Along the bluebird trail

Rob Zimmer Special Contributor
Now Media Group

The warmth of spring swept across the landscape, enticing the first wildflowers of the season into bloom and the bluebirds into glorious song.

Along the bluebird trail, pairs of eastern bluebirds burst into cheerful chorus as they set about nest building duties and defending chosen boxes from bubbly tree swallows.

The bluebirds fed like flycatchers, sweeping from the branches to snatch insects in mid-flight. Occasionally, they dropped to the ground, snatching up large beetles or worms scurrying across the surface.

Spring in Wisconsin is a wonderful time to observe bluebirds throughout the state, a triumphant return to glory for a bird once at the brink.

Eastern bluebirds are members of the thrush family, the same family that includes those incredible songsters such as the American robin, wood thrush, veery and hermit thrush.

Bluebird boxes and trails

Unlike some of their close relatives, however, the Eastern bluebird is a cavity nester. In addition to man-made nest boxes, eastern bluebirds in the wild occupy cavities in trees and snags.

Due to clearing of woodlots and removal of dead snags and fence rows in their chosen habitats, eastern bluebirds suffered severe declines throughout the 1900s.

Conservation efforts, including erecting bluebird houses and bluebird trails, helped the birds recover significantly over the past several decades.

Organizations such as the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (www.braw.org) are here to help property owners, especially those in rural areas, help strengthen bluebird numbers, as well as enjoy these colorful songbirds throughout the seasons.

Eastern bluebirds are birds of the forest edge, requiring wide open spaces such as meadows, prairie gardens and grasslands in which to feed and raise their families.

Rural residents are encouraged to erect bluebird nest boxes wherever possible to provide these birds with additional nesting space as they continue to increase in number.

Eastern bluebirds face fierce competition for nest boxes from other songbirds including European house sparrows, native tree swallows, native house wrens and others.

Networks of bluebird nest boxes, placed strategically along woodland edges and fence rows, are known as bluebird trails and are often maintained and recorded by conservation groups, Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts or simply by the property owners themselves.

In addition to erecting enough boxes to provide nesting space, many property owners choose to plant native wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs that entice these birds and provide them the shelter and feeding and foraging habitats they require.

Grassland visitors

With the placement of a bluebird trail or nest box and associated plantings comes a natural flow of wild creatures large and small into this new oasis.

Including native wildflowers such as orange milkweed, wild bergamot, New England aster, goldenrod and others will attract a number of butterflies and pollinators. You're sure to spot monarchs, common buckeyes, great spangled fritillaries and other butterflies feasting on the expanding wildflower plantings.

Other grassland songbirds might move in as well, including indigo buntings, American goldfinch, catbird, brown thrasher, field sparrow, clay colored sparrow, Savannah sparrow, orchard oriole and others.

Including native grasses such as bluestems and prairie dropseed will host a whole new parade of colorful songbirds during fall migration.

Find Rob Zimmer online at www.robzimmeroutdoors.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors.