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Sparrows, bluebirds battle for control of boxes (7 photos)

Eastern Bluebird determined to oust the House Sparrow from this nesting box intended for bluebirds

I intended to write this bird column about Blue Jays, linking them to spring and baseball. Then, Eastern Bluebirds showed up and played a game with House Sparrows that was too riveting to ignore. It’s a game of Who Gets the Box.

It’s hard to do a play by play, but I will try to bring you the highlights. At the point of writing this, there is no definitive score. I do think the bluebirds are winning, but I may be biased.

I have two Eastern Bluebird boxes that I put along a fence at the front of the property. There is also an older one farther along the fence. I was disappointed over a month ago when I saw a male House Sparrow seemingly moving in to the box closest to my house. This was occupied last year by bluebirds, for which it was intended.

I did open the side of the box, to see if a nest was there. It had been suggested in pro-bluebird literature to remove sparrow nesting materials, but it seemed too much like playing unfairly.

I left it, and I noticed the male sitting on it and going in and out, and behaving similarly with the second box. Perhaps he was speculating.

In any case, earlier this week, after seeing bluebirds also checking it the boxes, I opened the side of the second box. To my relief, there was nothing inside. This gave me hope the bluebirds may still chose to move into the ‘hood.

Yesterday, things got interesting as I noted a bluebird couple at the box the House Sparrow had claimed. I saw the male bluebird, enter and remove some straw from the interior. This seemed like such a bold and perhaps illegal move. I acted only as a fan, not an umpire, and cheered him on.

Later, I was occupied on my deck when there was suddenly a lot of bird chatter. It turns out the game of Who Gets the Box was going to another level.

Between the male bluebird and the box occupied by the sparrow, were five or six male sparrows. They seemed to be teammates, or fans, of the original occupant.

The bluebird was once again showing its game savvy. He calmly held his space for some time, then actually flew at them, picking them off the fence until they all dispersed.

It is curious to me that the bluebirds are muscling in, as they could just be content with the current empty box. It’s also behaviour more expected of House Sparrows.

I will note that I have not seen a female House Sparrow sharing the home. It could be the male struck out with the ladies, or he prefers to have his own hangout. In either case, he and his bench mates are trying to defend his occupancy. The bluebirds are trying to steal his home.

House Sparrows can be nasty right back, as I mentioned in a previous piece about them. I have also written about Eastern Bluebirds in this space. Should anyone wish to read more detail about either species please click on the highlighted word.

I will give Blue Jays their turn at bat in a future column. In the meantime, I find myself chanting Go Bluebirds Go!!

Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, a storyteller, and a playwright. She blogs on her website