By Bruce Stambaugh
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a familiar blue flash. A male Eastern Bluebird had landed awkwardly on the wooden framed feeder that held peanut butter suet cakes.
That same scene had been repeated in my backyard many times over the years. Intended for woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice, Eastern Bluebirds and other avian species have also enjoyed the rich protein offerings.
The first time I observed the bluebirds attack the suet, I took special notice. Eastern Bluebirds dine on protein-rich insects and their larvae. Suet apparently helped fill the void when insects, or berries for that matter, were unavailable in Ohio’s cold season, which this year has lasted much too long.
In the springtime, the male bluebirds burst into an iridescent, radiant blue that glows in the morning sun. They are in their flamboyant mating plumage, brilliant on head, back, wings and tail feathers. Their orange breasts contrast nicely with the showy blue. A splash of white on their wing shoulders and a snowy fringe along the birds’ bottom feathers nicely accent the flashy ensemble.
Even the more subdued and shyer females could hold their own in a bird beauty contest. Their dullness, of course, is for natural protection from predators. Bluebirds are beautiful to say the least, and their cheery chatter and lyrical calls only enhance their artistry.
Bluebirds are not designed to cling to a typical suet feeder the way woodpeckers do by bracing themselves with their firm tail feathers. I marvel every time I see the bluebirds lunching at the suet.
The bluebirds often land atop the wood-framed feeder with wire mesh sides designed for easy access to the nutritious food. They perilously cling to the sides or bottom brace of the feeder, flapping their wings wildly as they peck at the soft suet. Since they keep returning over and over, day after day, to the suet, I have to assume that they aren’t expending more energy than is gained in the tricky process.
As their main course, the bluebirds and other songbirds regularly down chipped sunflower hearts that are offered at other feeders. They apparently use the peanut butter suet as dessert, and then wash it all down with occasional visits to the little waterfalls of the garden pond.
A half dozen pairs of Eastern Bluebirds frequent my feeders, shrubs and trees in the yard. If they choose to inhabit some of the bluebird houses erected around the property, I rejoice and stay vigilant. It’s a never-ending battle with the pesky House Sparrows to keep the bluebirds nesting.
In the spring, I check the boxes regularly. If I find a finely structured nest of soft grasses and pine needles, I know the bluebirds have won the battle. If the nest is disheveled and constructed with a junkyard of materials, I pitch it in hopes of discouraging the House Sparrows.
Often the bluebirds will perch in the large sugar maple in our backyard above the dangling suet feeder. After just a few bites of suet on this chilly April morn, this male bluebird instead took wing and swooped low across the wide stretch of open, freshly plowed farm fields, making a beeline for my Amish neighbors.
Were they using a different feed? Was the bluebird nesting in one of their boxes? The answers were really insignificant. What did matter was that the bluebirds were thriving for all to enjoy.
Watching that bluebird arch across those fields in the morning sunshine couldn’t have made me happier.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013