The following is reprinted from December 2013.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and almost before you know it, Christmas will be upon us. As we pause to give thanks and to count our many blessings, and as we bestow gifts and donations on family, friends, and those we don’t even know, but who are less fortunate than us, let us not forget God’s animals that give to us, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year and ask for nothing in return.

Almost everyone with beloved dogs, cats and other domestic animals does a little extra for them at Christmas, but how many of us do anything for the wild creatures? You might ask, “What do wild creatures do for me?” Much more than you probably realize. Take birds for instance. If it were not for the insect-eating creatures such as the birds and bats, man could not live on Earth, and one of those creatures, in addition to eating harmful insects, will sing you a song around 10 o’clock most days. I’m talking about the bluebird. Fortunate indeed is the human family that has a bluebird family as neighbors.

Right many years ago, and I’m talking about 1850 to probably 1920, bluebirds were in such vast numbers that huge flocks formed up to begin their migratory flight to the Deep South and beyond. And, you could mark it on your calendar, they would return to this area on Feb. 15. Also in those days, and even today, huge migratory flocks of robins would pass through this area. That’s why many local folks refer to bluebirds as “blue robins.”   

Sadly, those days are gone forever, as are most of the bluebirds. These days a flock of 10 is quite unusual. This is a changing world in which we live, the weather, lifestyles, values, morals, and just about everything else.

In the 1970s, the eastern bluebird population had dwindled to 10 percent of its normal population density, and the eastern bluebird was on the brink of extinction. There were three main causes for their decline. The most serious was the same threat that every wild creature in the world faces, and that is loss of habitat, due to man’s abuse and destruction. The second most important threat is pollution and contamination of what wild habitat is left. The third is free roaming house cats, which have caused the extinction of several species of songbirds. It happens so many times. A bluebird, many times a female with babies in a nest, is sitting in a tree or on a power line, watching an insect in the grass. A cat is watching the bluebird. At the right time, the bluebird swoops to the ground to catch the insect. The cat pounces on the bluebird, and in a few seconds all that remains is a small pile of blue feathers in the grass.

The change in the weather has had a profound effect on bluebirds. In my boyhood days, we had real winters around here. Several times each winter, there would come a deep snow, and the schools would be closed for several days. Now, a one-inch snowfall is a rare thing. I don’t care what the experts say, I believe that all the poisons and pollutants that are being released into the air, just as they are into our waters, are causing changes in the weather.

Because the winters here have become significantly milder, less than half the local bluebirds now migrate. The rest remain here and assume that there will be no cold weather. To me, this is not good. Any change in nature that is caused by man is not good. Nature did not design bluebirds to endure cold weather. They are fragile creatures, and a prolonged cold spell causes many of them to die. For that reason, it is most important that people provide food and shelter for them.

How can we do this? Here are some long-term and short-term solutions. In the spring, plant flowering dogwood trees. The red berries can provide a food base for most of the winter. Put up bluebird houses. Now is a good time. The bluebirds will take shelter in them when severe weather comes. Put out food for the bluebirds. Live mealworms are best. Freeze dried mealworms are second best and can be found at Tractor Supply at a reasonable cost. Also helpful are bluebird suet blocks, store bought or homemade. If you don’t have a bluebird feeder, clean out one of your bluebird houses and put the feed or mealworms inside. If you are providing live mealworms, you should put them in a small and sturdy bowl.

In this area, the bluebirds that migrate have already done so. The ones that you see now are the ones that will spend the winter with us, and it is most important that we do all that we can to help them survive to early spring. Clean out your birdhouses. In bad weather, they will take shelter in them. During a snow and freezing rain, I have seen as many as seven bluebirds in one house, keeping each other warm. Provide food for them as best you can. If you start feeding them, don’t stop until winter is gone. The bluebirds that you feed will wait for you to come with their food. If you leave home for a few days, have a neighbor put food in your feeder until you return. If you don’t do this, the bluebirds will wait for you, not knowing that you won’t come, then darkness sets in, and they grow weak from lack of food. After the second day they begin to die.

Next week, read more about the bluebirds in winter and also about another bird that’s in danger of becoming extinct and how we at the Eastern Bluebird Rescue Group are assisting with the national drive to save them.

—Continued next week.­—