Dragonflies, spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, arthropods. Bluebirds eat a lot of insects, especially growing baby birds.
We occasionally have Eastern Bluebirds in our yard, but this year was the first time a pair showed interest in nesting in one of our birdhouses. I saw the pair periodically in spring, she was even gathering nest material, but as summer neared, and rain increased, they dropped off my radar to occasional glimpses. I figured they’d set up house elsewhere, again.
Then, one morning in late June, I heard squeaking from inside the birdhouse. Baby birds! I was thrilled and immediately told my entire family, who were politely interested.
Watching the birdhouse from afar, I periodically saw the mom briefly swooping in. But where was the dad?
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and the vast internet all told me that Eastern Bluebird pairs work together to feed their babies. In fact, you need both, since the mother not only incubates the eggs but then continuously broods the newly-hatched chicks for five to seven days while the father brings food. Unfortunately, our female was on her own. (I feared a Sharp-shinned Hawk was involved in his disappearance…cue The Circle of Life.) Did she brood and somehow feed herself and the babies when they first hatched?
Regardless of how she ended up a single mom to triplets, it was impressive to watch her work. Bluebirds feed their babies at least twice an hour, but often only 10 to 15 minutes apart. Watching and rooting for her, I wondered, did our yard have enough insects to sustain all four of them for their first two weeks before fledging? Apparently, it did. Would she be able to keep up the pace, even in the rain? She did.
Our single parent Bluebird shoved an impressive amount and variety of bugs down those loud little gullets. Here’s a sample of the bug buffet.
Click on an image and you can scroll through the gallery and try to identify each meal.
While I already knew we need native trees, plants, and insects, watching the mother bird’s routine daily was simple, visual proof. Hunt for insect on ground, catch insect, bring insect back to nest, shove insect down an open mouth, repeat infinitely. She must have done this hundreds of times. If you want birds and biodiversity, you also need plenty of food sources.
I could have/should have shared just a few select images here, avoiding all this repetition (as a writer and editor, I know to omit needless words and pictures). But each picture alone didn’t begin to illustrate the sheer volume of bugs required to raise three baby birds in their first two weeks before fledging. The repetition was the story.
So, here’s another round of the many insects consumed.
Some photography notes: When we thought the birds might be nesting, we avoided standing next to the birdhouse to not stress them out or risk abandoning the nest. Once I knew baby birds were inside (yay!), I took pictures from a garage window, using it as a blind; later I set up my camera on a tripod, using my phone as a remote. Since the mother bird was working so hard solo, I didn’t want to risk reducing her feedings.
Remembering I owned a tripod and that my phone could be a remote were good photography practice. However, after she flew right by me to deliver meals, I realized that while cautious about coming to the nest, the mother bird did not care about my presence, as long as I was unobtrusive. I ended up quietly shooting her from the yard, and got to recognize her patterns, and the adorable sound of baby birds ready for yet more bugs.