My watercolor painting, Bluebirds Love Sumac, was painted in celebration of the fall sumac and the restoration of bluebird habitat. For me it symbolizes hope through a model of positive human impact on the earth that can occur when we come together with a shared vision of environmental health.
Between the 1930s and the 1980’s the population of bluebirds had declined by 90%. They were truly endangered. By the time I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in southwestern Wisconsin, bluebirds were rare. Pesticides contaminated their invertebrate foods, and nesting cavities were in short supply. Sighting a bluebird was a rare treat that took on mythic proportions in my family. Bluebirds have come to symbolize all things good and beautiful and I have been asked to do small paintings of bluebirds by family members who wanted their strength and beauty to accompany them on difficult personal journeys. (I share more information about bluebirds and the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin at the end of this message).
I was honored to have my painting “Bluebirds Love Sumac” chosen to grace the cover of the 2011 calendar of the Dane County Cultural Commission.
Flora & Fauna is the 12th edition of the Cultural Commission’s annual calendar series. The series features artists whose artwork reminds us to notice and appreciate the beauty of Dane County, Wisconsin every day throughout the entire year. Calendar purchases helps support the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission’s mission and programs. The calendar is available at several Dane County locations or can be ordered here:
The calendar is 61/2 x 7 1/2 inches and sells for $7.58 each (plus sales tax). There are thirteen other fabulous artists who share their images in calendar, including:
- Pamela Andros
- Sara Aslakson
- Randall Bendt
- Leslie DeMuth
- Linda Gerard Dzik
- Audrey Lundquist Paesel
- Katherine Steichen Rosing
- Kristine Martineau Gellerman
- Jayne Reid Jackson
- Brian McCormick
- S.V. Medaris
- Larry Welo
- Jonathan Wild
Revenues from calendar sales help sustain programs of the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, an agency within county government created in 1977 to encourage public participation in arts, culture and local history activities countywide. For more information, please contact 608-266-5915.
The return of bluebirds is now a symbol of ecological success. Since the first Earth Day in 1970 the use of broadly toxic chemicals has been restricted, and we’ve discovered the bluebird’s willingness to use man-made nest boxes.
When BRAW was organized in 1986, it was estimated that the Eastern Bluebird population in its historic range had declined by 90% during the preceding 50 years due to changes in agriculture practices, competition from the House (English) Sparrow and European Starling, severe weather in its central and southern winter range, and the loss of nest sites, such as tree cavities and hollow wooden fence posts. Today, bluebirds are common in suitable habitat. Pastures, hayfields, cemeteries, and open meadows are ideal. The easiest way to attract bluebirds is by supplying nest boxes. The key is placing them in suitable habitat. Bluebirds prefer open areas with scattered trees and few houses. Males sing from treetops, and both sexes hunt from elevated perches. They watch the ground for grasshoppers, beetles, and other insects. They capture prey and killing it then return to their perch for the meal.
A bluebird nest is a simple cup of grass or pine needles. The eggs, typically four or five per clutch, are j sky blue (though one in 20 are white) and a not quite an inch long. They hatch in about 14 days. Young bluebirds leave the nest 16 to 21 days after hatching. Bluebirds typically raise two broods and sometimes three, so it’s not unusual to have active nests from April through August.
A basic bluebird box measures four by four inches and is 10 to 12 inches high. Space nest boxes about 100 yards apart to avoid territorial squabbles. If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, bluebird nest boxes can be purchased at wild bird stores and nature centers. BRAW makes recommendations for bluebird boxed here.
To support the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin go here to shop for all things bluebird.
Finally, if you are a true fan of bluebirds and sumac, check out the fabric I designed based on the painting. Its available on Spoonflower.com in organic cottons from quilt weight to upholstery material as well as crepe de chine.
May the bluebird of happiness enter your life today.