by David Jonathan Cohen
Text and photos © 2021
Ask me my favorite bird. The chances are good I’ll respond with a long pause. There are more than 10,000 species of birds! They offer a spectacular kaleidoscope of colors, songs, sizes, adaptations, and behaviors.
On my short list of birds I’m always thrilled to see, though, is the eastern bluebird.
I specify “eastern” to distinguish it from its relatives, the western bluebird and the mountain bluebird. If you’re in a field or marsh anywhere from central Canada all the way south to Nicaragua and see a sunlit flash of electric blue, it’s probably a male eastern bluebird.
As with many birds, the males dress to impress. The females dress for the nest.
The females edge toward gray and subtler shading. The males combine shocking blue, warm reddish-brown, and snowy white.
To nest, eastern bluebirds favor holes dug by woodpeckers or nesting boxes built by humans. Those nest boxes played a role in reviving the population of eastern bluebirds. It declined in the early 1900s when European starlings and house sparrows, aggressors that humans introduced, preempted natural nesting cavities. Nesting boxes for bluebirds use an entrance too small for starlings and just right for the bluebirds.
In “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” Wallace Stevens writes:
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
Every time I see a bluebird, I share his sense of awe.