Very blue birds!

If you like the movie ``The Wizard of Oz'' as much as I do, then you probably know the words to most of the songs. Remember the one where Dorothy sings, ``...if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh why, can't I''? Why do you suppose the songwriter picked bluebirds - instead of eagles, or swallows, or a lot of other two-syllable birds? I think it must have had something to do with the brilliant blue shade of their feathers and their quiet warbling ``true-a-ly, true-a-ly'' song. You can't see a bluebird gliding across a field and not feel happy!

Many years ago - before their cousin robins took over the job - bluebirds were thought to be the first signs of spring. Farmers in our neck of New England would spot bluebirds returning from their winter vacations in the Carolinas and know that it was time to start tilling the soil.

Unfortunately, we don't often see or hear bluebirds in the wild today, and in some states bluebird populations have dropped by as much as 90 percent. As old trees have been cut down to make way for new houses and buildings, bluebirds have lost their favorite kind of nesting holes. Some have been killed by pesticides, and others have been chased out of their homes by more aggressive house sparrows and starlings.

But there's something you can do to help bluebirds today. You can build special nesting boxes for them, with entrance holes cut too small for other birds to climb through, and with a side-opening wall that lets you check on how the mother and baby birds are doing. Although bluebirds often lay their first clutch of pale blue eggs in late April or early May, it's not too late to put up a box for them now. Know why? Unlike most birds, which build only one nest in the spring, bluebirds often have two or three broods a season. There's something pretty neat about teen-age bluebirds, too. Once they grow up and can take care of themselves, instead of flying off on their own, they stay around home to help their parents with the next batch of babies. After all, taking care of baby bluebirds is a full-time job because they need to be fed every five minutes from dawn to dusk!

Bluebirds have a lot of friends in all 50 states. In Massachusetts, I know a woman who's been taking care of the bluebirds that nest near her home for more than 45 years. Her name is Lillian Lund Files, but she probably wouldn't mind if you called her ``the bird lady.'' Lillian travels all around New England, showing slides of the boxes she's designed and telling people how to look after her favorite birds. She's always making new discoveries about them, and just a couple of years ago she found that if she hung plastic streamers near her nesting boxes, they kept pesky sparrows away but didn't bother bluebirds at all.

If you'd like to find out more about the kinds of bluebirds that live in your area - and get directions for building a bluebird nesting box - you can write to: North American Bluebird Society, PO Box 6295, Silver Spring, MD 20906. It's probably a good idea to send along a stamped envelope, addressed to yourself.

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