Awaiting the Bluebirds' Return
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
We are stewards of this place we love. We have been given the land for a little while—entrusted with its care. As active participants in the land of our living, our influence will either hinder or foster the well-being of the other creatures who call this place home.
On a bright March day last year, we created a bluebird trail to provide habitat for the Western and Mountain Bluebirds who visit our region each spring. We placed eight houses, taking turns carrying poles, shovels, and equipment as we trekked across the property. Each location was chosen to ensure that the boxes were at least 200 yards apart and that each house in the open terrain had tall shrubbery or trees close enough to provide a safe perch for the watchful birds and their fledglings.
Through the spring and summer months we were delighted by flashes of brilliant royal blue and turquoise in the tops of the oak trees. The vivid figures of the birds cut through the muted tones of the shrub steppe and created a vibrant parade along fence wires.
All of this color was just a memory as we turned our steps to the bluebird trail on an unusually warm January day. Even though there were two months of winter left, the earliest of the spring flowers had begun to poke their curled leaves through the stiff earth.
The bluebirds are far away now, enjoying a warmer climate through the winter months, but here on the homestead we are already thinking of them. While they are absent, we make a tour of the birdhouse trail that stretches from the rocky bluff just above the oak grove, winds up the valley, and culminates atop the sage highlands. Before the first bluebirds return, the houses need to be cleaned. This also provides an opportunity to catalogue which houses were occupied the previous year and which were left vacant.
The sun was warm on our skin, making us shed our jackets before we’d traveled far. The first box had been carefully filled with the same fine grasses that were rustling in the breeze around us. Soft white and grey feathers stolen from the chickens in the valley below lined the cup of the nest. We coaxed out the nest and scraped the box clean for this year’s use. A nest like that is almost too beautiful to disturb.
We continued up the valley, finding more boxes that had been used. Each nest was constructed in its own way—some with just grass, some with a thick tangle of feathers, and one with a single discarded egg left behind. Each one was unique, perfectly suited to the purpose for which it was built.
As our hike continued, we found some boxes empty, awaiting the return of last year’s fledglings as they search for cavities in which to start families of their own.
By the time our path turned homeward, the sun was headed toward the western horizon, glinting off the snow-capped ridge. Just before it slipped behind the tree line, the light intensified and bathed our decent in a warm glow that felt more like April than January. It shone across the tree tops of the valley and illuminated the nest we had taken out of our last birdhouse. The bluebird trail was ready, quietly waiting for the day when the color and song of the birds would return.