Count them… a family of 5 bluebirds having breakfast of live mealworms this morning. Today is November 5th 2019 and I can officially confirm that at least in my backyard the eastern bluebirds are back.
Back from where? Where did they go??
We do know that northern bluebirds do migrate south. But here in the south our birds are with us the entire year… except… a couple of weeks after fledging the entire bluebird family unit leaves. They just disappear. One day our customers are serving live mealworms at a rate that is causing us to up our production and the next… we are knee deep in live mealworms with no one to give them to.
I have a fix for that… I always joke that we will be making hamburger out of mealworms one day!
The Best Nest of Georgia, Inc produces and sell its Bird Ready(TM) live mealworms through its local retail store Wild Bird Center of Johns Creek. Bluebird supplies such as bird houses, bird feeders, specialized starling proof feeders, bird seed, live and dried mealworms, etc., are a sizable piece of the retail business. We like to think we have the largest selection of bluebird supplies in the greater Johns Creek, GA area (that is in the NE Atlanta suburbs for a y’all out of towners.)
But the mealworms may be the answer to the puzzle where did the bluebirds go this summer? If it was just about getting any meal you would think that the birds would hang around the live worm feeder (that’s a starling proof live mealworm feeder in the picture) all day long. Why hunt for worms if someone like me is just going to keep filling up the feeder?
When we 1st opened 7 years ago we would get serious ornithologist (i.e. bird experts) through the store. All of them said approximately the same thing… “I don’t feed the birds in the summer, they need to learn how to survive on their own.” I am by no means an ornithologist but just by the nature of my job I spend time watching my backyard birds. Two things I’ve come to realize:
1) Neither me nor the birds moms and dads are needed to teach a bird to fly… it’s innate.
2)Neither me nor the birds moms and dads are needed to teach a bird it’s time to eat… again it’s innate.
So where did the bluebird go a couple of weeks after fledging? My best guess it that they went to learn how to forage for food. To recognize that they have keen eyesight to spot a moving insect. To use their keen sense of hearing to recognize and learn songs. So yes to feed the birds in the summer does make their life easier, and probably relieves a lot of stress, but just because you have food out doesn’t mean the eastern bluebird won’t leave and learn to hunt.
Two other old wives’ tales to consider. First is the old saying “Don’t leave your hummingbird feeder out in the winter you will cause the bird to stop migrating.” That would be a hard no, it won’t. Second is thinking that during the fall birds stopped eating seed because they are all migrating. Well lots of birds, especially here in the south don’t migrate. What is probably happening (not being a scientist) is that all those frost grapes, service berries, holly berries, dogwood berries (a bluebird favorite), acorns, tree nuts of all varieties, etc… all this “food” and is available for the taking. When the natural food runs out your birds will be back.
So where do the eastern bluebirds go a couple weeks after fledging? My best guess – they went to learn how to hunt and communicate.
About the Author: David Peterson is the owner of the Best Nest of Georgia, Inc. which includes in its corporate family a retail store called the Wild Bird Center of Johns Creek Georgia. The Wild Bird Center focuses on bringing nature to your backyard using bird seed, bird feeders, mealworms, and bird houses to attract wild birds to your yard. You can reach the Wild Bird Center at 770-418-1990 or by contacting David via email: firstname.lastname@example.org