Bluebird House Maintenance

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So you have put up the perfect bluebird house. What’s next? Careful monitoring of your nestbox is one of the most important things you can do to help your bluebird family survive; it’s a dangerous world out there! Believe it or not, the bluebirds are very tolerant of us, as long as we keep the visits brief and no more than once or twice a week. The North American Bluebird Society’s fact sheet on monitoring gives you all the information you need to be a confident and expert monitor. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nestwatch is another wonderful resource. In fact, they depend on backyard monitors like you and me to provide them with desperately needed data.

h3mm2xhiBluebirds will typically raise between 2 and 3 broods each year, and they will often re-use old nests. In fact, some research indicates that they are more likely to nest in a box with an existing nest. But because old nesting material can harbor bacteria and parasites, it’s best to remove the nests as soon as the juveniles have left the nest. While a sanitizing solution should be used at the end of the nesting season, all you need to do between broods is remove the nesting materials and give the interior of the house a good scrub with a stiff brush and if needed, a scrape or two with a putty knife to remove dried on waste. Be sure to dump the old materials far from the birdhouse so you don’t attract predators.

bluebird family and worms 10108036LargeBluebirders used to joke that their houses were occupied so quickly that it must be that bluebird houses generated the bluebirds. But don’t be discouraged if your nestboxes are not used right away. It could take a couple of seasons for them to start using your nestbox, but after that, bluebirds generally return to the same area each year. And you never know what amazing little songbirds will take up residence in the meantime! Please share your thoughts and experiences with us. We’d love to hear from you.

Happy Birding!
Heidi Babb

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  • Todd Witkowski July 6, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    I was thinking of purchasing 4 of the mango bird houses for my garden, partly for decoration, but also in hopes that they would be used. Is this a good idea, or will having multiple houses close together actually discourage birds from using them? Thanks for your help.

  • Bernard K July 21, 2016 at 9:28 am

    2 Questions: I’ve heard that bluebirds are very territorial, and to place boxes about 100 feet apart.
    Can I leave the exiting nests in the box if I check first for blow worms, remove hem and sanitize the box.
    I’ve already had 4 to 5 broods in two years, though this spring something got into the first nest and destroyed the eggs.

    • Heidi Babb July 21, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Great questions! You’re absolutely right, that nesting bluebirds do not like to nest near other bluebirds. It’s recommended to site bluebird houses 125-300 yards apart. The bluebirds are territorial toward their own species, but not towards other species. You can actually place pairs of houses about 20 feet apart, and then space the pairs 125-300 yards apart. Tree Swallows, who also need nest boxes desperately, may take up residence in one box and bluebirds in the other — they make good neighbors for each other.

      To remove the nest or leave it in place is a fairly controversial topic these days. We used to always say to remove old nest materials, but scientists are now finding that many birds actually prefer to nest in boxes that contain old nests. It’s hard to say if it’s worth sanitizing the box if you’re just putting the old nest back in, but checking for any parasitic insects would be smart.

      Bluebirds do have multiple broods each summer — 2-3 depending on climate. It’s always a good idea to protect bluebird houses from predators with a baffle. The long, cylindrical shaped baffles are very effective against most non-winged predators. It’s wise to use them in conjunction with a predator guard that mounts on the inside or outside of the entrance hole to discourage large birds from reaching in.