|"Mountain Bluebird" Colored Pencil|
One of the first songbirds to return to our alpine meadows each spring, the mountain bluebird is a fleck of dazzling color in the drab March landscape. Watching from a tree stump at the edge of an open woodland, sharp black eyes scour the short grasses for insects and spiders. This sit-and-wait technique is called drop-hunting. Once it pinpoints a meal, the bluebird drops to the ground and captures its prey with its bill. Unlike eastern and western bluebirds that require a perch, mountain bluebirds have developed the ability to hover in mid-air while hunting for food. This allows them to live in areas with sparse trees or shrubs.
Bluebird populations have declined drastically during the last century for several reasons such as urban sprawl, removal of dead trees, vinyl and metal fencing, and the introduction of aggressive European starlings and house sparrows into the U.S. The biggest challenge facing bluebirds is finding a suitable nesting environment. Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, which means they are unable to create their own cavities for residency. They prefer to move into abandoned woodpecker nests but the loss of habitat has created intense competition for these prime dwelling spaces.
Bluebirds are most vocal at dawn when the first morning light permeates our high elevation. Their prodigious singing is legendary. During the excitement of spring, some males have been clocked at 1,000 songs per hour. Their joyful calls are a big reason why bluebirds are considered symbols of happiness and optimism. Despite the ongoing struggle to find a safe place to raise their young, the future for mountain bluebirds appears bright but their success depends on our continued support.
Recently, mountain bluebirds have made an incredible comeback. Their numbers have increased mostly because of the generous efforts of landowners in the western states to provide the birds with nest boxes. The simple wooden structures that have become so popluar in parks and backyards. Mountain bluebirds may become attached to one of these artificial birdhouses, especially if they have successfully raised hatchlings. They might even return to the same box year after year. There really is no place like home.