Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bluebirds and more Flowers

I saw my first Bluebird last April with binoculars and managed to get a very fuzzy photograph as a record of my sighting. Perhaps half a dozen sightings were reported on our birding forum last season outside of the Guelph Lake area. Bluebirds are not endangered but many people are encouraging them with Bluebird box trails in rural areas of Ontario.

Bluebird on April 5th. This box is now used by Tree Swallows

I saw this Bluebird and several others on April 5th in a field where a number of bird houses were erected. We went back this past weekend and the very box where I photographed the Bluebird was occupied by the Tree Swallows I featured in my last post. It seemed that all the boxes in the area were claimed by Tree Swallows. We walked about half a kilometer down the path and found one Bluebird defending another house against four persistent swallows. There were at least 20 houses in the field and some appeared vacant.

Bluebird on April 19th defends nesting box against Tree Swallows

Both Bluebirds and Tree Swallows are native birds, but our sympathies were with the Bluebird, just because it seemed so outnumbered. When researching the problem on the internet, I found this interesting article about Bluebird/Tree Swallow competition on a Tree Swallow Projects webpage. The author** minimizes the problem and gives a historical perspective on Bluebird populations. (** Chris Gates, has left a thoughtful comment on this post)
Whatever issues there are between these two species, the numbers of Bluebirds in our region appear to be increasing. I have seen several this season and hope to be able to observe their behaviour more closely over the next few weeks.

In conclusion, here are the first daffodils I have seen outdoors this season. Are they in competition for space with the blue windflowers?* I think not, and the two go very well together. Hopefully the Bluebirds and Tree Swallows will also come to some sort of truce and share their space as well.
(* Thanks AC for the ID!)


  1. Beautiful bluebirds. Hopefully there are enough nest boxes for both. And that we continue to see your excellent posts and pics of them.

  2. That is an interesting article Ruth. I'd like to think that these species can coexist as well.

  3. I have not seen a Bluebird yet ... and YET is the key word. What a beautiful bird. A friend from Mount Forest area says that are a very common there. He saw his first one in late March already. Maybe worth a drive to Mount Forest??

    I hope the bluebird wins his rights to the house. I'm glad that their numbers are increasing. Who wouldn't want such a lovely bird hanging around? But then again I wouldn't say no to the tree swallows. We need to build more boxes.

  4. I think those are windflowers -- a type of anemone if I am remembering correctly.

    May you sing of a bluebird on your shoulder.

  5. I really love that first photo. The composition and colors are perfect. Yellow and blue together make me smile.

  6. Interesting article on the bluebirds vs swallows. Funny how we people develop prejudices. I actually like them both ... and they both eat a lot of undesirable insects. Yes!

  7. I got into some real 'higher math' when I lived in the foothills, trying to figure out where along the fences to place nest boxes to reduce competition between our mountain bluebirds and the swallows. Had to also be in a place where the horses couldn't cheek-rub on the boxes.

  8. BLue =birds and Tree Swallows seem to be able to nest close together.THe Daffs look wonderful.

  9. I love the bluebirds too! Just sent you a picture of the white heron, Ruth. Your lovely birdwatching is inspiring me to look closer at what we've got in our area!

  10. I'll agree with Esther - you've got me paying special attention to the birds in our area. I've enjoyed seeing herons, canada geese, chickadees, robins, etc. but never noticed a junco before. And thank you for identifying it for me this past winter.

    I also like bluebirds. Your pics are gorgeous. The colour is so bright. I read (a few years ago) on a bluebird website that if other birds nest in your bluebird house, you should destroy the nest. I could never do that.
    So, I hope you're right and the bluebirds and swallows learn to co-exist.

  11. Great photos--I love the bluebirds--we had some a few weeks ago, but I haven't seen them since.

  12. Beautiful bluebirds. I hope they can share the nest space this year.

  13. Ruth,

    I love bluebirds. There used to be a lot of them in this area during the 50s, but then the population declined drastically. I've been seeing more in the last few years, so hopefully the population will increase to what it was when I was young. We used to have a lot of them around the farm, as well as other lovely songbirds that aren't seen so often anymore.

    Have a great week, my friend.

  14. I'm the person who wrote the page on bluebird-tree swallow competition you referred to in your original post. (I encourage any of your readers interested in this subject to visit it). I love both species and have been disturbed over the years by the unnecessary animosity of bluebird hobbyists toward swallows, which stems largely from mismanagement.

    The bluebird/swallow situation you describe is typical of what happens when a well-intended person saturates an area with nest boxes, especially an area where tree swallows are common: you get lots of swallows and a single pair of bluebirds. Bluebirds defend a large territory (that includes their feeding ground) vs other bluebirds. Tree Swallows only defend small territories against other tree swallows. Therefore a given area can hold many more nesting pairs of swallows than bluebirds. Naturally clusters of boxes attract groups of swallows hoping to breed. But even so, bluebirds can often take and hold a box, as you've found, since they are larger and able to overpower swallows.

    My advice is that persons in tree swallow country who want to favor bluebirds should never cluster boxes. Instead, they should create pairs of boxes 10-15' apart, with each pair spaced at least 100 yards/30 meters away from the next pair. This spreads both species out and greatly reduces mobbing of bluebirds by large groups of swallows, and often bluebirds and swallows will end up nesting side by side after an initial period of squabbling. You get to enjoy and learn from both.

    Lastly, in response to an comment by one of your readers: it is against the law to remove a nest of swallows, wrens, or nest of any other native species from a box, even if it was intended for bluebirds. You can only remove nests of non-natives, such as house sparrows and starlings.

  15. Ooops, In my previous comment I gave a wrong metric measure for spacing of bluebird boxes. I said 100 yards or 30 meters. It should be 90 meters. Very sorry for any confusion.

  16. Thanks to all who commented. Please visit Chris' website to learn more about Tree Swallows.


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