Attracting Bluebirds to your Back Yard

February 2, 2010

Henry David Thoreau said of the bluebird that it “carried the sky upon its back.”

Male Western Bluebird
This bird of gorgeous blue with its tender voice and gentle disposition was one of the commonest birds fifty years ago. Since then its population has dropped 90% due to new feisty competitors (the house sparrow and starling) and loss of natural nesting sites to land development. Man-made bluebird housing has already begun to bring back the bluebird but the rescue of this endearing species is not yet assured.

Mounting a House

Selection of a good location for mounting a bluebird house is crucial. Bluebirds prefer reasonably open areas with scattered trees. Open fields are satisfactory as long as there are fences or wires nearby to provide perching room. Bluebirds seldom nest in heavily wooded areas except along the edges of the woods and in clearings. Bluebirds now rarely nest within cities, except at their outer fringes due to competition from house sparrows and starlings.

Bluebirds will accept houses at almost any height from one to fifteen feet or more above the ground. However, very low mounting increases the danger of predators and high mounting can invite house sparrows and make the house inaccessible for cleaning. In general, the best height for the house is five feet from the ground, as measured to the bottom of the box. We recommend that you do not paint or treat the natural wood of the house, or place the house in an area where pesticides are used.

When young bluebirds first leave the nest, they instinctively fly directly to a place, usually a tree, that will afford them a perch above the ground. It is good to face the nesting box toward a tree with low branches, a large shrub or a fence that is within fifty feet or so. Bluebirds will often raise a second brood in midsummer.

For your house to succeed for bluebirds, it is imperative to monitor its occupants. It is important initially to evict sparrows. Opening the house for inspection will not frighten the bluebirds. Do not, however, open a house after the nestlings are twelve days old lest they leave the nest prematurely. Clean each house after each nesting – remove the old nest and check for parasites. Leave the house up during the winter to provide roosting boxes for birds at night. Inspect and clean again before spring.

Creating a Bluebird Trail

A bluebird trail consists of a number of nesting boxes, usually spaced a hundred yards or more apart, put in suitable locations and arranged in such a manner that they may be monitored conveniently. The minimum number of houses along a trail might be six. Large bluebird trails can be monitored by scout troops, Audubon groups or like-minded property owners. Immediate success with a trail is most likely to come where bluebirds are already frequently seen. If trying to attract bluebirds, begin the trail modestly. Young birds will often remain in the area or return to the same general area to nest.

Feeding Bluebirds

Bluebirds are quite versatile eaters and will accept food at bird tables, trays on posts, window feeders and suet feeders. Peanut hearts seem to be one of their favorite foods. Bluebirds also love pecan meats, raisins, currants, white bread, cornbread, doughnuts, pie crust, cottage cheese and baked apples. Water also plays a very important part in attracting bluebirds to your area.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan September 11, 2010 at 6:59 pm

How do you protect the blueBIRDS fom the BluJays??
We have a bluebird house, and have a side bar below that hangs a 3-chain connection down to a saucer. They can have feed in it or water. Is that ok?

Arleen Ditta January 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Most of the blogs online are pretty much the same but i think you have a unique blog. Cheers !

Kelly Ruble January 22, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Will bluebirds eat dried mealworms during cold Ohio winters?

lisa January 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I have 5 or 6 male and female bluebirds that come to my yard to eat. I have 3 blue bird houses up and have had a set of them start to build a nest . Last year I had a titmouse family build a nest in one of the bluebird houses. I feed them the no waste feed and they love it. I feed all the birds the same stuff but I add sunflowers seeds and saffron seeds along with raisins and dried cranberries. I had 5 of them sitting on my outdoor swing top and have a heated bird bath a few feet away. These bluebirds are so pretty with their bright blue wings and red chest! I live in Northern, va.

R. Brune January 27, 2011 at 9:00 am

Hi Kelly,

I think bluebirds would eat mealworms 24/7 if you put them out that often!

lisa January 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm

every day I put out meal worms both morning and evening and the blue birds just gobble them up. I also use the no waste type food and they will eat that when they run out of the meal worms. I buy the meal worms from a company and they arrive in a few days, I feed the meal worms old fashion oats and put a slice of raw apple in there and wait a few days then put them in the refrig and they last a long time if kept in the refrig. well worth the trouble to get the live meal worms to attract these beautiful birds!

Teri March 2, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Three years ago, we were lucky enough to attract bluebirds to one of our houses. However, the last two years other birds (chickadees and swallows) moved in. I was so bummed because there was a bluebird hanging around the yard for a few days last summer, but the houses had already been taken. I went out and bought another house, but by the time I got it up and ready, the bluebird had moved on and it sat empty for the summer. My question is, how do I keep the other birds from taking the houses before the bluebirds get here? And how will I know when they will show up? I live in southern Maine. Thanks!

Verna Howell April 19, 2013 at 10:49 pm

How do I get my blue birds to find the dried meal worms I put out for them? Where should I place the feeder and how far away from their house.? They have 5 eggs in their nest this year and I wanted to make it easier for mom and dad to feed them.

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