No Bluebirds in Sunset

I listened carefully, picking out the sounds of the various birds in the yard that early morning of July 1, 2000. I heard the caw of the distant crow, the characteristic clicking of the cardinal, the full throaty song of the diminutive wren, the plaintive coo of the mourning dove. And then, blended with those lovely sounds was the soft, distinctive voice of the bluebird. I hadn’t seen the adults in a while. They’d taken their new fledglings high into the treetops where they could raise them safely, away from intruding predators. At this stage of the parenting process, my majestic cobalt friends were rarely visible. It was good, however, just to know they were near. Their presence always filled me with hope and happiness.
As I listened, I was reminded of how they had first come to my back yard. Several years before, I had learned how bluebirds had once diminished greatly in numbers. Cavity nesters, many of their natural nesting choices had been eradicated with man’s encroachment and technology’s advances. Fewer and fewer trees with natural cavities were available for these lovely creatures to lay their eggs and raise their young. Then man, who had threatened the bluebird’s existence, came to its rescue. Bluebird enthusiasts began placing boxes, designed especially for bluebird nesting, at strategic places on farmlands, along country roads, near fence lines. The little sweethearts found them and once again began to flourish.
“How wonderful!” I thought and determined to put boxes on our property. I purchased them from a local feed store and with my husband Tommy’s help placed them on metal posts. When I heard that raccoons, snakes, and other predators could raid bluebird nests and foil a pair’s chances of bringing a healthy brood into the world, I invested in baffles that prevented the intruders from doing their damage. I planted a mulberry tree when I heard they loved the berries. I even purchased mealworms and placed them in feeders designed just for bluebirds. Finally, through the Internet, I established correspondence with people who were seasoned veterans in this endeavor. Now, I was set. All I needed were bluebirds. Free room and board. Free meals. How could they resist, I thought. Yet, they did. I scanned the horizon, peered into every tree, penetrated the distances with binoculars, but there were no bluebirds in sight. I waited and waited and waited. Eventually, I called a naturalist, an expert who ran a nature station and wrote a weekly column in a local newspaper. He was known for his knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area; surely, he could advise me.
Advise me, he did. “Sorry to tell you this, M’am,” he broke it to me gently, “but bluebirds do not nest in this vicinity. This is not their breeding habitat. I’m afraid you’ve invested all that time and money for nothing. They are generally found in the Atchafalaya Basin but not in your area. I hope this information helps you.”
It certainly did not help me. I had my heart set on bluebirds, and now the expert was telling me I wasn’t going to get them.
“Well,” I concluded before we parted company, “I’ll pray about it. They’re God’s birds, and if He wants me to have bluebirds in my yard, He can send them.”
The naturalist looked at me with a tolerant smile and shook his head. “What a nut,” he must have thought, but I was determined I would one day enjoy the company of Sialia sialis, the scientific name for the Eastern bluebird. I subscribed to the American Bluebird Society’s publication and read enviously of successful blue birders and their gratifying efforts to help these birds reestablish themselves as a happy part of the American landscape. Still, there were no bluebirds in Sunset.
Then, just when I began to think that the naturalist was probably right, I sighted my first bluebird. It was New Years’ Day, January 1, 1998. Ice lightly coated the barren branches of the trees in our yard, and cold, hungry birds flocked in profusion to our patio feeder. Among the more commonly seen visitors was a bright blue-feathered bird with a rosy breast. I shouted and jumped for joy! “A bluebird, a bluebird,” I announced to the family. “There’s a bluebird on the patio!”
My ecstasy was short-lived, however. When temperatures moderated, I no longer saw the lone visitor, but my hopes were not dashed. If he had come, maybe he had noticed the accommodations I’d so amply provided. Maybe he’d return with the Mrs. and they’d set up house! I continued to believe.
In late March, my hopes became reality. A bluebird pair selected the box closest to the house and began bringing nesting materials to it. I was a doting grandparent! I checked the box regularly, enjoying the miracle of wildlife. The little teacup-shaped nest, made mostly of pine straw and dead fern fronds, was a work of art. Then, when the first tiny, sky-blue egg appeared, I was in heaven. By the time the first fledglings left the box, I was drunk with joy. Like a proud grandparent, I announced the glad tidings to the naturalist; I told the owners of the nearby wild bird supply shop; I told my neighbors and friends. I even showed them pictures! “What a whacko,” some must have thought, but this was about more than just bluebirds. It was about having a dream, doing whatever I could to make that dream come true, waiting and praying for its fulfillment, and then experiencing deep satisfaction when it finally came. In the process, I had learned something valuable. In life, things sometimes seem impossible. The experts, those who are armed with all the knowledge, tell us that it just cannot be. Then, something miraculous happens. The impossible comes to pass. The dream becomes a reality. The natural is overcome by the supernatural, and we feel that we are part of something very big, something much bigger than the small human mind can conceive.
Today, I am happy to say that in a habitat where “bluebirds do not nest,” 25 baby bluebirds have fledged from my boxes in five productive nestings. My mother and a neighbor have also met with success. The word is spreading, and more and more people in southern Louisiana are enjoying the company of the Eastern bluebird in their yards. In a way, I feel like a pioneer. At the wild bird supply shop, my name has become synonymous with bluebirds, and my photos are displayed, encouraging others to scan the skies and prepare the grounds for the birds that are linked with happiness.
Now, when I have a strong desire in my heart, a desire for something that is good and godly, I do all I can to make it happen. Then I pray and wait and wait and pray. I try not to be discouraged by those who say it will never be, and when it comes to pass, I spread the word. I shout the good news from the rooftops and watch as the downtrodden and discouraged hear and respond with renewed hope of their own. The bluebird taught me that lesson, and for him I will be eternally grateful.

No Bluebirds in Sunset

Bonnie T.  Barry

Sunset, United States

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  • Cheryl Ridge
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