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Tips to attracting Bluebirds to your Backyard

Male Bluebird in winter

Male Bluebird in winter

The key to attracting Bluebirds to nest in your yard is having plenty of potential nesting locations, food, and water.  Bluebirds prefer more “open area” so if your yard is heavily wooded you’ll enjoy many other nesting birds, but probably not Bluebirds.

In the U.S. there are three different types of Bluebirds. The Eastern Bluebird that occurs East of the Rockies is by far the most numerous. Across the Western one-third of the U.S.A. you will also find Mountain Bluebirds and Western Bluebirds.

All Bluebirds are cavity nesters.   Once common in rural and suburban areas, Bluebird populations declined by as much as 90% from 1920-1970. The decline was due to two things: The loss of nesting habitats, such as tree holes, rotted out fence posts and old orchards; and the introduction of the starling and house sparrow in the last half of the 1800’s.

These two species, introduced from Europe, competed heavily with the Bluebirds for existing nesting cavities. Utilization of a sparrow trap is often critical to Bluebird breeding success.

Female Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird

The Song of the Eastern Bluebird

The Eastern Bluebird’s most common call is a soft, low-pitched tu-a-wee. The call lasts a little less than a second, with males’ calls typically slightly longer than females’. Bluebirds use this song in all seasons as a way of keeping in touch with each other or to signal nestlings that adults are bringing food.

Eastern Bluebird’s tu-a-wee song

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When bluebirds get too close to each other, they let each other know with a single, harsh screech. Females make a very soft, low chip when a courting male approaches.  Birds nervous at the approach of a ground predator make a loud, continual chit-chit-chit.

Bluebird feeder

Bluebird feeder

Feeding Eastern Bluebirds

A Bluebird’s primary diet is insects and fruit. Planting native plants like American Bittersweet is a great way to attract and help Bluebirds. Another super way to attract and help Bluebirds is by feeding mealworms. At 50.4% protein, they are an excellent nutrition source.

You can start feeding mealworms in a cup or pan – but because many birds like them and will eat you out of house and home, most people graduate to a Bluebird mealworm feeder.

In a Bluebird mealworm feeder, the bird has to go through an entrance hole to find the worms and few birds besides the Bluebird will do so. You might spend weeks trying different presentations of worms before Bluebirds learn to dine regularly, but the results are worth it, as Bluebirds are delightfully trainable – even to the point of responding to whistles and other calls when your feeder is refilled.

The Ultimate Blluebird Nestbox

The Ultimate Blluebird Nestbox

Bluebird Houses

One important thing to remember when providing housing for Bluebirds – you need to provide larger floor space and entrance holes in diameter for Western and Mountain Bluebirds.  A 4” by 4” floor is adequate for Eastern Bluebirds, but a 5” by 5” floor is recommended for Mountain and Western Bluebirds. The entrance hole should be 1 ½” in diameter for Eastern Bluebirds, and 1 9/16” for Mountain and Western Bluebirds.

Our favorite nesting box is the Ultimate Bluebird Nest Box.

This bluebird nesting box features:

  • Brass hinged doors on both sides with plexiglas on one side to monitor the nest without the danger of chicks falling out.
  • Solid copper predator protector to eliminate squirrels and woodpeckers from enlarging the entrance hole.
  • Elevated mesh floor to help protect the young chicks from Blowflies.
  • Zinc Chromate plated screws that provide a more sturdy, longer lasting house than one assembled with nails. The screws will not “bleed” leaving unattractive stains below.
  • Made of rot resistant Cedar, which will develop silver patina over time.

    Eastern Bluebird eggs

    Bluebird eggs

    Bluebird Family Facts

    Female Bluebirds will lay four to five light blue eggs that will take thirteen to fifteen days to hatch.

    The male brings food to his mate and the young during the critical first few days of feeding. They act like tiny hawks, in their slumped hunting position, waiting patiently for an insect or beetle to show itself. It then pounces on it and brings the food back to the nest.

    Blulebird Fledgling

    Blulebird Fledgling

    Providing a T-shaped perching cross ten to twenty yards in front of the next box can sometimes help attract Bluebirds.

    Bluebird young will fledge in fifteen to twenty days. Even though the parents will keep feeding them, the fledglings can find their own food in about two weeks.

