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