Bluebirds of Happiness
A mother bluebird sitting on her eggs
By REBA MIZE
I have waited all week for this Monday morning bluebird adventure. I'm going out with "the Bluebird Lady of Hardscrabble," Susan Cox.
Greeting me at her door with yogurt in one hand and a coffee in the other is Susan, who is not even slightly concerned about the weather, even though we're having a Wizard-of-Oz-tornado skies kind of spring morning.
"I go out in all sorts of weather," she says. I throw caution to the wind, ignoring all my instincts about being struck by lightning. I have the bluebird bug.
I follow her little Volkswagen down the bumpy groundskeeper's road to the caddy shack of Hardscrabble Country Club. Susan goes to the course on Mondays when it is closed - less chance of getting hit with a golf ball, she explains. Hardscrabble's agronomist, Scott Hickey, has given permission for Susan to tend the birdhouses on the private golf course.
The moment I step on the green I am overwhelmed with the beauty of the early spring. Have you noticed right before a really bad storm how the light is intense? I forget to worry about this as I, 5-foot-8, struggle to keep up with 5-foot-1 Susan on her appointed rounds of the bluebird boxes.
"Look," she says, "in that tree there is a male." Oh, my gosh! I just cannot believe our luck. There in the tree above, just like in a Disney animation, appears a male bluebird and then the female.
You see immediately what Thoreau meant when he wrote "The Bluebird Carries the Sky on His Back." You just have to see one bluebird to know everyone should be helping them by providing bluebird boxes and suitable habitat.
"They are checking us out," Susan says. She gently raps her fingernails on the side of a bluebird box. It is a polite way of asking, "Is anybody home?"
Thunder rumbles, but I remain too interested to notice much.
"My mother loved bluebirds. I have had a fascination with all things of the natural world from my early childhood," she says. "Putting up birdhouses is something I can do to keep bluebirds around."
Susan opens the bluebird house and shows me the sweetest nest. Too early for eggs. We hear the male bird singing encouragement and know it won't be long.
As a piercing siren sounds, Susan explains, "Oh, that's just the siren warning people to leave the course. I think this is just going to pass over."
At least, I think that's what she said as my ears are now full of rain and my glasses are fogged. I gaze in the distance at my dry truck.
Susan continues her bluebird house duties as I run for safety. But I can't wait for next Monday, when Susan has invited me to come back.
Shimmering like the Emerald City
That is the only way I can describe this second Monday morning: blue skies, sunshine, the greens perfectly manicured. Today, we are going to put up a new house!
It's all about location. Not unlike people, bluebirds love an open space with the entrance facing the morning sun. Dang, this lady is handy - she whips out a power screwdriver and drives in the finishing touches to the bluebird house, hands me the pole and off we go with high hopes a new family will choose our box for their home.
Bluebirds are notoriously picky about their home choices. That, along with bully birds and human encroachment into their natural habitats, has led to the near demise of the bluebird. Bluebirds once were as common as robins.
Again, Susan amazes me. With little or no help from me, within minutes she has pounded the base in the ground and the new bluebird house is set up.
"Let's stand over here in the shade," she says.
I nearly fainted when, almost immediately, a male bluebird dropped onto our (notice it is now "our") bluebird house.
Susan has to restrain me as I was about to do my happy dance.
"Wait, this is just the start - he will put his head in and pull it out many times in a sort of 'Look , this is a great spot honey' ritual," she says.
I don't think I breathed. I don't even know how long it lasted until the lady bluebird landed on the roof of our house. Then, the male flew away and let her do some house-hunter viewing. It was like a celebrity reality real estate show.
We leave them to make their final decision.
I'll have to return another Monday to see if they moved in, but the signs look favorable!
The stork visits the bluebirds
When the third Monday comes, I can't wait to visit that new nest we found last week. Tapping again, we find a mama bird brooding an incredible six eggs.
And then it happens: In the last house we visit, we find newborn baby bluebirds, naked, blind and hungry for a big bug buffet. I am in love.
From this point until they leave the nest, the mother and father will feed the chicks every 20 minutes.
As we head out, Tim Belcher, who is in charge of golf course maintenance, stops us to ask about our little birds and shares a few bluebird stories of his own.
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly
On my last visit, I see what I have been waiting for - flight! It has been about 21 days since we discovered our first eggs. At this point, the proud parents will dangle an enticing bug in front of the opening to lure the fledglings out. The chicks know instinctively how to fly to a nearby branch and so begins their process of learning how to take care of themselves. I think I am more worried about the little birds than the parents.
I went out the day before a predicted storm just to check from a distance and that's when I saw them - two forlorn fledglings!
Just when I'm about to go buy my own mealy worms, the daddy drops to the ground to teach them how to grab a bug in their beak. Watch close, fledgling, as you are going to be on your own soon!
Mister Bluebird on my shoulder!
I know now why artists are inspired by the tiny bluebird.
Mondays with Susan have been an experience I wish you could have traveled with me. I have never smiled so much in my life.
By tending these seven nests, Susan helps to fill our world with these exceptional and incredibly beautiful birds.
If you are inspired to help the bluebirds, you can find tons of information about this gentle creature in books and online. You and your family can have your own "Blue Bird of Happiness."
All photos by Reba Mize
Learn more about providing bluebird houses and habitat at the North American Bluebird Society.