Bluebirds and Bluebells = Spring

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Another sure sign of the Spring season is coming soon. Bluebirds have likely already arrived by the end of March or early April. Stay vigilant to observe them. If you are lucky, they will return to the nest boxes they used last year. Eastern Bluebird males have a brilliant royal blue back and top of his head, plus a warm red-brown chest. Female bluebirds have the same colors, only more subdued. Another spring addition to please the eye will be Virginia Bluebell wildflowers. Woodland settings are the best locations to find these bell shaped blossoms. Insects will be seeking out nectar sources from these beauties. Spring is Mother Nature’s way of saying welcome to a new growing season.

Bluebirds are here. They are reacquainting themselves with former territories, or busy setting up new homes. Regardless, these birds are always a welcome sight. Backyards with lots of open grass to survey are a favorite haunt for these avian members of a group called thrushes, of the family Turididae.

The Latin name for Eastern Bluebird is Sialia sialis. Nest boxes will get readily used as will holes in trees, perhaps an old woodpecker tree cavity. They can be common along pastures, agricultural fields and golf courses.

It is in these grassy settings that bluebirds will look for and find their best foods. The menu consists of caterpillars, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and spiders in the spring and summer. Additional foods they have been observed to take are salamanders, shrews, small snakes, lizards and tree frogs. Fall season foods will include fruits of sumac, blueberries, black cherry, dogwood berries, hackberries, honeysuckle, pokeweed and juniper berries.

If you are lucky enough to have a bluebird pair nest close to where your home is, be observant of their comings and goings as the brood of young inside become the central focus for the pair. An artificial nest box can have a four inch inside dimension, about six inches tall, and the entrance hole of 1.5 inches to maybe 1.75 inches. Diligence is required to remove house sparrow nests should the sparrow get their first.

The male bluebird, if he takes a liking to a nest box, will defend it, and advertise to his female by carrying nest materials in and out of the entrance hole, then when perched, flutter his wings vigorously. If the lady bluebird accepts, she will do all the nest building using loosely woven grasses and pine needles and finishing it off with fine grasses or even picked up feathers from other birds.

A nest can be used for more than one brood during the year. Egg number can be from 2 to as high as 7. One, two or even three broods can be raised during one summer season. Eggs are incubated for 11 to 19 days. Nesting care for the young takes another 17 to 21 days. Young bluebirds may stay with their parents the entire summer and into the winter.


Virginia Bluebell flowers are another woodland plant, just one of many species of flowers to greet us as the warmer temperatures of spring settle in. Look for their one foot tall stems and light blue colored bell shaped one inch diameter blossoms in a large cluster at the top of the stem.

Grammer Grove is just one county area where a wide variety of woodland flowers may be found. The list of spring wildflowers to join bluebells have names of Bloodroot, Common blue violet, Dutchman’s breeches, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Rue anemone, Shooting star, Snow trillium, Speckled Phlox (wild Sweet William), Spring beauty, White trout lily, Wild columbine, and Wild geranium.

Wild flowers are enticing treasures for any wildlife and nature adventurer hiking in woodland settings. It is possible to be hiking in the forest one day and not see a lot of flowers only to be greeted the next day by an array of new flowers that seemed to pop overnight.

Blossoms for woodland flowers are accomplished quickly while lots of sunlight is unhampered by tree leaves. Tree leaves are progressing quickly to take advantage of longer days of increasing sunlight times.

Guide books to wildflowers are available, just like good bird identification books. Try Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull. Another guide book is titled Iowa Trees & Wildflowers, a folding pocket guide by James Kavanagh.

There are many others. During these modern times, a cell phone app will ID the flower just after you take its photo. It is very quick and easy.

However, reading about the plant to gather more detail is a great idea. That process helps round out the education factors you will need to retain new knowledge.


My usual once per day inquiry into the status of baby bald eagles, dubbed D17 and D18, at Decorah reveals that those once little white fuzz balls have grown substantially. The remote nest camera can obtain incredible detail of activity at the nest.

Now the young eaglets have a darker gray feather ‘fuzz’, their bodies have grown exponentially larger, and they seem eager to eat fish morsels picked off by one of the adult pairs. With a swollen gullet, the young become satiated, and take new refuge under the chest feathers of one of the adult eagles who will keep them warm and dry.

A new generation of bald eagles are nice to see — again.


Migrating birds will rank up in a big way between now and mid May. Lots of feathered critters will make reappearances. Locally, a returning bird for me was the White-throated Sparrow.

It was good to see it. It is another good start to spring. Sandpipers normally arrive on or about April 23, Common terns by the 28th and Eastern whip-poor-wills by the 26th.

Nighthawks can be expected by May 3rd. Ruby-throated hummingbirds can be expected around May 7. Kingbirds, Northern Crested Flycatchers and Eastern Wood Pewees may arrive May 7.

Swallows should reappear by the end of April. Wrens, catbirds and Wood thrushes in early May. Lots of birds will show up during the first two weeks of May.

Be ready with feeders prepared, and binoculars and camera at the ready position. Keep a list of new arrivals for each species and the date you first recorded them.

Have fun while out and about at any county park hiking trails. Amazing things await discovery.


Rain this week was welcome. Some of the rain was accompanied by severe storms with strong winds. That is typical for the Midwest spring weather patterns. Throughout it all, Iowa’s dry soils captured and absorbed good amounts of rain water, a must do thing since drought-like conditions were with us during the last several years.

The amount of rain we still require to fill the soil profile remains a lot. Some trees are showing stress from a lack of moisture. However, trees have been through many past episodes of too wet, just enough, or not enough rain over former decades, centuries and millennia. They adjust.

My unofficial rain yet accurate rain gauge in Albion recorded rain water on April 16 of 1.33 inches. Those sometimes mild light rains were interspersed with brief torrents of heavy precipitation that restricted visibility to a few hundred feet.

I’m glad those downpours were brief. Overall, the soil absorbed the water easily. It was a good drink for all kinds of plant life.

My rainfall total for 2024 began during March so I might keep a running total for all of 2024. At this point, 3.83 Inches of rain has been recorded.

The Iowa River had a very slight uptick in its water levels. It was very minor at about three inches of increase.

Dry soils did not allow for much runoff and therefore the river remains mild and well behaved — for now.


Earth Day is April 22. Earth Day is really everyday all year long whereby people can reflect upon and always do those practical and economically viable things to help maintain clean water, clean air and reduce any pollution factors by not allowing it to get started in the first place. Talking heads on television may do their usual gloom and doom narrative diatribes, and lies, to try to make us believe the ‘sky is falling.’

A good word of caution is in order. The Earth will not ‘end’ in 10 or 12 years as some politicians like to spout off about.

They will try to convince us that sending more money to Washington DC will somehow magically “fix the problem.” It will not. People are not in control of the climate.

When one takes the long term view of Earth’s natural history, how it formed and adjusted to immense unstoppable galactic and geological forces, it helps to put in perspective how our dynamic planet earth adjusts itself.

Eons of time have seen volcanics of epic proportions come and go. Eons of plate tectonics shape and reshape the continents. Eons of long term glacial episodes bring thick mantels of ice over the land, and all that gets worn away and melted as inter-glacial warmer time frames re-dominate. Ocean levels mirror the ups and downs of glacial history.

Learning more about the Earth’s natural history is a terrific idea for everyone to pursue for Earth Day. It will shed light on the topic, and it will bring truth to the forefront.


Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.


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