one Eastern Bluebird around our native Cardinals, Mockingbirds and sparrors. I spotted a golden Hawk cruising the sky this September, and we have native Redtails also. Nature rules here exactly as planned!
    ---dewitt_bill@yahoo.com

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  8. I was wondering if you could help me and give me some needed advice? I live in a townhome in Maryland and I have been trying to find a answer if there is even a possibility for a bird to nest if I live in a townhome. But whenever I look at a website all it talks about placement in the country and I have a decent sized tree in my front yard and I have a bluebird house about 6 feet high in the tree and I have purchased mealworms to bring the insect eaters in the front mainly bluebirds in the back I have a small yard but a balcony with a bird feeder with seeds for chickadees and I have suet with a suet feeder and about 5 feet up on a wooden fence I have a chickadee nest box and I would just would love to be successful in a bird nesting and this is my first time trying to get a nesting pair and I don't care what kind of bird it is and I have a wooded area about 300 feet from my home. I would appreciate it if you would help me very much and I was also wondering when will the blue birds be coming to Maryland and thank you very much sincerely, Nathan

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  9. Nathan, I live in Baltimore County, MD. My neighbor & I have been seeing Blue Birds since the beginning of January .They come to her Blue bird feeder & we both saw a pair going in the house in my yard & also sitting on top of it. So keep looking, they are around.

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  10. I live in Northeast Ohio and there were four (two couples) of bluebirds in my backyard yesterday (2/13/14). This seamed very unusual since we have been having such a cold winter. I this unusual?

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  11. I live in a wooded area just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan and was also surprised to see a bluebird so early. It seems there would be so little food available for them with two feet of snow on the ground now.

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  12. The Bluebirds just arrived at our pasture in Webster, NH. Closed all the doors on the bird houses so they can start to nest.

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