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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: Beautiful Mountain Bluebird

Published: May 23, 2022


By Mark Seth Lender


A female mountain bluebird perches on a branch laden with lichen. (Photo: (c) Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender explains mountain bluebirds' willingness to nest in human-made nest boxes.

Mountain bluebirds are cavity nesters who now lack enough natural cavities. Fortunately nest boxes are readily accepted in substitution. Though hesitant when they see humans nearby, those boxes are too useful to ignore. This in turn means proximity and eventual habituation, to us. The problem is our lack of dependability. Case in point, west of the Mississippi purple martin colonies are almost totally reliant on the special purple martin houses that we build. But we have to a degree lost interest in it and fewer purple martin houses is a significant cause of the purple martin’s decline. Once responsibility is taken it cannot be casually discarded.

My favorite encounter with mountain bluebirds was in the middle of a country road. It was the end of the day in early spring in Catron County, New Mexico. A mixed flock, mountain bluebirds and barn swallows (all those varied shades and hues!) was resting there, soaking up the last warmth from the asphalt, yet another use of and accommodation to the human alteration of their landscape. How startling. And wonderful. To turn a corner into the Blue.


A male mountain bluebird sweeps into view with an insect in its mouth. (Photo: (c) Mark Seth Lender)

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