Lots of people ask me what my favorite bird is. I don’t hesitate to answer. It has been and, I suspect, always will be the eastern bluebird, the species that Henry David Thoreau accurately claimed “carries the sky on its back.”
When I came to Barrington in 1974, one of the first things I did was to nail a bluebird nestbox to a small oak in our front yard at the edge of a Cook County forest preserve.
Others told me that it was for naught: bluebirds had left the area years before. Imagine my euphoria when a pair of eastern bluebirds found the box and raised a family the following spring. The joy was short-lived, however. On Memorial Day of that year, I made a tragic discovery: a raccoon had climbed the tree, torn off the roof of the box, and dispatched the entire brood.
I was heartsick.
It was several years before bluebirds showed up at our place again. But those were the years when a movement was growing to re-establish the eastern bluebird east of the Mississippi. Many, many people were putting up bluebird nest boxes and building “bluebird trails” with multiple boxes, specifically designed to ward off raccoons and other predators.
Those efforts bore fruit. Today the eastern bluebird can be readily seen around the Barrington area, While it prefers rural and semi-rural haunts, bluebirds have nested in recent years in Bakers Lake Savanna in town and can often be found in the naturalized portions of Ron Beese Park south of Bakers Lake. Citizen for Conservation’s Grigsby Prairie and Flint Creek Savanna have hosted bluebirds regularly for at least 20 years.
What is it about the eastern bluebird that I find so appealing? Color would have to be near the top of the list. The blue plumage of the male is, for me, of nearly unspeakable quality. Every time I see it, as on a recent walk when a group of males perched in trees with golden leaves, I nearly gasp in wonder.
The female is of more muted color but she shares with the male what would be second on my list, which is the peaceable gentleness of the species. Bluebird pairs seem uncannily synchronized in their nest-making, nest-tending, and food gathering. It’s difficult not to think of them in anthropomorphic terms as a devoted pair.
Third – but not last – is the gurgling song. There is melody and pathos and beauty in the bluebird song. When I first hear it in the spring, my heart leaps. Even on these fall days as they gather and prepare to fly to more southern latitudes, bluebirds vocalize – not their full breeding season song, but nonetheless with notes that brighten an already luminous landscape.
(CLICK HERE to listen to the eastern bluebird’s call.)
Our bluebird boxes are empty now of birds (I will clean the nests out before next nesting season). Some of them linger and may even stay all winter as long as they can find berries and other food. But most are gathering into large extended family groups and will depart soon. Take advantage of late autumn opportunities to hike in local preserves. Keep an eye out for flashes of blue and listen for lilting notes from above.
About the Author
Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.
Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.
During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.
Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.
She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.
For more information about a cause close to Wendy’s heart here in Barrington, visit CitizensForConservation.org.
Wendy Paulson is a regular contributor at 365Barrington.com sharing profiles of birds found in the Barrington area. CLICK HERE to read all of Wendy’s posts published in our Birds of Barrington series and watch for her next contribution which will be published on the first of the month.
If you’d like to meet Wendy in person, you’re welcome to join her on two upcoming bird walks along Lake Michigan co-sponsored by Audubon Chicago Region, Openlands, and the Field Museum.
The walks are free and open to the public, though space is limited and RSVP’s are required.
When: Tuesday, November 12th & Tuesday, December 3rd at 7:30 AM
Where: McCormick Place Bird Sanctuary – 31St Street east of Lake Shore Drive. Meet in the North parking lot (NOT the Marina lot).
Attire: Dress for the weather and bring your binoculars!
RSVP: Janis Wesley at (847)328-1250 ext. 10 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The walk will be cancelled only in the event of extreme bad weather.
Do you have a question about birds you’ve seen in Barrington? Just enter you question in the comments box for this post and we’ll ask Wendy!