Western bluebirds fall victim to wildfires, cold weather

June 20. 2014 7:05PM

EACH YEAR for the past dozen, Karen Metz’s Christmas letter has described her experiences involving birds that visit her home. A long-time reader friend, Karen is a former resident of Windham who now lives in a Colorado woodland 6,600 feet above sea level.

Last year there were very serious forest fires not far from her home and she expected to be asked to abandon home as a precaution. One of our regular reader-couples missed Karen’s annual report as her bird feeding experiences had always captured their interest. I mailed a copy of my book to Karen and urged her to tell us about her bird experiences. She wrote: “My congratulations for having completed 52 years of nature writing and thank you for the copy of your book. It is a wonderful treasure.

“I began my annual reports in the 1980s after leaving my short ‘Bluebird Trail’ in my Windham neighborhood where I put up bluebird houses for them if they promised that they wouldn’t use chemicals on their lawns.

“The earliest part of the bluebird nesting season here in Colorado in 2013 was a challenge with extremes in April temperatures. Locally, Western bluebirds and mountain bluebirds were among the species that died in large numbers in mid-April last year. Our normal spring-time snows were accompanied by temperatures much below normal. It is customary to have snows (‘white rain’) here in April with temperatures near 30, but temperatures plunged into the low teens for too many days. Bluebirds were starving throughout our area.

“Near my property 10 bluebirds or more were able to rely on mealworms and homemade peanut butter-lard cakes that I provide, but most bluebirds did not have that advantage. Without food at our elevation, bluebirds flood to the cities at lower elevations to find insects and anthropoids. Some get there, but too late, and dozens and dozens of bluebirds were reported falling dead out of the sky over the city of Denver. It was sad to walk in our neighborhood and nearby parks in May and see that so few bluebirds remained. I’m hoping that the few bluebirds that have returned this year get a break with the weather this nesting season and begin an upwards movement in their production cycle.

“During all my days in Windham, I kept track of arrival dates of several species of songbirds and I do that here also. For many years, the return of Western bluebirds was just after the Spring Equinox but, in the past two years, those dates have been March 15-14 respectively.

“Up until two years ago, April 22-27 was the arrival dates for broad-tailed hummingbirds, but the first hummers are now arriving between April 16-19. Insects that these birds first look for must be hatching earlier every year and the birds are following accordingly. Why else would we be witnessing this trend?

“An event very near here had a disastrous effect on many people and wildlife. In mid-June as the Black Forest wildfire raged (about 18 miles south of us), it became obvious that more hummingbirds were visiting my feeders. It was much too early for migration from the north, and so I’m sure that some of the new arrivals were hummingbirds fleeing from the fire, ash and smoke in the Black Forest.

So I believe that some made it out, but many surely perished.“Actual hummingbird migration began as usual around July 8, and the numbers kept increasing into early August. At dawn, for more than three weeks, I counted between 35 and 45 hummingbirds in my garden and at nectar feeders — even more than in previous years.

Neighbors were reporting higher than normal numbers and it wasn’t only that hummingbirds were stopping in the pine forests — friends in the towns nearer Denver were also hosting hummingbirds. I refer to our place as ‘hummingbird alley’ because the migration path for four species is right here.”

Due to the length of Karen’s 2013-14 report, it will be continued in my next column that will appear on the July 4th weekend.

Due to my publication dates, this is my opportunity to promote a favorite charity, the N.H. Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. Established June 29, 1988, N.H. RSA Chapter 212-B:6 became law. This chapter created a separate non-lapsing fund known as the “nongame species account” that “ ... included any state funds appropriated, federal money available, plus all donations received to be used for the development and implementation of a comprehensive nongame management program. The state treasurer shall deposit annually from the general fund into the special nongame species account an amount equal to the money donated during any fiscal year under this paragraph up to and including a total of $50,000 annually.”

There is little time left to make a 2014 contribution.

Stacey Cole’s address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, NH 03446.

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