A bird gripped the delicate stem of a chokecherry bush, his back the color of unbroken sky, his chest the rust echo of New Mexican twilight. He flitted to a small wooden box fixed upon an old propane pipe. Claudia Daigle, a Western Bluebird expert based in Eldorado, smiled as she described her love for her small backyard creatures.
“We’re so lucky to have such a large assortment of native birds in northern New Mexico. Bluebirds are such charming and endearing little birds that I want to do everything I can,” explained Daigle. “I know what a difference it made to me to learn some basic information about their needs. If I can let others know these important facts, it will make such a huge difference to our bluebird and other cavity nester communities.”
Larger and fatter than sparrows, local bluebirds eat small berries and hunt insects and spiders. The birds perch, watch, then swoop to the ground to pounce on their prey. They live an average of six to ten years in the wild, and can survive at elevations up to 7500 feet.
This Sunday, the Friends of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge are sponsoring a free lecture by Daigle on the habitat, care, and feeding of the Western Bluebird.
“Bluebirds can see up to 150 feet,” says Daigle. “They need good eyesight to defend against predators.”
House sparrows are the bluebird’s biggest scourge. Introduced to North America by the Brooklyn Institute in 1851 as a weapon against green inch-worms, the house sparrow flourished, quickly overtaking the native songbird species. Within 25 years, no one could deny the costly mistake. House sparrows now number twice as many as all other native songbirds combined.
“I had a beautiful bluebird family nesting in one of the boxes near my bedroom window. I listened to their songs and watched as the male courted the female. They built a nest. It was so precious. I monitored the growing brood and cheered when the babies first took flight. During the second brood I noticed a house sparrow sitting on the box.”
Daigle paused. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Something told me to keep watch. The mother bluebird flew up to me at my bathroom window. I didn’t understand what she was saying. She was telling me, ‘Please help me.’ I didn’t realize that until the next morning. The babies were all gone, pecked to death, thrown from their box. It took me two solid days of constant vigilance to scare the sparrow away. Now all of my boxes are all set with traps.”
In addition to discussing bluebird predators, Daigle will offer information on how to build appropriate nesting boxes, safe monitoring techniques for the bluebird enthusiast, a list of healthy foods, and how to deal with common nesting box problems such as blow fly larvae, mice, and bluejays.
Having designed a bluebird trail in Eldorado, Daigle will also provide instruction on building your own bluebird habitat, complete with native plants that attract the beautiful songbirds.
Daigle plans to start a New Mexico chapter of the North American Bluebird Society, and hopes to create bluebird habitats in different parts of the state. She laughed as she shared the emotion of what it’s like to nurture a bluebird family.
“There’s nothing like it - you feel like a million bucks when these little birds fly off. It’s wonderful that you helped a few more baby bluebirds into the world.”
Sunday, Jan. 13, Bluebird Lecture at the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge Ranger’s Station. The lecture begins at 1 p.m., with attendance limited to 40 guests. For more information on bluebirds, you can reach Claudia Daigle at email@example.com.