Bluebirds are medium sized birds that are part of the Thrush family. They are beautifully colored little birds, shy and timid in nature. The males have vivid blue heads, backs and wings with a reddish orange breast and throat. The females are similarly colored, just a little duller.
There are three types of bluebirds: Eastern Bluebird, Western Bluebird and Mountain Bluebird. Today I am discussing the Eastern Bluebird. The range of the Eastern Bluebird extends from southern Canada to the mid-eastern Gulf of Mexico and from east of the Rockies all the way to the east coast.
The bluebird population was facing a serious decline in the Eighties. The bluebird is a cavity nester, which means that it likes to build its nest in holes in dead trees and wooden fence posts. Much of its natural habitat has been lost due to urban development and the substitution of metal for wooden fence posts.
Another reason for the decline of the bluebird population was the introduction of the European Starling from Europe during the 1800’s. This is a very aggressive bird and will attack the bluebird in its quest for nesting space.
The common House Sparrow is another enemy of the bluebird. It will enter the nest and smash the eggs and sometimes even kill the adult bluebird. Other enemies of the bluebird are snakes, raccoons and cats which will attempt to eat the eggs or baby birds.
As a result of the declining bluebird population, there have been many efforts by Bluebird organizations to enlist volunteers to put up bluebird houses and to create bluebird trails. A bluebird trail is a line of bluebird houses spaced approximately 150 feet apart. These efforts have been successful and the bluebird population is increasing.
The bluebirds are busy little birds. It is the male who scouts around in the winter looking for a suitable place for his lady to raise a family. When the male finds a good location, hopefully your bluebird box, he places some pieces of grass in the cavity. Then he tries to attract a lady by singing and flapping his wings. The female bluebird will inspect the new location, and if she likes it, she will finish building the nest. A bluebird nest is about four inches tall with a deep cup shaped cavity. It is made of grass and pine needles if available.
The bluebirds will raise more than one brood of birds. The brooding period runs from March to August and they can often have two or three broods. This summer, my bluebirds produced three broods. The mother will lay one egg a day until she has produced five or six eggs. She will sit on the eggs, incubating them for thirteen or fourteen days. Then they will hatch and remain in the nest for seventeen or eighteen more days before they fledge.
After the babies fly out and are on their own, you should remove the old nest and clean the box. This will reduce the chance of disease or parasites harming the birds. Also, if the bluebirds see an empty box, they are more likely to nest there. Always dispose of the nest away from the box so you don’t draw predators to the nesting area.
Bluebirds are fascinating to watch. It is worthwhile the effort to attract them to your yard. I often sit on my back porch and watch them with my Nikon Monarch 8 X 42 ATB binoculars. There is a lot of activity, especially after the eggs hatch. The mother bird feeds them almost every twenty minutes.
They like to nest in open areas rather than in woodsy settings. Meadows, pastures, public parks and golf courses are areas that are suited to the bluebirds’ liking. Some trees or shrubs are good for perching. A bluebird house is a great way to attract them to your own yard. Just put it in an area that is fairly open. They need to see their food, which consists of insects and especially worms. Mealworms are one of their favorite foods and can be placed on a feeding station along with berries and raisins soaked in water. They won’t be able to resist.
A bluebird house should be about five feet off the ground. The opening should be 1 1/2 inches which is just big enough for the bluebird, but will keep the starlings out. Many people put baffles on the pole to prevent snakes and raccoons from climbing up the pole and reaching into the house to steal the babies. Make sure the opening faces away from the prevailing winds and not into the direct sun.
When you have a bluebird house, you should monitor it. Keep a notebook and write down your observations. Take note of the number of eggs and how many actually hatched. Also note if a house sparrow tries to occupy the box. Do not allow this to happen. You should check your box every five to seven days. It’s okay to open the front of the box. Bluebirds have a very poor sense of smell and you can even handle the little birds and do no harm. However, don’t open it after the 13th day after the eggs have hatched. You don’t want the little birds to fly out before they are ready.
If you decide to erect a bluebird house in your yard, I guarantee you will be glad you did. These beautiful little birds will give you many hours of enjoyment.