Shopping at a local market I asked the customer near me, “I apologize for asking, but I’m just curious, what do you use 20 pounds of wheat bran for?”
“Worms,” she said.
“Worms? To feed the worms?”
“No,” she said laughing, “to keep live worms for my bluebirds.”
That’s how I met Groton resident Donna McMichael, who told me about George Brouillette. He’s built more than 2,000 bluebird boxes and also lives in Groton.
Bluebirds are known as the bird of happiness and the vivid sky blue color of their coats, in contrast to their maroon breast and white underbelly are an unforgettable sight.
“It carries the sky on its back,” said Henry David Thoreau. Their recognizable song is a warble that sounds like “tru-al-ly, tru-al-ly.”
I visited George Brouillette’s garage and with his drawing by his side, found him with a fresh load of native rough pine with a few completed boxes.
“I’ve enjoyed helping people increase the bluebird population,” he said. “I am a guardian of close to 100 boxes located in Groton. Some locations include the country club, Lawrence academy, the Community School behind CVS and many more. This year I have two helpers monitoring these boxes, Sue Farlow and Nancy Oringer. I’ve visited classrooms to help children identify birds and types of bird nests and helped Eagle Scouts build birding boxes. Watching bluebirds and seeing their beautiful blue eggs is a real pleasure. I would be happy to help anyone who wants to learn more!”
The link between bluebirds and happiness goes farther back than the song lyrics of the ’40’s and ’50’s. Their reputation may in grounded in folklore that is many thousands of years old. Dating back to China’s Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BC), an oracle bone has been found with an inscription relating to bluebirds. Some Native Americans revere the bluebird as having mythological or literary significance and Navahos believed that the Mountain bluebird was a spirit in bird form associated with the rising sun.
Genuine bluebirds (Sialia) are found only in North America, a species of North American thrushes.
After a noticeable dip in the population during the ’70’s and ’80’s due to aggression from starlings, house sparrows, and the lack of natural nesting sites and pesticides, the bluebird population has been on the rise due to the proliferation of nesting boxes, whose specifications are a perfect fit for bluebirds who are house hunting.
Bluebird trails host nesting boxes spaced 100 yards apart, which allows the boxes to be monitored by foot or bicycle. Many people who enjoy playing hosts to nesting boxes quickly become guard ians to aid increasing the bluebird population. Duties include the weekly opening and checking of the box (never in the morning when eggs are laid), being sure to announce your arrival so as not to startle the birds. Do open the box while babies are fledging and when the babies have left the nest clean out the old nest to encourage the birds to build a new one and often a second batch will be born (only bluebirds lay twice yearly).
House sparrows have been known to take over a bluebird’s nest by disturbing their nest and building their own nest on top. Sparrows are not protected by law so to discourage this takeover; guardians can remove the sparrow nest and their eggs.
Male house wrens will build a twig nest in every box so guardians should remove these nests frequently to encourage him to select only one box.
Bluebirds and tree swallows are attracted to the same box. These two species will live next door to each other, they are both insect eaters and the tree swallow is a bright iridescent blue.
Bluebirds nest near pastures, golf courses, open fields, backyards, cemeteries and peaceful country roads; using nearby trees and bushes for perching and as nest coverage as their sight allows them to see prey 60 feet away.
Contact George Brouillette, email@example.com, 978-448-5448.