In January 2017, Island residents witnessed a welcoming sight: The Eastern bluebird had returned to Fishers Island after a 10-year absence. The songbird is easy to identify in the field. Males are bright blue with orange breasts, and females are lighter in color, with gray-blue wings and a tan breast. Bluebirds look very much like miniature, blue-feathered robins, and like robins, they forage for food, mostly insects, on the ground.
Bluebirds should be year-round residents on Fishers Island. What happened? The loss of open grasslands and meadow habitat had reduced the number of places a bluebird could forage for food. Removing invasive plants in the grassland and replacing them with productive, native species has increased the availability of high-quality insects for the bluebird to feed on, such as caterpillars and grasshoppers.
Bluebirds can be found near meadows and open fields and nest in dead tree cavities or cavities left by woodpeckers, which create neat round holes that lead to sunken chambers. Across the Island, and most recently in the Parade Grounds and airport, Island residents have placed bluebird boxes to attract the recently-elusive bird. It was on a bluebird box that Conservancy naturalist Justine Kibbe spotted a bluebird on Mother’s Day, 2017. See Eastern Bluebird video.
Residents have seen an increase in grassland and scrubland birds, such as common yellowthroat, American goldfinch and numerous swallows. More Eastern bluebirds would be a welcome addition to the grasslands, now that habitat is available. It just takes time and a little bit of luck for the birds to leave the mainland and return to Fishers Island to once again become year-round residents.
By Adam B. Mitchell, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Entomology Department of Wildlife, Sustainability, and Ecosystem Sciences Tarleton State University Member of the Texas A&M University System