Pockets of Normalcy

During these challenging times, what we once considered as “normal” seems like a distant memory. I’ve found that seeking pockets of normalcy is comforting. Maybe because it’s a distraction, but more likely because it gives me hope that our lives will again be “normal” someday. We are fortunate to have a wonderful pocket of normalcy right in our backyard, as a Bluebird couple have once again chosen our birdhouses to raise their family.

We’ve always had bird feeders and have enjoyed watching many different birds visit our yard. About five years ago, we briefly saw a male Bluebird visit our bird bath. After some research, we determined it was just a “fly by” and that he wasn’t overly impressed with our food and lodging offerings. My wife decided that we needed to add Bluebird houses to our backyard.

Much to our delight, the following spring a Papa Bluebird visited once again. He must have approved of our renovations because a few days later, he brought the decision-maker with him – Mama Bluebird. That first year was very exciting for us as we watched them daily from March through September.

The following spring we upped our game by adding a mealworm feeder to our backyard, not knowing if they would return or not. You would have thought we won the lottery the day we saw a Papa Bluebird sitting on one of the houses. Mama soon followed and our “Bluebird” spring and summer unfolded just as the year before. Mama and Papa’s behavior the second year mirrored the first, so now we understood what “normal” was for raising a family of Bluebirds – and it’s pretty awesome!

As we have gotten to know our Bluebirds over the years, we have come to truly appreciate how magnificent they are. As mentioned above, a Papa Bluebird visits each spring by himself. This is his scouting run to scope out suitable places to raise a family. Mama usually shows up a few days later, and they basically start “claiming their turf” by sitting on one of our houses. They are not fending off other Bluebirds, but other birds like Starlings and House Sparrows who also look for holes/houses to build nests in – and also have been known to attack Bluebirds.

Claiming their turf can go on for weeks before they even start building a nest. Similar to the boxing analogy of “pound for pound best boxer”, Papa Bluebird is one of the baddest birds on this planet! We’ve seen times when a Starling has trapped Mama in one of the houses, and out of nowhere Papa comes dive bombing the Starling and chases him away. Papa is extremely protective – just ask a few curious squirrels who have gotten a little too close to the house. Papa is always on watch! He’s like a dad at the playground who never takes his eyes off his children as they play with their friends. Papa likes to sit in a few different spots, usually high points where he can keep an eye on the entire backyard.

It’s heartwarming to observe Mama and Papa Bluebird truly being a couple. Much like a husband and wife, they have their different roles but they work as a team and share many responsibilities. During nest building, we watch them both gather pieces of grass and individually disappear through the hole in the birdhouse. We have also seen Papa carry some nest building materials to the birdhouse opening to hand-off to Mama inside.

Bluebirds are very social. They do not mind interactions with people, and at times we think they actually enjoy us being around. Our Bluebird houses allow for the front section to swing open so we can look inside. We don’t look too often, and we always knock on the side of the house first, but we can watch the progress of the nest building with an occasional peek. Watching nest building is fun, but nothing compares to looking inside a house and seeing a little blue egg in the nest! Mama usually lays one egg a day, in the morning, for five or six days. She actually spends time away from the house during the time and we monitor the egg laying in the early evening each day. “Dive bomber” Papa is always watching us from a nearby perch, but somehow knows that he can trust us. Once all the eggs are laid, Mama takes to keeping them warm by sitting on the nest for about two weeks.

We made a big mistake with our birdhouses the first year. We mounted our houses on wooden stakes that looked nice, but were not very sturdy. After Mama laid five eggs that first year, a raccoon (most likely) knocked the entire house down one night and there were no eggs left the next morning. We felt terrible, and quickly put the houses back up on “industrial strength” poles with safeguards to prevent anything from climbing to the house. We were afraid Mama and Papa would go away, but they stayed. The next day they both sat next to each other on the birdbath for a very long time. Their daily routine was sadly no longer required and they were likely a bit puzzled, but it also seemed like they were mourning. Staying close together, not flying all about until they decided to start all over again – which they did, but in a different house in our yard.

Once the baby Bluebirds are hatched, Papa now elevates his protector role and guards the house pretty much all the time – and aggressively chases away any bird or animal that gets close to the house. He also becomes chief cook and bottle washer. As mentioned earlier, we have a mealworm feeder close to the birdhouse. We add mealworms to the feeder in the early morning most days. We don’t bother Mama during this time, but we do get close to fill the feeder. Papa watches us closely. As soon as we start walking away, he will fly to the feeder for a mouthful of mealworms. He collects the mealworms, but he doesn’t eat a single one as he flies to the birdhouse opening for a beak to beak hand-off with Mama so she can feed the babies and herself. This routine continues for the next 10-15 days. As days go on, we’ll see Mama and Papa go into the house and come out with little white sacs in their mouths. They are removing the waste from the babies so the nest stays clean and safe (gives new appreciation for the disposable diapers we used for our three kids :).

Next comes the best part of helping our Bluebird couple raise their family – the babies start to fledge the nest. After 15 days or so, we start seeing the babies start poking their heads out the birdhouse. It’s really fun to watch over a couple days as they get more courageous, you think one is about to go for it – then he or she thinks “not so sure” and pulls back inside. Growing confidence, along with an increasingly crowded house, finally leads to the first fledgling leaving the nest and immediately perching on a nearby tree branch. One by one, they all take the leap of faith over coming days and our backyard is filled with Bluebirds.

After several intense weeks, Mama and Papa finally can relax a bit – although their parenting responsibilities continue. We add more mealworms per day to the feeder to satisfy the growing needs of all the new babies. Some of the babies quickly find their way to the feeder and become fairly independent right away. Others, are more tentative and we watch as Mama or Papa bring them mealworms wherever they may be perched in a tree. Over coming weeks, many of the fledglings stick around and often play together in our birdbath. As their first brood of baby Bluebirds continue to spread their wings, Mama and Papa have already started nest number two and start the entire process all over again

So, during this unprecedented time of uncertainty and fear, we are blessed to have a pocket of normalcy that our family escapes to everyday – right in our backyard. I hope reading our Bluebird adventures provides you with a brief escape as well, and I hope you find comfort in seeking your own pockets of normalcy within your lives.