The Bluebird of Happiness

Years ago, when we lived in Connecticut, our house overlooked  a meadow.  It was wide and grassy and bordered a copse of trees, the perfect habitat for birds.  We’d put up a large bird house to attract purple martins, because we also had mosquitoes the size of eagles.  And then one day when I was working at my desk, a flash of blue at the edge of the yard caught my eye.  It was brighter than a jay, slightly larger than a chickadee, and with a breast as bright red as a robin’s.  I’d never seen a bluebird before, but my handy Audubon guide confirmed what this cheeky visitor was. Within a few days, he’d moved into the bird house.  And then he brought friends.

Over the summer months, I counted at least four male blue birds.  It was an excess of excitement — they’d swoop around the garden, like fat little fairies who’d fallen into a vat of dye. My birding friends were amazed and impressed — until the bluebirds discovered my car.

Back then, we had a one-car garage, and my husband, because he commuted, had dibs on it. My vehicle, an enormous SUV, hulked in the patch of gravel off to the side.  Because I towed a horse trailer, the SUV had oversized side mirrors. One of the bluebirds discovered it and, convinced his reflection was a rival, would sit and scold all day long.  Of course, while he was chattering, he also pooped — a lot.

For weeks I would show up at gatherings, the right side of my car brilliant white with bird poop.  I suffered through more than my fair share of “Don’t let the bluebird of happiness crap on your car jokes’ until I came up with the bright idea of taping  brown paper sandwich bags over the mirrors.  This worked fine, so long as I remembered to take them off before I got in the car — otherwise I was liable to take out a mailbox or two. The bluebird of happiness had turned into a big fat pain in the rear.

When we moved to our new house, I set up a feeding station almost immediately.  We brought our old bird houses, too — the ones supposed to be too big for bluebirds — and lo and behold, the bluebirds followed us here. I knew they weren’t the same birds, but it was comforting, when everything was new and strange, to have those bright flashes of blue outside my window.

And then one summer, the bluebirds stopped coming. In early spring, when they usually start checking out the houses, the garden remained empty.  I didn’t see a single bluebird – until I happened to take a walk down the street one afternoon.  There, in my neighbor’s yard, a pair of the pint-sized chirpers sat on a nesting box, one built specifically for blue birds.

I was crushed — they’d abandoned me! I immediately forgot all the bad words I’d said about them and set about trying to woo them back.  Now my neighbor and I engage in a friendly rivalry for who can attract the most nesting couples. (Friendly enough that he even gave me two nesting boxes of my own.) I spend a crazy amount on bird food, but it’s worth it — I had a mated couple of my own last year that laid and hatched four eggs.

A bluebird is on the feeder as I type this, fat and sassy and full of himself.  There are pine needles in the nesting box, a good sign.  Happiness is fleeting and changeable and sometimes messy.  Grab hold when you can.

Liz Michalski


  1. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) on April 3, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Do you know, I didn’t realize they had a blush-colored breast.

    I love having nesting birds. We have three or four sparrow families every year. They aren’t exotic, but I do find their company cheering.

    • liz on April 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      Jan, the males are brilliantly colored. As tropical as we get here, although in my old state of Connecticut there are brightly colored keets too. We have LOTS of sparrows as well. They do sound cheerful, but sometimes they take over a nesting box, which I highly frown upon.

  2. vaughnroycroft on April 3, 2012 at 10:38 am

    I remember being told the old classic ‘foo bird’ joke by my neighbor when I was a kid. I was probably 12 and he was about 24. He was ‘the cool neighbor,’ and I was honored that he told me a joke with cussing in it. I fake-laughed at the punchline (when the foo shits, wear it) because I didn’t get it. I’d never heard the original (when the shoe fits, wear it). I’ve often thought of it since, and for me the joke offers classic lessons: acceptance; not every aspect of life can be pleasant, but it could be worse.

    We had blue birds at a cottage we once rented. They are gorgeous, aren’t they?

    • liz on April 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      Ya know, I have to confess I hadn’t heard that one before. Given the personality of my youngest, though, I’m sure it is in my future. What types of birds do you see? Lot of hawks?

  3. Fran McCarthy on April 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Wow are you lucky!! I used to get all sorts of great little birds, the chickadees and nut hatches were my favorites. But since they closed and covered up our landfill the crows and seagulls moved on and right to my feeders! You think a blue bird can poop? HAH! I have never seen a bluebird. Send some my way, please.

    • liz on April 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      We did have two black vultures down the street yesterday … I could happily send you one of those!

  4. Norman on May 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Your bluebirds are eating our birdseed and sleeping in somebody else’s house. There may be a name for that behavior.

    • liz on May 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      Yes, but this is a family blog so I can’t say it. : )

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