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Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me?

by Olivia H. Miller

The Bird Watchers General Store in Orleans is a local treasure. One of the first "everything under one roof" birding stores, it's a fun place to visit even if you can't tell a bluebird from a blue jay.

Mike O'Connor, who opened the store in 1983, knows a lot about birds. (His email handle is "thistleboy" for a reason.) Thistleboy, I mean Mike, gets a lot of questions about birds. Many of them appear in his popular column, "Ask The Bird Folks," published weekly in the Cape Codder.

I'm a casual bird enthusiast (not a serious birder but I know my bluebirds from my blue jays). I'm happy when birds come to my feeders and thrilled when I spot an unusual bird. I keep a field guide but draw the line at schlepping around with binoculars hanging from my neck.

"Ask The Bird Folks" (or what I call "laugh 'n learn") is the perfect way to get my "bird brain" on. Mike's wit, humor and irreverence, coupled with a vast amount of avian knowledge, make for a fun – and interesting – read.

A bunch of years ago, I had, if I do say so myself, a wicked good idea. I traded my casual bird enthusiast hat (wide brim with faux feathers) for my serious editor hat (gray fedora with press card) and asked Mike what he thought of compiling his "laugh 'n learn" columns into a book.

He liked the idea (what's not to like?) and we began the process of choosing columns, organizing them into a manuscript, finding a publisher, approaching a publisher, getting accepted by a publisher…yes, accepted!

Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches? And Other Bird Questions You Know You Want to Ask came out in 2007. (I know you wanna ask, so the short answer is they have a larger brain case. Wanna know more? Buy the book.)

Like swallows returning to Capistrano, last year Beacon Press suggested a second book. Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me? More Answers to Common and Not-So-Common Questions about Birds and Birding has just been hatched.

It's equally as informative and funny, and as much a delight for me to edit as its predecessor. (You wanna know about the bluebird hate thing, don't you? They don't hate you but may hate your yard; it's all about habitat with birds, blue or otherwise.)

Here's an excerpt from the book's first column, which explains it.

Roger asks why he can't get bluebirds in his yard, despite his specially designed bluebird houses. His cousin, in the next town, gets lots of them. Why, Roger despairs, do bluebirds hate me? Three reasons, according to Mike: location, location, location.

Available at Beacon Press

Also available at the
Bird Watcher's General Store

"Living far from the bluebirds' habitat of choice makes it tough to entice them to use the birdhouses in your yard. It's not your fault and don't blame your birdhouses. If you don't live in the right location, you could put out birdhouses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and bluebirds still wouldn't use them. (Actually, a birdhouse designed by F.L. Wright would probably frighten the birds, but you get my point.)"

Mike can't get bluebirds to come to his yard either, a vaguely embarrassing situation for a bird merchant. Bluebirds totally dig open fields so if you don't live near one, fuggedaboudit.

Don't be sad. Even the field-less can do something to attract bluebirds (if you want to, that is): give 'em water! Below is Mike's advice to Rusty (who happens to be my mother but nepotism isn't why she made the cut…hers was a good question, which other cheapskates have also asked).

Will a heated birdbath increase my electric bill, Rusty wonders, and by how much? Not by much, it turns out, maybe 24 cents a day. Oh, and that's when it runs; the heater shuts down when temps go above freezing. So we're talking an extra $25 a year, and it's totally worth it because (pay attention, bluebird lovers):

"Offering water in the winter is a great way to attract birds. One cold winter's day a few years ago, a local woman brought in a photo of thirteen Eastern Bluebirds jamming into her heated birdbath. I love showing that picture to customers because it actually makes some of them gasp when they see it. People don't do as much gasping these days."

So we've learned that providing water is a plus. Of course, offering food helps. But what about things that aren't so hot for birds? I hate to be a downer but Mike talks about that in the book as well. Tod, for example, wonders whether he can safely use pesticides on his fruit trees without harming the birds:

"Over a billion pounds of pesticides are dumped on this country each year; most of it doesn't come from commercial farmers but from homeowners. People like you and me, Tod, are doing more than our fair share of spreading those poisons around. The patch of green emptiness we call a lawn is a major target, but ornamental shrubs, and yes, prized fruit trees are also sprayed, dusted and powdered with nasty stuff."

You can probably guess Mike's vote on pesticides. (Hint: He's not a fan.) Birds, like many creatures that call Planet Earth their home, are facing lots of environmental challenges. But I'd like to end on a high note. Let's go with Mike's response to Dale, who asks, "Without getting into the old joke, I'd like to know if hummingbirds sing."

"I have a question for you: Do you know why hummingbirds hum? Because they don't know the words. There, I did it. I know you said you didn't want to get 'into the old joke,' but I told it anyway. If there's a joke – new, old, good, bad or terrible – I'm going for it. Besides, there are so few bird jokes, I can't possibly pass up an opportunity. It's not like I'm writing about lawyers, priests, or rabbis. Birds aren't that funny. In fact, they rarely, if ever, walk into a bar."

Do hummingbirds sing? I could tell you…but you'll enjoy reading it yourself in Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me? Trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong?

To purchase Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me? visit Beacon Press at

Illustrations by Michael Chesworth; excerpts courtesy of Beacon Press and Mike O'Connor

Olivia H. Miller is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Marstons Mills. In addition to having the good fortune of editing Mike O'Connor's two books about birds, she is the author of The Yoga Deck and other wellness and exercise decks.

She also facilitates stress release, energy balancing and therapeutic laughter classes and workshops…and suggests bird watching.