170415-Blue Beauty - Holly & Donald

Can You Continue To Saved This Blue Beauty?

Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, on a T-post next to his nest in the spring.

Eastern Bluebird On His Porch
Canon 5D Mark IV w/ 70-200mm f2.8 & EF 2x III extender
ISO 1600 / 1/2000 / f7.1
© Donald Devine, 2017

The Eastern Bluebird

The Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, once thrived in North America and was once common as a Robin. Early American settlers once mesmerized by its beautiful blue color of its wings and chestnut brown chest often sent feathers and skin back to Europe as gifts and proof of the wonders of this new world.

However, human intervention started the demise of this creature, but not necessarily in the manner you might think. Yes, loss of habitat, pesticide use, dead tree removal, and influx of house cats all played a toll on its numbers. Even weather changes had negative effects on the species. The hardest hitting decline in numbers was from the introduction of a competing bird, the European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris.

Male Eastern Bluebird checking on nest in Searcy, Arkansas. Both the European Starling and Eastern Bluebird are cavity nesters and are aggressive during breeding season. As cavity nesters, they utilize holes of woodpeckers or similar holes to build a nest and do not create their own. However, the Starling is twice the size and are omnivores which can often also be seen snacking from the local trashcan. Whereas, the bluebirds have a stricter diet of insects mostly and some fruit in the cooler months. This allows the Eastern Starling to be a bit more resilient to the other negative effects of human intervention.

Though birdhouses were often set to attract bluebirds by early Americans, the decline brought on an advanced design which was optimal for bluebird reproduction. Those simple boxes places by everyone throughout the years have played a huge role in bringing back the species.

If you live in the central US and eastward, feel free to place one of these houses for them. It is best near fields of tall grass as it will be close to their food source.

Interesting facts:
◆They are a song bird, (plan accordingly when placing birdhouse near your window.)
◆They brood, (lay eggs), 3-7 twice and back to back.
◆Young from first brood help feed the second, (more photo opportunities.)
◆Feed on insects and can help defend your garden against them.
◆Relatively small at, 6-8in. in body, 10-13in. wingspan, approximately 30g in weight and lifespan of 8-10 years.
◆During breeding they are territorial but are found in flocks when not raising their young.
◆The status of the species is SECURE, huge jump from the 1970’s where they were projected to become extinct.

Photography Tips:
Photographing these birds are relatively easy, mostly due to easily attracted to nesting sites with birdhouses. They are small and extremely agile which will require a higher ISO and a shutter speed of 1/1600 to freeze the wings. You will also need a nice amount of aperture to ensure the bird is in focus.

Placing an old or cheap tripod near the nest, (not too close), when they start to arrive will get them more comfortable with camera equipment when you are ready to shoot. I do not recommend using your good equipment as weather, sun or just about anything can ruin it while left alone.

Male Eastern Bluebird checking on nest in Searcy, Arkansas. When time comes to shoot, a remote release is key. If your camera has Wi-Fi you might be able to attach with an app to trigger the shutter. For the rest of us there are plenty of cost effective means to press the shutter from a distance. The cheapest being a corded remote release with an extension cable to get the reach. For a little more cash, you can get the wireless trigger, but be warned that also requires batteries which notoriously are dead when I seem to need them. Last there are choices of either motion or laser triggers which cost quite a bit more but allow you to not be present when the photos are taken.

Before you begin, plan your shot. The birds will fly to and from the hole, but almost never in the exact same path. So, if framing the birdhouse in the picture you can simply set your focus to the distance of the hole. Stop down to an f8 or higher should provide plenty of exciting photos of them coming in/out. If your intent is to get them right at the hole, you can set your aperture wider to get a better blurred background.

If you do not want the house in the frame then their flight path becomes more erratic. Try placing it just outside, left or right, and focus at a distance a little closer than the hole. (I usually start at the side of the birdhouse.) Stop down a bit more, so long as you can keep the shutter speed up high enough to freeze the action. This will increase your depth of field and allow for more photos with the proper sharpness. (I try to attain a shutter speed on 1/2000 or better as flight is faster further away from takeoff/landing point.)

If you want to catch them while further way from the nest, I would recommend hand holding, a tripod or a using a monopole. Cheapest and hardest to control would be the first, but the last provides for relatively stable base and not nearly as expensive as a tripod and gimbal head.

Camera choices are easy. Whatever you have in your hand will work, though maybe not from where you are. Smaller lens just means you need to get closer to the subject. Your basic, entry level DSLR, (digital single lens reflex), or mirrorless cameras will work just as well. Even a kit lens of 18-55mm can also grab nice pictures to share and print.

Written and photographed by:
Donald T. Devine

Birds of Arkansas, by Stan Tekiela ISBN 1-59193-261-0
Birds of North America, by American Museum of Natural History ISBN 978-1-4654-4399-1

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