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By the Way: Time to check the bluebird nests


It was that “first flash of purplish blue against the sky” that first caught the attention of Johanna Chehi. She is an artist, after all, loves nature and is fascinated by bluebirds.

Johanna and her husband, Mark, a newly retired corporate attorney, have owned property in Durham for some time but just recently moved there permanently from Wilmington. She’s come home, or almost. “I grew up in the converted schoolhouse in Wassergas,” she said. It’a a crossroads village in Northampton County, just north of Springtown.

The Chehi home is a lovely place with a sprawling pond surrounded with mature trees and colorful bushes, a perfect habitat for bluebirds.

The birds arrive yearly to build their nests in the bluebird boxes, lay eggs and rear their young. As productive as they are colorful, bluebirds do that three times a season.

Johanna said she has already seen bluebirds come and go this spring and is waiting for the arrival of a second set. They should be appearing now and beginning to select one of Johanna’s bluebird boxes. She probably won’t have a long wait.

According to a bluebird nesting timetable for the Mid-Atlantic, the females, if they pay attention to human schedules, are about ready to start building their second nests of the season. The target date, according to the timetable, is actually tomorrow. They’ll start laying eggs around June 8. The eggs will begin hatching around June 25, with Mama and Papa Bluebird busily feeding the babies, which are as demanding as human infants.

Around July 11, that second brood of nestlings will begin to fly and the parents will again be empty nesters.

And that’s not all. There may be a third and final round of breeding, leading to more flashes of blue for Johanna. In that case, nest construction begins around July 17.

Johanna became even more enamored with bluebirds after attending a workshop at Mount Cuba Center, a botanical garden in Hockessin, Del. She also was inspired by a book, “Beakless Bluebirds & Featherless Penguins,” written by Sister Barbara Ann, a nun in an Episcopalian convent in Maryland.

It’s a fascinating account of how a naturalist nun rescued and hand-fed two baby bluebirds who had their beaks ripped off by an angry sparrow protecting his turf. The birds – Sister Barbara named them Eleanor and Joshua – survived for four years under her care. It’s a charming and funny book, with the “featherless penguins” of the title referring to the penguin-like black and white of the nuns’ habits.

Bluebirds are very fussy about where they nest. They like open spaces near woods and ponds. They require a certain type of human-built nesting box, or sometimes, they live in abandoned woodpecker holes.

The female is in charge of construction and builds her nest with grasses and pine needles and lays two to seven pale blue eggs. Both Mama and Papa feed their young charges once the eggs are hatched.

So passionate is Johanna about her bluebirds, she even set up an information table about them at an environmental fair at Palisades High School and passed out literature.

Johanna and her husband are empty nesters, too. They have a son, Stephen, who lives in Brooklyn, and a daughter, Missy, in Bryn Mawr, both of whom work in the financial field. This means Johanna is free to pursue her other passion, which is her art.

A graduate of Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts, she drives to Philadelphia regularly to take master classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She’s been studying portraiture and one of her paintings was accepted for last year’s Phillips Mill art exhibition.