    Some of the newly independent youngsters from the first brood are often seen bringing food to their new siblings.   This often continues into the fall and at times they stay together until the following spring.

    The female will lay four to five light blue eggs that will take thirteen to fifteen days to hatch. The male brings food to his mate and the young during the critical first few days of feeding. They act like tiny hawks, in their slumped hunting position, waiting patiently for an insect or beetle to show itself. It then pounces on it and brings the food back to the nest. Providing a T-shaped perching cross ten to twenty yards in front of the next box can sometimes help attract Bluebirds.
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    11 comments

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    1. Jeff W. says:

      I live in S.E. lower Michigan and put up my nestbox on Mar. 5th – BB pair showed up on Mar.8th. Today is April 7th and the nest is almost complete. The 1st nest of the year takes longer than the 2nd nest in the summer. The lower temps and wind have had an impact.

      I had success in 2001, 02, 06, 08, 09, and this year is of to a good start. Last year was the 1st year that there were TWO BROODS. I don’t know why it took so long for that to happen. House sparrows are the #1 problem but the robins aggression has been a factor as well. I will try to stay posted here.

      Visit my house sparrow web page as well:
      http://spiralnexus.net/penbl/sparrows.htm

    2. Jeff W. says:

      Nest building may be complete – there have been 8 days of the female BB taking material into the nestbox. I am guessing I should start seeing a 1st egg in a day or two. The temp. has cooled and we are just above freezing here. I have trapped 2 more sparrows which is keeping the intrusions down. I will post again when the 1st egg appears.

      Part of why I am logging this here is to encourage other bluebirders in recording their data. It comes in handy especially to the beginners who want to compare notes and get an idea as what to expect. Lower S.E. Michigan signing off.

    3. Jeff W. says:

      Nest was completed April 8th

      1st Bluebird EGG – April 13th

    4. Jeff W. says:

      Box check at 3:55 – 5 blue eggs which should put the hatch date around May 1st. Unless of course she adds another egg to the batch. I have never seen more than 5 eggs but I have read that it can happen. I’ll re-check tomorrow.

    5. Jeff W. says:

      May 2nd, day 15 of incubation – at least 2 eggs hatch before dark.
      Today May 3rd, day 16 of incubation – 4 eggs hatched by 8:20 am, temps around 59

      I almost was counting these eggs out as being infertile due to the low activity at the nestbox yesterday. the usual 12-14 days for hatch didn’t happen. If the 5th egg hatches today, it’s 15/16 days since the last egg was laid.

    6. Jeff W. says:

      As of today, the bb chicks were dead and the nest was removed. The long period of cool wet weather must have taken its toll on the food supply. The nestbox was washed out and a clean old nest put back in its place. I will continue to monitor. Such a tragic ending to so much work.

    7. Jeff W. says:

      Second round bluebird nest completed today. Looks like a ‘different’ female this time. Activity at nestbox was very low from 5/12 to 5/18 with the old clean nest in the box so I took it out. I felt valuable time was wasting so I had to try something.

      Nestbuilding began anew 5/19 with the new female.

    8. Jeff W. says:

      I now have 5 blue eggs in the new nest. The projected hatch is June 10/11 and the warmer weather makes this attempt less hazardous. I have trapped 25 house sparrows to date.

    9. Jeff W. says:

      As of June 11th, all bluebird eggs have hatched successfully. Projected fledge is June 28th.

    10. Jeff W. says:

      As of June 27th all 5 bluebird chicks have fledged the nestbox. Last I saw, all were on the ground in various locations. The parents are still feeding them. I took down the box and re-hung a clean new box to see if I can spur on a late season nesting.

    11. claudia says:

      so…BB question: my backyard is a wooded area, but the trees are very sparse, lots of open space…lots of low branches, lots of logs, etc…..i have put a BB house on a pole, five feet high, facing east, which is the most open area, near a stream….we just had a tree taken down but left the trunk at about four feet/five feet in height, a nice flat surface. to that i added a branch that makes the “t-shape” suggested in many articles for bluebirds. i have covered the branch and flat trunk top with mealworms…there is also a birdbath very close by. does that all sound about right for at least holding a BBs attention should they fly by?? or do you think they WON’T fly by because it is a wooded area? thanks!

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