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.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why some wild birds seem to be fearless with humans

We’ve wondered why some wild birds seem to be fearless with humans. We have a pair of Western Bluebirds that use the nest box in our front yard. Once eggs are laid, I offer mealworms and both birds will take them from our hands. We wonder what their background was to make them so trusting.

That is a fascinating question! Some birds will accept you as a natural part of their environment if you give them a reason like food or shelter.

Birds can be found all around the world and have been on the earth a lot longer than humans. Stone Age drawings reveal we’ve been able to create mutually beneficial relationships with many bird species since the dawn of man.  

And our love for bluebirds runs deep. Bluebirds (Sialia) are found only in North America. Among some Native Americans, the bluebird has always had significance. The Navajo identify the Mountain Bluebird as a spirit in animal form, associated with the rising sun.

In the 1930’s when many Americans were going through a hard time, the song "The Bluebird of Happiness" became a worldwide hit.

Some of the lyrics are:
Be like I, hold your head up high,
Till you find a bluebird of happiness.
You will find greater peace of mind
Knowing there's a bluebird of happiness.

And when he sings to you,
Though you're deep in blue,
You will see a ray of light creep through,
And so remember this, life is no abyss,
Somewhere there's a bluebird of happiness.

That song is probably where the American phrase "the bluebird of happiness," originated which was next alluded to in the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from the Wizard of Oz.

Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can't I?
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

Another popular song in the 1940’s "There'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover" also used bluebirds to lift spirits. Even though there are no bluebirds in South East England the "bluebirds" might have been a metaphor for the American air force coming in to liberate Britain and Europe.
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Finally in the late 1940’s Disney produced the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" which I remember because it was the opening theme medley for the Wonderful World of Disney television program.

Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder.
It's the truth, It's actual,
everything is satisfactual!
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!
Wonderful feeling, Wonderful day!

Disney also used bluebirds in a lot of their animated films. I particularly remember them in Snow White and Cinderella helping the heroines avoid danger and cheering them up when they were sad or felt hopeless.

Bluebirds have made a spot in a lot of people's hearts. Their cheerful song and friendly behavior helped them become a symbol of happiness and love in American culture. So when people noticed an almost 90% population declined of the Eastern Bluebird from the late 1800s to the 1960s, people came together and formed bluebird societies to learn more about a how to help a bird that had been their good neighbor. And since the 1960’s the population has increased 2.4% each year due to man made nesting boxes, better landscaping, and bird feeding practices.

I read on http://www.allaboutbirds.org/ that Western Bluebirds are numerous, but their populations are declining in some areas. The main problem seems to be loss of habitat both from extensive logging and from forest growth from the suppression of natural fires; also development and grazing have reduced habitat availability. Even in appropriately wooded habitat, people may remove dead trees in an effort to clean up; this limits the places where bluebirds nest. And there is a lot of competition from other birds for their tree-cavity nest sites. Again man made nest boxes have helped decrease further declines. 

It so happens that I am a member of the So. California Bluebird Club, which in turn is part of the network of clubs throughout the U.S. and Canada devoted to bringing back all three varieties of bluebirds. Our club is perhaps the single most successful chapter in restoring the Western Bluebird on the West Coast. Though Orange County is one of the smallest counties in CA, our records show that last year our boxes yielded more than 8,000 fledglings. It might be partly due to the fact that we place our boxes in trees rather than on posts (see photo), thanks to the Purvis lifter which was invented by one of our club’s founders, Dick Purvis. Hanging the boxes by open hooks makes it possible to place the boxes in many more locations because people can’t reach them. Regards, Elena 

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