The last time I saw a Western Bluebird it was in the Berkeley Meadow. This afternoon I saw one perched on a post near the eastern entrance of Cesar Chavez park. It held its pose even while a family of visitors ambled by on the paved path within a couple of yards. I guess it wanted its portrait taken. I was happy to oblige. They’re such colorful creatures. At least the males are. The females, like in most bird species, wear a more restrained palette.
I did not see a female this afternoon. These birds are enormously useful, snatching up all kinds of bugs in flight, much like the Barn Swallows that were also out in force but moved too fast to photograph well. (Here’s a lucky shot of one swallow in flight, heavily cropped.)
The Cornell bird lab website has these cool facts about Western Bluebirds:
- Occasionally Western Bluebirds have helpers at the nest. Most of the extra birds attending nests are helping their presumed parents, some after their own nests have failed. Interestingly, studies show that many nests include young that were not fathered by the resident male.
- Genetic studies showed that 45% of nests had young that were not fathered by the defending male, and that 19% of all the young were fathered outside the pair bond.
- Western Bluebirds have a gentle look, but territory battles can get heated. Rival males may grab each other’s legs, tumble to the ground, and then pin their opponent on the ground, stand over him, and jab at him with his bill.
- A Western Bluebird weighs about an ounce. It needs about 15 calories (technically, kilocalories) per day, or 23 calories if raising young.
- Western Bluebirds are among the birds that nest in cavities—holes in trees or nest boxes. But look at their bills—they’re not equipped to dig out their own holes. They rely on woodpeckers or other processes to make their nest sites for them. This is one reason why dead trees are a valuable commodity in many habitats.
- The oldest known Western Bluebird was a male, and at least 8 years, 8 months old when he was found in California in 2008. He had been banded in the same state in 2001.