As you may have noticed, I now accompany each Our Wild World post with a piece of original artwork. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and it’s a nice exercise where I can try out different styles. This week was a little different, as I let my art supplies decide what animal I was going to blog about instead of the other way around. I had my friend pick out a few art supplies from our local art store, and then made a piece using only those materials (plus paper). So I was quite restricted in what animal I could choose, but the eastern bluebird turned out to be the perfect one.

The distribution of eastern bluebirds – yellow is their breeding range, green is where the birds occur year round, and blue is their wintering range. Image by rbrausse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Eastern bluebirds are found in North and Central America, east of the Rockies. They range from southern Canada to Mexico and Honduras. These birds like open areas with some trees, which means farmlands are perfect for these guys. They are also found in parks, backyards, and golf courses.

Eastern bluebirds are not overly large, reaching between 16 and 21 cm in length with 25 to 32 cm wingspans. They are bright birds, with blue wings and tails and red breasts. It’s this colouration pattern which made these guys perfect art subjects — I was given blue and orange-pink inks to work with. Female eastern bluebirds are similarly coloured to males, though they are quite a bit duller.

A male bluebird hanging out on a branch. Image by William H. Majoros, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bluebirds eat a variety of foods, including numerous insects and fruits. In the summer their diet consists mostly of insects, such as beetles, crickets, caterpillars and grasshoppers. In the winter when insect life becomes scarce, the birds rely more heavily on fruits and berries. They feed by swooping down from perches close to the ground to snag any unfortunate insects.

Eastern bluebirds are both highly social and quite territorial. They can gather in large flocks reaching over 100 birds. But bluebirds are protective of their nests during the breeding season, and defend choice feeding spots in the winter. Eastern bluebirds are partially migratory, flying to southern areas when food is scarce or temperatures get particularly nasty.

Even bluebird eggs are pretty. Image by Вasil, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The breeding season in eastern bluebirds occurs in spring and summer. Females construct their nests in tree cavities, such as woodpecker holes. Though eastern bluebirds are generally monogamous, this is not always the case. The females lay three to seven blue eggs, which hatch after thirteen to sixteen days. The chicks grow quite quickly, fledging after only fifteen to twenty days. The chicks hang around for about three weeks after they have left the nest, and their parents will continue feeding them during this time. Sometimes the grateful chicks will stick around to help their parents raise a second brood, if their parents raised them right.

Though eastern bluebirds are fairly abundant, there have been significant declines for the species in some areas. This has mainly been do to habitat destruction (particularly of nesting sites) and competition with introduced species, such as house sparrows and European starlings. The good news is that placing nest boxes in bluebird habitats is a good way of keeping numbers of bluebirds up, so hopefully we can keep implementing such effective conservation programs. After all, it would be a terrible shame for such beautiful birds to become endangered.

Cover image by Sandysphotos2009, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons