Bird Watcher's General Store

Attracting Bluebirds - April 9, 2004


Dear Bird Folks:

I would like to know how I can attract bluebirds to my backyard. Is it best to attract them by providing houses or are there certain foods I should be using to attract them.

Joanie, Brewster

You're the first, Joanie,

You may be the first person to send in a question that did not require a bit of trimming. Often people's questions include stories about their dogs or what the person was wearing when they saw a particular bird or what the dog was wearing when the person saw a particular bird. Your question got right to the point, Joanie. Nice job.

Bluebirds seem to be the birds of the decade. Twenty years ago the only bird that Cape codders wanted in their yards was the cardinal. In the 80's the red bird ruled. Our lives weren't complete unless we had the almighty cardinal coming to our feeders. As the cardinal population grew, the obsession with them waned, only to be replaced with hummingbirds. The quirky little hummers quickly became the bird of the 90's. Now, with the new century, comes a new trophy bird to focus on, the bluebird.

As much as 90 percent of the original bluebird population was eliminated during the last century. The blame seems to be with the usual suspects: pesticides, land use changes, uncontrolled cats and our fixation on attracting cardinals. Another problem was the introduction of house sparrows and starlings. Those two aggressive species quickly drove the timid bluebirds out of their nesting holes. Things looked bleak until hundreds of volunteers put out thousands of nest boxes across the couuntry. And with that, the recovery was on. Today the bluebird population has increased to a level where most of us have a decent chance of attracting a pair or two.

The most important thing you can do for bluebirds is to put out proper nest boxes. When I say a proper box, I mean a plain simple box with a 1 1/2 inch entrance hole. Bluebirds don't need a box in the shape of a lighthouse or a fat woman bending over. They like things as natural as possible. Since they are birds of fields and open meadows, a nest box should be placed in the open on a post or an isolated tree. The height of your box should be around 5 feet. The actual height isn't as important to the birds as it is with us. Nest boxes need to be cleaned out and maintained regularly. Nobody wants to be climbing a ladder this time of year.

When it comes to feeding bluebirds, I wouldn't go too crazy until you are sure there are bluebirds in your neighborhood. As with most birds, the key to attracting them is living in the right habitat. People who live in a fairly open and natural area have a good chance of attracting them. People who live deep in the woods or in grossly overdeveloped areas, like me, are less likely to attract them.

The three things that customers most often report bluebirds coming to are water, suet and sunflower hearts. That is what I would recommend you start with, Joanie. They are all basic ingredients of backyard bird feeding. With those three things, you will also get plenty of other birds, so it won't be a waste if the bluebirds don't show up. If the bluebirds do show up, you will be ready for the next step.

The next step is to get those crazy meal worms that you have have heard about. Believe it or not, you can actually buy little worms to feed bluebirds. Simply put a handful of worms into a dish or a specially made meal worm feeder (yes, they do exist). If the idea of live worms creeps you out, you can buy dried meal worms. And if dried worms still creeps you out, you can buy little suet nuggets that resemble meal worms. That's right, they even sell imitation meal worms. Bluebirds love meal worms and can put on quite a show scooping them up, especially when they are feeding their babies.

I'd start with a few birdhouses, Joanie. If you do get bluebirds to your boxes or feeders, then the worm thing is your call. Just remember to keep the nest boxes simple and leave that fat lady bending over stuff for those special places on Route 28 in Wareham.


Artwork by Catherine Clark



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