Dean M. Chriss
On the Wing, Mountain Bluebird
(Click image to enlarge)
A male mountain bluebird glides to its nest cavity in the trunk of a quaking aspen tree as its hungry offspring chirp impatiently inside. The adult bluebird has a small bug in its beak, which can be seen in the larger image. Both parents fly to and from the nest almost constantly to satisfy the appetite of the hungry young birds. Over 700 exposures were taken over a period of several mornings in order to obtain this image of the male bluebird flying home with food. While attempting to capture this image it became obvious that the male bluebird flew into the nest at a much higher speed than the female. This made him extremely difficult to photograph in flight. Unfortunately it also made every image of the bird from that first morning slightly blurred, even at shutter speeds of 1/1000 second! More mornings and faster shutter speeds eventually produced this sharp image of the bird at 1/3200 second.
Mountain bluebirds measure about six inches from head to tail. They live at elevations above 5000 feet in mountainous regions of western Canada and the United States. These bluebirds prefer open grassy meadows with nearby trees for nesting and perching. Their diet consists mostly of insects. Because they nest in tree cavities, nests are most often found in dead trees or snags, although the bird shown here was nesting in a live tree. The mountain bluebird population is declining due to loss of natural nesting cavities caused by the removal of dead trees and snags, increased competition from non-native bird species, and reduction of insect populations from pesticide use.