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Eastern Bluebird by Josh Lincoln

First in Flower

... and the elegance of Eastern Bluebirds

March 25, 2021  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  24 comments  | 

The Eastern Bluebird, singing in a flight display overhead, put an end to winter. On that morning, beneath that bluebird, despite the rare birds not far from me here in Vermont, my day was complete. Then came the flowers.

I dare you to name a more elegant songbird here in North America. The soft, rustling warble. The glow from its plumage. And the gentleness by which it goes about its business. The Eastern Bluebird scores 10s all around.

Got a more elegant bird? Nominate it in the comments below.

Other bluebird species — Mountain and Western — tie for second by virtue of their big, wilder, less intimate habitats. Tufted Titmouse, doe-eyed and plaintive in song, might come in third. Chickadees? Wonderful, of course, but more plucky than elegant. Waxwings and Phainopela — yeah, they’ll make you euphoric, but not like a bluebird. Certainly not at the end of winter here in Vermont, where the ice still locked up Shelburne Bay on Lake Champlain this past weekend. The bluebirds at the bay, however, were melting that ice (and given the chance could probably disable Ice Nine). Especially that male who sang for us and landed on that snag above for my pal Josh Lincoln and I to photograph.

As the bluebird warbled, the Silver Maple flowers weren’t quite yet in bloom. So I brought home two twigs — one from a male tree and the other from a female. After only one night in water, they erupted into bloom.

My friend and colleague Grace Glynn reported a Silver Maple in full bloom Wednesday beneath Hubbard Park here in Montpelier. I suspect this is Vermont’s first native plant to flower. (I’d be happy to be wrong. Let me know as well in comments below.) And just now, after our walk here near home, Ruth and I noticed an early Beaked Hazelnut female (pistillate) flower just peeking into the sunshine.

Happy spring, everyone.

  1. Colleen says:

    I’ve been seeing the Blue Birds around the house I provided, but today they stayed and went in/out of the house regularly…hope they stay. They are…like your…are my harbingers of spring!! A few other things have come up/out too…garlic and daffys!!

  2. Marci says:

    Have to agree with you about the Bluebirds Bryan!! Our first pair has 3 eggs ready to hatch after the faithful female has sat through the crazy spring weather here in NC for a couple weeks.

  3. Hi Bryan, I’ve been seeing and hearing Bluebirds down here in the Pioneer Valley for quite a few weeks even though its just now the time of crocus emergence and wood frog-peeper croaking. I agree, bluebirds are wondrous and ways lighten my day! I see them often in a nearby meadow conservation area or perched on a wire near there. A sign of hope and grace for sure. Love your blog btw and have been wanting to do more butterfly and dragonfly ID so hope to attend your webinar! Thank you for your inspiration!

  4. Brian Banks says:

    You’ve just inspired me to download some bluebird nest box plans. Bluebirds (and nest boxes) are common at a black oak savanna reserve a couple of kilometres from here, but I’ve never seen one around my property. I think I’ve got the habitat, time to build them a home.

  5. Judy Mirro says:

    Bryan (and Ruth)! Our mating pair of Bluebirds have returned to their box just days after the Redwing Blackbirds took over the trees this past week. Just so excited to see them all again. It never gets old. No buds yet.. but I’ll really get looking this weekend. We’re enjoying the mud and the sap. Bring on Spring!
    Thank you for keeping me connected to birding in a most wondrous way.

  6. Nancy says:

    We have 2 pair of Bluebirds for the last 2 weeks. They feast on our suet. Beautiful.

  7. Peter Hope says:

    Hi Bryan, I saw skunk cabbage flowering in Winooski near the river on March 17 and a few male silver maples in the same area on March 22. I think skunk cabbage may be the first to flower. But it’s restricted in distribution so I think silver maple may be the first plant to flower in most of Vermont. And beaked-hazelnut is close

    • Ah, how could I forget skunk cabbage. (Oh, well, I guess my dwelling for so long in the Eastern Piedmont would explain it.) Thanks, Peter. Always great to hear from one of my botany heroes!

  8. Allison Schacht says:

    I am fortunate enough to live in New Mexico, where all three species of bluebirds can be found. The Eastern is the one I see most frequently – it likes the cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande, which is where I live and where I go most frequently to bird. We get them at our bird bath in the winter. I once heard someone from Pennsylvania refer to them as trash birds because they were so numerous where he lived. I don’t think any birds are “trash birds”, but I would certainly never refer to such a beautiful bird that way. One of my favorite memories is walking into the woods in winter and being surrounded by a flock of them.

  9. Andrea says:

    Lovely. I’ve had a male bluebird hanging around one of the houses we put in last fall. Hopefully we have enough now for the swallows to share with the bluebirds this year. Speaking of swallows, I think they might qualify for most elegant in flight, but they lose points on housekeeping. I don’t know about the elegance of the brown creeper, but I’ve had a few glimpses of one near my house this winter, and it’s certainly one of my favorites and thrilling to behold. Our first flowers here in Maine are big-toothed aspen catkins just beginning to unfurl. Happy spring!

    • Thanks, Andrea. Tree Swallows did indeed cross my mind. I think they get on the list of birds I might want to be reincarnated as (although White-throated Swift might be tops). Keep me posted on that Big-toothed Aspen (and those lovely Coral Hairstreaks, for that matter). 🙂

  10. Bryan, oh come all ye faithful, join in adoration, spring is here; let the buds burst open, the insects awaken, bluebirds rejoice in song:
    but stay resolute ye spring spirited folk, for beware the March folly who often dumps cold white blankets over the parade.

    Be resolute, resilient, sustain this early joy, for she will soon be well entrenched less a brief repose or two.


  11. Katie Woodruff says:

    Bryan, your writings and photographs are such a pleasure to read, see and enjoy. As always you take me out of my comfy chair to the woods and fields of Vermont and of Saranac Lake. You inspire your readers to put on their boots and coats and get out to see the natural world, which you always share with us = Stop, Look, Listen and carefully See what is happening in the worlds of those which live right next to us. I so appreciate your descriptions of what you see and why. Thank you so much!

  12. Cindy Leavesley says:

    We are in love with our bluebirds – they have rewarded us a thousand fold for the two houses we erected and hedgerow we planted nearby. They have fiercely settled and successfully defended the houses from the swallows and sparrows that keep trying to take up residence. We’re not sure how many broods they raised there last year, but each time they land on another newly planted tree, it makes my heart swell to think that an area that was once only visited by the occasional cowbird, catbird or robin is now filled with a veritable pack of these loveliest of creatures. So where does the witch hazel fall into the blooming sequence in Vermont, or is it not native there?

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