07.22.18: On a stalk

Immature Eastern Bluebird on plant stalk, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio. 


Technical information

Sept. 20, 2015,
10:14 a.m.

40°6'48.269" N 82°57'12.713" W
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Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/1000th second


In my years of photographing birds I’ve learned that you can never anticipate the behavior of a very young bird in any species.

This photo is an example.

I was walking past a field in a local metro park when I saw this juvenile Eastern Bluebird perched on a broken plant stalk. I turned the camera toward the bird to get a photo, fully expecting it to fly away like an adult bluebird would. But it stayed.

I moved a few steps closer and grabbed a few more shots. It stayed. occasionally calling for its parents.

So I moved a few more steps closer to get this shot. It stayed, still calling. It had no interest in leaving and apparently was too young to recognize me — or anything else — as a threat.

I watched the bird for a few minutes, then moved away. That’s when a female Eastern Bluebird flew to a nearby branch and called. The baby hopped over to join its mother and they disappeared into the tree.

But I had my shot.

Eastern Bluebirds typically have more than one brood a year — sometimes as many as three — so baby bluebirds can be found in just about any month. I found this one in September, part of a late-summer brood.

The male Bluebird is more colorful than the female, with deeper blue feathers on its head/back and a bright chestnut chest above a white belly. The female is more muted, with the blue feathers taking on more of a gray cast and the chestnut chest more subdued. Juveniles, like this one, have spotting on their backs and chest with bits of blue on the tail and wings. They look a lot like blue-tinged immature American Robins.

Eastern Bluebirds have become a somewhat common sight in the Eastern U.S. and here in Central Ohio. But that wasn’t the case 25 years ago, when harsh winters, the destruction of natural habitat, the harmful effect of pesticides and competition with other cavity nesters combined to make the Eastern Bluebird a rare sight.

The number of Eastern Bluebirds had declined almost 90 percent from populations recorded in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The significant decline led to the Eastern Bluebird being declared a rare species in the late 1970s.The rebound of the Eastern Bluebird population can be credited to the efforts of wildlife enthusiasts who worked to create habitats attractive to the remaining birds. In 1978, the North American Bluebird Society was formed to encourage the installation of nest boxes. This extensive effort provided sufficient nesting locations for Bluebirds as the species competes with other cavity nesters (swallows, chickadees, wrens, house sparrows, starlings) for nesting sites. The efforts were so successful that the Eastern Bluebird was removed from the rare species list in 1996.

Bluebirds prefer to nest in tree cavities in or near open fields, meadows, hedges or gardens. Several metro parks in the Columbus area (like Sharon Woods Metro Park) have numerous nesting boxes in fields. The Bluebirds can often be found perched on the boxes, on plants in the fields or on tree limbs adjacent to the fields.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.