Fighting Bluebirds and Digging ‘Peckers

March 9th, 2010

We saw the funniest thing over the weekend. The boy and I were about to have breakfast and I noticed a commotion outside the window. As we looked more closely it was three male bluebirds fighting for the rights to a nest box near the house. I’ve seen them playing like this in the spring, but this was no playful antics by young birds! We have several bluebird boxes around, but that one is a favorite for some reason.

They flew at each other and grabbed claws while pinning each other down on the ground and wrestling furiously.   While these two were thrashing about, the third flew up to the box as if to say, “Ha! Ha! I’ve got the box!”  

They were oblivious to anything around them, including me! I walked outside to get some better photos, and they just ignored me even when I came within a couple feet. They were so intent that while still locked together, they flew at each other and locked claws again, falling into a big spirea bush… deep in the middle.   They just stayed there grasping each other like mad!

Finally I said, “Okay guys, now that’s enough! Come out of there!”   Eventually they became aware of me and popped out, flying off a little way to separate perches in an oak tree.  As I went inside, they were flying all around the box again.  

Now there’s a school mascot for you… the “Fighting Bluebirds!”  Just doesn’t sound right does it?   These guys are supposed to be happy, gentle creatures!  I laughed, thinking of our human labels and stereotypes…   they’re just birds, as intent upon their life cycle as the lowly starling or house sparrow… which they also do battle with.  But they’re nice to have around :)  The rites of spring have surely begun.


We have enjoyed a wonderful stretch of warm days and have begun our “spring cleaning.”  I noticed that the frogs have really emerged, and we hear them calling at night.   Everything is more active (including me!) and it’s time to really get ready for the growing season.

Even the woodpeckers are more active!  (That title above got your attention didn’t it!?)   I’m not sure having really active woodpeckers around is always a good thing.  I know they serve a purpose and signal a healthy environment, but the pileated woodpeckers can do enormous damage to a tree in short order. To all outward appearances, this oak tree looks healthy. But it may have insects attacking it inside that we just don’t see and the woodpecker does.

In any event, this hole wasn’t in the tree a few weeks ago, but now it’s huge.  There is a small cavity inside, and that’s probably what the bird is after.   Hopefully the tree will continue to thrive, but when I’ve seen this in the past, the tree has usually died within a couple of years.   We have a few dead trees still standing that I thought would serve to help the woodpeckers with their needs.

I suspect we would lose many of these trees anyway, but I really love our old oak trees.    The cycle of life continues…  Have a great day!

Update: Orin provided a comment about haven taken a video of nesting pileated woodpeckers in 2009. This is great to watch- I had never seen a nesting site for this bird, or how the adults feed their young.

10 Responses to “Fighting Bluebirds and Digging ‘Peckers”

  1. Ed

    My mom would always say, “Boys will be boys.” I’m guessing the same applies to bluebirds. I’ve never seen bluebirds fight but I have seen hawks fight and they can get really ugly.

    Funny how we’ve had temps in the low 40’s up here the past few days and I sometimes feel colder than I did when the temps were in the low twenties. I think my body is adjusting too fast and leaving me out in the cold.

  2. I’ve been assured by my woodpeckers that while they may chew up trees, they will leave cabins alone.

    I intend to put up another bluebird house this weekend.

  3. great photos. lucky you for having seen them fighting! sadly, here in the city we only have blue jays. ghetto ones, with bad attitudes.

  4. I saw our first bluebird yesterday, so spring must not be far around the corner.


  5. Your title got my attention though I am not sure why I felt compelled to open it…hmmm…

    Anyhow, I noticed some birds of some sort…not bluebirds…wrestling in our yard last weekend too…what a hoot!

  6. Ed- The blood runs strong in spring! Hopefully you’ve had a little warmer weather- we hit around 74 yesterday!
    Pablo- There was one tearing apart a wooden eave on the house… when I hear one “pecking” I run out and scare it away. Maybe your cabin would “taste bad” with the wood preservatives :)
    Chook- Ha! Blue jays can really be so aggressive… the word “rapacious” comes to mind!
    Randall- Good! I hope you get to watch them more this season :)
    Warren- You should be warming up nicely too I imagine. I like your thumb avatar!

  7. Orin Keplinger

    I enjoy your well-written and thoughtful musings. The pileated woodpecker is one of my favorites. You and your readers might enjoy my 7 minute YouTube video. Do a search for 2009 Pileated Woodpecker Nest.
    As Ever,
    Orin near Chicago

  8. Orin- I appreciate your comments, and sharing your video. That was very cool… must have been quite a challenge to get it, and especially to edit decently. I have never seen a nesting site for them, so I appreciate watching your video!

  9. Wildbird

    Ive seen robins fighting but never bluebirds but i guess becuase their both related so even bluebirds with quable over territory

  10. Wildbird- Well now you’ve got me… I haven’t seen Robins fighting! Birds are so cool… and there’s always something to learn :) Thanks for your comment!

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