Bluebird of Happiness

Bluebirds have been symbols of happiness, good health and hope across cultures for ages. Chinese, Europeans, especially the French, Russians, indigenous Americans, and many other peoples have all included bluebirds in uplifting folklore, literature, music and images. Ranging from fairy tales in oral history traditions, to Maurice Maeterlinck’s play “The Bluebird” (one of the works for which he won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Literature), to “The Bluebirds” by Henry David Thoreau in 1859, “The Decay of Lying” Oscar Wilde in 1891, to Judy Garland’s “Hello, Bluebird” & ageless question “if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh why can’t I?”, to “I Wish You Love” sung by Frank Sinatra, to Paul McCartney’s “Bluebird”, to “The Blue Bird” movie starring Shirley Temple, and of course, a number of Disney movie princesses with on-call maidens. 

Based on the last few days’ (February) weather here in metro-Atlanta (really happy we’re not in Texas), I’m drawn to the indigenous North Americans stories. Navajos see bluebirds as a spirit in animal form associated with the warmth of the rising sun and the Iroquois believe that the bluebird’s song would chase away the spirit of winter. A harbinger of Spring is very welcome in our yard.

The Navajos use of the bluebird in the “Sun Song” seems to me to be a simple but meaningful message. We can always be reminded of the importance of the simple act of ‘waking’ up.

“Bluebird said to me, ‘Get up, my grandchild. It is dawn, it said to me.”  

There is another happiness dimension to the bluebirds story. From the 1920s to early 1970s, Eastern Bluebird populations plummeted. Many birders thought that they would become extinct. I was too young to understand this, but I do know that growing up seeing a bluebird was a big deal. Then a dedicated group of bluebird lovers, many of whom were scientists, formed the North American Bluebird Society (NABS). NABS determined the optimal nest box to replace lost cavities. A network of trails was established to put up the boxes. A nest box monitoring program was set up to collect data on the numbers and health of the population. They educated the public and trained volunteers as monitors. The result is almost fairy-tale. The bluebird population rebounded and stabilized, escaping extinction. And, it is no longer a ‘big deal’ to see a bluebird. It is, however, a delight and brings much happiness and mental health well-being.

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