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Tue, Dec. 10

Bluebird photos take top prizes

During the month of October, we sponsored our first-ever wild bird photo contest. We have framed the top four vote-getting pictures, and they are on display in the store if you would like to see the winning entries. Interestingly, both the first- and second-place winning entries were pictures of western bluebirds.

North America is home to three species of bluebirds: eastern, western and mountain, and all three species are in Arizona. Of the three species, western bluebirds are the most common variety in the central highlands area of Arizona. Eastern bluebirds occur only in extreme south-eastern Arizona, and mountain bluebirds are more commonly found in northern Arizona.

Western bluebirds are more common in residential areas during the wintertime than you probably realize. They are listed in "The Birds of Prescott, Arizona Checklist" as being "fairly common" in winter. Just last week, an accomplished birder reported seeing 180 western bluebirds in the Granite Basin recreation area out Iron Springs Road.

I am frequently asked, "What is the best way to attract bluebirds to my yard?" Undoubtedly the most important thing you can do is to provide a source of water. In fact, the second-place picture in our photo contest (taken right here in Prescott) is a flock of western bluebirds at a birdbath.

Bluebirds, robins and waxwings are very water-dependent, and frequently drink from man-made water sources. Providing an open source of water - versus a birdbath that is frozen over - will increase your chances of attracting bluebirds. A heated birdbath in winter does wonders in attracting a variety of birds to the yard.

Another way to attract bluebirds is to provide one or more nesting boxes. While this is not nesting season, it is important to point out that cavity nesting bird species are also cavity roosters. This means that at night they will use either man-made nesting boxes or natural cavities in the trunk of a tree to roost in.

It is not uncommon for several roosting birds to use the same nesting cavity at night-sharing their body warmth to stay warm during cold nights. The first-place photograph in our photo contest was from Flagstaff, and is of a pair of western bluebirds at a man-made nesting box. If you haven't seen it, it is a delightful picture and worth stopping by the store to see.

Using a traditional seed feeder is not an effective way to attract bluebirds to the yard, as bluebirds are not seed-eaters. They will occasionally eat suet-based products, and they will also eat live meal worms.

During spring and summer, bluebirds exploit the abundance of insects that are available and eat a diet made up almost exclusively of insects. However, once we start to experience hard freezes regularly, the insect population virtually disappears, making it necessary for bluebirds to change their diet from insects to berries.

Bluebirds are fairly nomadic in winter as they search for berries. When bluebirds strip a tree or shrub of its berries, they move on to find a new food source.

What kinds of plants could you provide in your yard to create a habitat that would attract bluebirds? We are fortunate to have a variety of native plants that are berry-producing, including Wright silk tassel, manzanita, squaw currant, netleaf hackberry, Utah serviceberry, smooth sumac, hollyleaf buckthorn and juniper. One of bluebirds' favorite berries is mistletoe, which grows in great abundance in our area, particularly in shrub live oak trees.

Until next week, happy birding!

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, located at 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott. Eric has been an avid birder for over 40 years. If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds, which you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail Eric at Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.

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