Outdoors Column: The Cycle of Life

Spring is officially here. The buzzards are back. In the last week, I have seen several turkey vultures, also known as buzzards, doing their job of cleaning up animals that have died or been killed on the highway during the winter. I see buzzards as a true sign of spring. It is unusual to see a buzzard hunkered down, riding out a blizzard. Many people think of robins as the harbinger of warm weather, but I have seen groups of hungry and cold robins hopping around in the snow, unable to find even a frozen worm.


If you have not done your annual maintenance on your bluebird houses or put the new ones up, this is the time to get it done. Male bluebirds have been back for two or three weeks, shopping for nesting areas. Sunday, I saw a couple females, so they will be picking their house and will begin nesting shortly. Maintenance is minimal for existing houses. All a person needs to do is open them up and clean out the old nesting materials. The birds will do the rest. I usually try to make a few new houses each year. A person can never have too many bluebird houses. Building a house is easy, and the birds are not particular about the looks of it. The most important part is to have a 1 ½ inch opening. The opening size prevents larger birds such as starlings from using it and discourages smaller birds, such as wrens. One pair will usually hatch 3-4 babies and nest 2-3 times in a season. It is not hard to see, with a bit of help from humans, the bluebird population in an area can be dramatically increased in short order.


I have a neighbor that has done a lot to increase the population of bluebirds in our area. For several years, he has put out and maintained a large number of houses. Now, when a person drives down the road, there are flashes of blue on both sides of the road as all the bluebirds hunt and flit about. Though bluebirds will nest in cavities created by woodpeckers high up in trees, they seem to prefer man-made boxes hung on fence posts with open grasslands around. We have a row of houses on the fence between the house and the lake. When the bluebirds are nesting, we can see them hunting insects on the lawn at just about any time between dawn and dusk.


We have also seen several pair of wood ducks checking out the oak trees in the area. Wood ducks are also cavity nesters and will use a box made for them. They are beautiful little ducks and interesting to watch. While the female is on the nest, the male will walk around up in the tree or swim nearby in the lake. When the female flies into her nest, it looks like a suicide run. It appears she flies into the hole in her nesting box at about sixty miles per hour. She must have some way of slowing down rapidly before she smashes into the back wall. When the ducklings hatch, it is like popcorn popping out of the opening and they fall to the ground. They bounce up and take off toward the water. I am sure the wood ducks would be able to find a nesting site without my help, but my wife and I enjoy watching them. We only have to change the saw dust in the box each spring and they are happy ducks for another year.


Spring is the time of new life. With only minimal assistance from us, wildlife will let us watch the new cycle as it unfolds.