Birdsong fills the air

Saturday morning was brilliant. A bright blue sky punctuated by puffy white clouds was the perfect backdrop for all the birdsong. Just like a chorus, it filled the air.

While songbirds chirped and sang their melodious melodies, the honking of Canada geese provided backup percussion.

A grand old black cherry stands in front of our home. Its boughs provide perches for a host of birds throughout the seasons.

In winter, blue jays adorn it, looking for all the world like powder puffs as they fluff their breast-feathers against the cold.

In summer, the foliage hides the diligent scurrying of the yellow warbler while the canopy provides a good vantage point from which the great crested flycatcher seeks out its meals of flying insects. When the cherries ripen, the fruit clusters attract flocks of cedar waxwings.

But now, in heady spring, the bluebird uses it as his perch. How wondrous to wake with the sound of this cheery songster proclaiming his territory... and hopefully attracting his mate.

Which brings me to the bluebird boxes.

If you have nestboxes, as we do, it’s time to ensure they are clean and ready for the next homemakers.

We have two different types. The first, built and brought here by the Macoun Junior Field Naturalist Club of Ottawa as part of the youngster’s bluebird field trip, are positioned along the Steele Line. Now we’ve never been too keen on these boxes. First of all, they are clumsy to open. Second of all, we don’t really think it’s a great idea to have the boxes strung along the road.

After seeing how the bluebird feeds, proximity to a roadway appears quite unsafe. For these birds like to sit on a high point (such as an overhead wire, fencepost or a tree branch) and peer down at the ground. Then, presumably after spying movement of an insect, they swoop down and, with a flutter of wings, grab their prey and resume their position on the overhead perch.

I’ve always been concerned about them getting squashed on the road.

Mind you, perhaps I’m anthropomorphizing: in almost 11 years here, I’ve never come across a bluebird corpse on the road! Perhaps the roadways just seem like a bad idea. Certainly, the number of bluebird boxes placed along backroads throughout Ontario and this part of Québec seem to have done their work.

Nonetheless, when we built our own bluebird boxes, we selected a different design. The back of our boxes is hinged, so we can lift it up, every year, and clean out the old nests. We constructed the nestboxes out of barnboard from Ron Steele’s old barn that blew down all those years ago. They have lasted well, and they are so easy to clean that we can recommend this style of box.

And we positioned these boxes away from the road. Two of them are particularly popular. One is situated west of the house in a grove of poplar and pin cherry. The other is directly east of the house, sheltered by the large-toothed aspen and perched way up high, on a tall pole. These two are the boxes most often chosen by our bluebirds.

Other perils threaten these birds, however. The biggest is our two cats and I must say I do feel badly about their superb hunting abilities. It’s bad enough when they catch a siskin, redpoll or chickadee. Our black cat Chico likes catching hummingbirds and our calico, Tigger, even caught a ruffed grouse last summer. That sure surprised the Weinarts when they were looking after our place: but there it was, an immense-looking albeit headless grouse carcass in our garage. Such is life in the country.

But every year I hope the cats don’t eat the bluebirds, catbirds, mockingbirds, indigo buntings and the bevy of other little birds we welcome back.

Hopefully the bluebirds will select one of the nestboxes again, this year. Other boxes are regularly claimed by the tree swallows and chickadees who also seem to find their dimensions acceptable.

As we explore our woods and pasture here at the farm, we’ve noticed the return of many of our favourites. Last Wednesday we were just inside the forest’s verge when we were startled by a large bird. A barred owl, I wondered? No, no owl at all: but a large red-tailed hawk. Hopefully the nesting pair will return and bring up another brood.

Emerging onto our back field, a shadow flitted across the grass and, looking up, we spied a turkey vulture. These are readily identified by their large wingspan and naked red heads. But, if you are beneath them, look for the white band underneath their wings. These scavengers are welcome too, for they clean up the fields and roads of winter- and road-kill: every creature has its place in the scheme of things.

Enough of the computer and of writing... it’s time to head outside and see which other birds are back. I hear the phoebe calling, that little flycatcher whose perky call, “phoebe! phoebe!” becomes rather monotonous after a day or two. Nonetheless, we have no complaints.

After all, any flycatcher is welcome back here, especially when those scourges of the countryside -- the pesky blackflies and mosquitoes -- come out to plague us.

Mammals are stirring, too, and enjoying the sunshine. Muskrats are cleaning out their dens. Woodchucks are sunning themselves on fenceposts. Skunks are nosing about in our lawn, digging for grubs in the newly thawed ground.

Life is stirring: why not head out for a country walk and surround yourself in this burst of energy called spring?


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon. She welcomes your bird reports, comments and questions. Contact her at