Elk Meadow Mornings - Chasing Bluebirds

Chasing bluebirds

During this wearisome time, my mornings have been spent in Elk Meadow chasing bluebirds. It is early spring in the foothills so the steep trails are slick and muddy and Bergen Peak’s rocky summit is still laced with everlasting snow.

Most of the summer residents are back including the red-winged blackbirds that nest just above waterline in the cattail marsh located at the lower end of the park. The lonely pathway is completely quiet except for the chorus of conspicuous calls made by the elusive inhabitants of this isolated grassland.

Nuthatches make a tapping sound as they peck into the bark of a ponderosa pine while a northern flicker claims territory by emitting his distinctive call from the tree’s top. The sweetest song heard in the countryside is the beautiful melody sung by the western meadowlark and that unique warbling sound made by mountain bluebirds in flight attracts my attention to their variable landing zones.

This season there has been such a profusion of bluebirds that it is as if the sky has shattered and tiny bits have rained down on earth, splashing into our drab meadow. Their photogenic profile captured in low light only enhances their legendary stature as one of America’s most beloved birds.

The female bluebirds have dull coloring that provides protection during the nesting season but the eligible males display bright plumage making them easy to spot. Many of the bluebirds like to congregate on the iron fence attached to an old, abandoned barn.

At first, they were wary of my daily incursions through their habitat and they got spooked by the slightest movement. Over time, day after day, I have gradually earned their trust as they have come to accept my recurring presence, allowing me to observe their most profound behavior.

When hunting, the bluebirds perch on mullein stalks and cock their heads sideways while listening for prey. Once they have acquired a target, they swoop down to the ground and pluck a juicy earthworm from the moist soil.

The mountain bluebirds generously share their grassland territory with robins and western bluebirds. These two red-breasted species exhibit identical behavior as the mountain bluebirds but their sparse populations are segregated into smaller pockets within the spacious field.

Mountain bluebirds dislike the cold and rain but they love warm, sunny days so that's when they are most active. Springtime in the Rockies is notorious for its fickle weather as a fierce blizzard can strike at any time before official summer.

Mountain bluebirds expect this harsh weather and have learned to adapt to the heavy snow and frigid temps that occur this time of year. Maybe we can learn something from how they respond to a disruptive hardship - they retreat to the safety of a cozy nest box and shelter in place until the storm has passed.

A profusion of bluebirds

They congregate around a barn

They swoop to the ground

They love the sun

Hunting for earthworms

They cock their heads and listen

Dull coloring provides protection

Bright blue plumage

A beloved bird

A photogenic profile

Captured in low light

Western bluebird


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