They’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. So sang Vera Lynn in her popular World War II song. It was written at a bleak time, when Nazi Germany had conquered much of mainland Europe and, with the USA still neutral, Britain stood virtually alone against them.
The song looked forward to a time when the war would be over and peace would return. But the ironic thing is, there have never been bluebirds over England’s shores. The birds live in North America, not Europe. Perhaps it’s time we learned the truth about the bluebird.
They’re medium-sized birds and related to thrushes – though they look a little bit like robins. Their heads and backs are a vivid blue but their chests are red and their bellies white. They are a common sight along North America’s eastern coast where they live beside fields, pastures, parks and gardens.
A bluebird’s diet is made up mostly of insects but in the autumn and winter these are rare. Then the bluebird turns its attention to fruits like blueberries or mistletoe. Though, from time to time, they may try a frog or even a small mammal. You’re most likely to see a bluebird perched up high on a telephone wire or the branch of a tree. From this vantage point the bird can survey the ground for potential prey. Their eyesight is keen and they can spot an insect from 20 metres away.
You might also spot bluebirds fighting on the wing. Each one jealously guards his territory and will attack any encroaching rivals. They’ll also fight other species of bird and have been known to evict sparrows, starlings and swallows from much sought-after nesting sites. Not as peaceful as Dame Vera would have us believe!
Once he has found a nest site the male bluebird tries to attract the attention of any nearby females. Any who are impressed will join him and then build a nest out of grass and pine needles. The male leaves her to it – he’s done his bit by finding the site.
Once the eggs have been laid (between 3 and 7 of them) the female incubates them and dad must work again. He brings food to his mate and to the chicks once they’ve hatched. Then, 2 or 3 weeks later, the chicks leave and he can go back to his easy life.
But it’s not all fun and games for the bluebird. Many animals eat them or their eggs, including chipmunks, bears and even ants. But bluebird numbers are actually on the rise. There are something like 22 million of them in Mexico, Canada and the USA. Their numbers did fall after foreign species of bird were introduced but, thanks to measures taken since the 1960s, bluebirds are doing just fine.
If you are a bird-lover then take a look at our free-to-play nature quizzes. There are more than 60 including many devoted to British birds. But I won’t lie to you – you will find no bluebirds there. Here at Education Quizzes we like to stick to the facts – sorry Dame Vera.