I write to you from Arapahoe, Ute, and Cheyenne land. I am interested in learning about the different animals that live in the place where I was born. Before we start with today’s animal, I want to emphasize that biological classification as understood by western society has its roots in racism, sexism, and transphobia – here’s a good explainer about why.
Colorado has all three species of bluebirds: the Eastern, the Western, and the Mountain, which kind of epitomizes our state whose mountains make rivers that go to the East (Mississippi River) and West (Pacific Ocean). The Eastern (Sialis sialis) , today’s animal, lives, surprise, in the eastern part of the state – east of the Denver area, out on the High Plains, where the open spaces with scattered trees – usually cottonwoods confined to riverbeds – make a perfect habitat. They will also live in suburbs and forage in lawns.
Eastern Bluebirds migrate into Colorado in the early spring and look for places to nest. They cannot excavate their own nest cavities, instead looking for hollowed out places in trees and fence posts – often those left behind by woodpeckers – and moving in with their partners once they find a suitable one. They lay eggs in March and after about two weeks, four or five chicks hatch. They are completely blind and helpless, so their parents feed them a healthy diet of high protein insects as well as keeping them warm with their own body heat for around three weeks. The parents also keep the nest area clean since baby birds in an enclosed space produce a lot of baby bird excrement. After that, the babies are ready to fledge, but they still stay with their parents, learning the ropes of bluebird life, for a few more weeks. I love the story behind this photo:
“Three blue birds alighted on the rim of my backyard bird bath, a father and his two chicks. I’ve never seen anything like it. The father turned to the chicks as if he was instructing them. After having hopped to the center of the bird bath he turned his head to the chicks for another word with them, and then dipped into the water, fluttering his wings vigorously. It took another demonstration and stern parental insistence before the chicks were persuaded to bathe.” (from photographer Charles Wilmoth)
During the 20th century, intensive human use of the landscape – including clearing lightly wooded areas and removing fallen logs that woodpeckers might have visited – removed the nesting cavities that these birds need in many locations. The species declined as a result. However, the North American Bluebird Society – which has a Colorado chapter – has built a network of volunteers who put up bird boxes for the Eastern Bluebird to nest in along its migration trail. You, too, can build a bluebird box and make a nice home for a bluebird family!