Mountain bluebirds are one of the favorite spring birds

Barbara Hootman

Daylight is much longer now, and dusk has endurance it lacked even a month ago. Now the sun hovers on the western horizon before it vanishes more slowly and leaves a glow that fades into twilight.

Life stirs after dark rather than the earth plunging into the silence of dark. With fresh new leaves, the trees have substance now rather than standing bare and silhouetted in the moonlight. The evening is alive with sounds again.

Gardeners are in their gardens like ants. A warm day sends gardeners a message to dig. It is necessary to annually establish contact with the earth. With your hands in the dirt, you don’t have to be a chemist to feel the surge of life. When you garden, you become a partner with wind, sun and rain. When you grow vegetables or flowers, you take part in spring.

Now comes the vibrance of spring color, a prelude to the lushness of new leaves maturing into the canopy that provides shade throughout the summer and turns into autumn gold. Birds begin to stir early among the fresh new leaves. The robin is the first to greet a new morning in the faint gray light of dawn. The blue jay announces another morning with its musical bell sounds around 4:30 a.m. And the brown thrasher begins its long song repertoire by 5 a.m. The song sparrow is another 5 a.m. singer.

Forget about daylight savings time. The birds never heard of it.

It’s bluebird time in the mountains with some pairs ready to hatch the first clutches of the season. The mountain bluebirds are the species that call the mountains home now. There are also Eastern and Western Bluebirds. All are cavity nesters and will use man-made boxes for nest sites. Bluebirds have made an incredible recovery due to the many nest boxes erected throughout the country. These members of the thrush family nest from March to August, with some hatching as many as three clutches a season.

Many bluebirds are monogamous and stay together throughout a breeding season (and sometimes into a second season). Then there are those that may stay with a mate only during one nesting, and then change mates for a second or third nesting. When young birds are fledgling, the female may choose a new mate, and the original male will continue to take care of the growing offspring.

Both the male and female are aggressive defenders of the nest site. The male defends the edges of the nesting territory while the female concentrates on the nest site. Most young bluebirds return to the same area where they were hatched, but not to the same nesting site.

Research shows that up to 70 percent of bluebirds don’t survive to celebrate their first birthday. The adult bluebirds are not long lived either. Most adult bluebirds don’t live longer than four or five years. The adults are excellent hunters, able to spot insects in tall grass at 50 yards. The Mountain Bluebird is the only one of its species that hovers above the ground as it hunts for insects. It rarely winters in areas where temperature drops below 20 degrees.

Prolonged spring cold snaps are detrimental to bluebird populations because fruits and berries are depleted and the insects are not out in cold weather.

Unmated bluebirds may sing up to 1,000 songs per hour. Mated males will sing about 500 songs per hour. Bluebirds can fly up to 45 miles an hour. Woodpecker holes are favorite natural cavities. If you have a bluebird house, make sure it has a guard on it to prevent starlings and sparrows from intruding.

After the first clutch of bluebirds have hatched and fledged, clean out the box. Bluebirds will not clean out a nest box and usually build another nest on top of the original one.

Black bears are out in full force and looking for food. Take in the birdfeeders by late afternoon.

Bumblebees are out working the early spring flowers and looking for suitable nest sites.

More and more spring birds are building nests. If you are going to do spring pruning, check the shrubs first for bird nests.

Orioles begin arriving later this month.

Coyotes have young pups in the den. Keep the cats inside. Adult coyotes are looking for food for the pups and themselves.

Hummingbirds are arriving, and house wrens are building nests.

All snakes are out of hibernation.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.