by Doug Rood
When the first farms were carved out of the forest surrounding Cedar Creek in the last century, the Eastern Bluebird was a common sight. Because of its cheerful song, friendly disposition, habit of nesting in sheds and the cavities of trees in nearby orchards, and its keen interest in any stray insect, the “Blue Robin” was a welcome neighbor in the farmsteads and villages of nineteenth century America. Unfortunately for the Bluebird, its abundant food supply and pleasant accommodations caught the interest of two recent avian immigrants. In addition, farming and gardening practices changed, and by the time the boys came home from World War I, there were few Bluebirds left to greet them.
William Shakespeare was in large part responsible for the demise of the Eastern Bluebird. This happened because certain Americans thought it would be “nice” to have every bird mentioned in his works made a part of this country’s fauna. As a result, in 1851 a small number of House Sparrows were released in New York. In 1890, the same thing was done with Starlings. It took the Sparrow just forty years to colonize North America. The Starlings were less fecund and required sixty years to do the job. When these two species were added to the Bluebirds’ list of traditional enemies, which included cats, snakes, squirrels, blue jays, and wrens, the “Blue Redbreast” was forced to move elsewhere.
The diminishing number of Bluebirds retreated to wood lots bordering fields where they could find grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and beetles. Unfortunately, this was the time when farmers began to increase agricultural production with the use of pesticides that the birds could not tolerate. As a result, the Bluebirds were limited to areas where competition from predators was light and agricultural chemicals were not used. While relative uncommon around Metea, they can still be found in numbers at the Salamonie Dam, in meadows around Pokagon State Park, and near Mongo, Indiana.
In the 1930’s naturalists began to try and save the remaining Bluebird populations. The most important things done were the creation of successful nesting box designs and learning how to choose effective sites for the boxes. These efforts, coupled with the creation of many wildlife areas on abandoned farmland have allowed the “Blue Robin” to stage a limited comeback.
In many ways the Eastern Bluebird with its cheerful song, friendly disposition, and natural benefits, represents America’s wilderness heritage. Both have been lost due to careless development and the application of technology. Today, the only way to preserve both is to go to considerable expense to create conditions that ensure their survival, and to work to stop the unthinking exploitation of what remains.