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About Bluebirds - Feeding Bluebirds

Here is some good information regarding bluebirds and feeding bluebirds!


Bluebirds defined: What are bluebirds?
Bluebirds, related to the American Robin, are part of the Thrush (Turdidae) family and about the size of a small sparrow. There are three species found in the United States: the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides), and the Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana). All three species are blue on the back, but differ slightly elsewhere. Males and females differ in color and features as well. For example, the Eastern Bluebird has a dark, sky-blue back and a reddish-earth chest while the male Mountain Bluebird is entirely sky-blue and the female is grey with blue in her wings and tail. Bluejays, Indigo Buntings, and other blue colored birds are not Bluebirds and are not related to Bluebirds, except that they are all birds.

Where do bluebirds live?
Bluebirds generally live in three overlapping regions of North America. The Eastern Bluebird is typically found from the eastern half of North America to the Rocky Mountains. The Mountain Bluebird is generally seen from the eastern foothills of the Rockies and then west to the Pacific coast of North America. The Western Bluebird resides west of the Rocky Mountains.

What is their natural habitat?
Bluebirds naturally live in open fields, on prairies, and in meadows that have only a few trees, brush, or shrubs. Bluebirds typically do not prefer woodland habitats.

Where do bluebirds make nests?
An example of a natural nest location might be a natural tree cavity, a rotted, hollowed-out tree limb, or an abandoned woodpecker hole. Since bluebirds are not able to create a nesting cavity, they are known as secondary cavity nesters. It is interesting to note that only female Bluebirds build nests. The male only pretends to be helping and typically brings no nest material at all or seems to drop what he has picked up along the way. Some of you may say this is typical male behavior - we are unable to either agree or disagree with that assertion.

What is a bluebird nest box?

A bluebird nest box is one specifically designed for bluebirds in terms of size, protection, accessibility, and durability. The design requirements must be that a) bluebirds will use it, b) predators can not get into the nesting box, and c) someone can monitor the bluebird nesting activity as unobtrusively as possible. The nesting entrance hole size differs, depending on bluebird species. Mountain Bluebirds require a one and nine-sixteenths diameter entrance hole while Eastern Bluebirds and Western Bluebirds need a one and one-half inch diameter entrance hole. Stay away from any bluebird nesting boxes having an oval entrance hole as these are proven to allow Starlings to enter, a very bad thing indeed. Nesting box wood must be untreated cedar or redwood. Ventilation is also important for good bluebird feeder design and you want to be able to plug the ventilation holes during certain times of the year in colder climates. Do not use pressure-treated lumber or anything similar to that. Do not use cardboard boxes used by some schools. Do not paint the boxes on the inside, and preferably, do not paint, stain, or seal them at all. If you do paint the outside of the nesting box, do not paint it white.

Do different bluebird species co-exist?
Yes, to an extent. Mountain Bluebirds and Western Bluebirds compete for nesting sites and nesting boxes. Mountain Bluebirds and Eastern Bluebirds do overlap a bit in small regions and where they do overlap, the Mountain Bluebird dominates the Eastern Bluebird, which may explain why the Eastern Bluebird has not expanded any farther west than it has.

Where should I place my nesting box?
The best place for a bluebird nesting box is on a post, such as a fence post, and the post can be made of wood or metal. Open areas are preferred, as placement of boxes in or near areas thick with brush and woody vegetation likely will result in habitation of many boxes by house wrens. Boxes should be placed well away from buildings because of the high concentration of house sparrows generally found near human habitations. Mount nest boxes four to six feet above the ground on a metal or wooden post, facing an open direction (any open direction is fine). Nesting boxes should be placed at least 100 yards apart, since bluebirds are territorial. One notable exception is to use "paired nesting boxes" if nesting bluebirds are being harassed or driven off by Tree Swallows. Once this happens, you can quickly set up a second box twenty to thirty feet from the first box. A Tree Swallow pair will select one box for nesting and defend the other box against use by other swallows, allowing the bluebirds to claim it. This strategy makes it possible to encourage the successful nesting of both the bluebirds and the equally beneficial Tree Swallows.

When should I place my nesting box?
It depends, in part, on your region and the rate of seasonal change. In Ohio and much of the Midwest, you should have your bluebird nesting boxes pin place by March 15th at the very latest since bluebirds can nest as early as late March.

What is a bluebird trail?

A bluebird trail consists of five or more bluebird nesting boxes mounted on fence posts or pipes. The boxes are spaced at least 100 yards apart and may be located on farms or golf courses and in parks and even cemeteries or other areas with low or sparse vegetation. It is very important to select a suitable bluebird habitat. A “bluebirder” will monitor the trail every week or two to check the progress of the bluebirds in the area.

What kinds of nesting materials do bluebirds use?
Bluebirds prefer soft grasses, fragrant pine needles, or even strips of bark as nesting material. The nesting box is typically not lined with soft materials, as are other types of nests. A great idea is to offer suitable nesting materials in a specially designed container, an empty suet cage, or simply gather bunches of material and place into the bark of a tree. Providing nesting materials is a strong factor in attracting bluebirds since collecting nesting materials is very labor intensive and can take 100’s of trips. Accessibility to nesting materials can be a determining factor for your bluebirds nesting choice, so you want to be sure to offer this!

How can I tell if my nest is a bluebird nest?
A bluebird nest will be very neat and tidy and will be made primarily of fine grasses or pine needles in a nice cup shape. Occasionally, there may be cattle or horse hair in a bluebird nest. Typically, there will be no seed heads, cigarette butts, sticks, strings, paper, plastic, or other junk in a bluebird nest. On the other hand, a house wren nest will consist of a messy assortment of twigs and will occasionally be lined with smaller fibers. A house sparrow nest will be an assortment of things like cloth, grasses, feathers, twigs, paper, or anything else readily available.

What are bluebird's natural predators?
Some of the biggest bluebird predators are other birds, such as house sparrows, house wrens and starlings which have been known to break eggs, kill babies and adults, and build their own nest over a bluebird nest. Bluebird predators also include snakes, blowflies, cats, squirrels, and raccoons, which are able to climb the post to access the nest, and birds of prey (raptors) which may take the fledglings as they leave the nest. To guard against climbing predators, bluebird boxes should be fitted with a galvanized sheet metal predator guard. The predator guard should be placed on the pole six to twelve inches below the bottom of the box. Also, to help deter predation, an even coating of non-drying crankcase grease or carnauba wax can be applied to the pole from the ground to six inches below the box.

Where do bluebirds over-winter?

Bluebirds are known as "partial migrants". In the northern sections of their range, bluebirds migrate to more southerly latitudes for the winter. In the central and southern sections of their range, they have less established migratory patterns. Bluebirds have been known to over-winter in the middle parts of eastern North America south into Mexico, the Gulf coast, and southern Florida. Winter bluebird populations also exist in southeast Arizona and extend south to Nicaragua. It is believed that some winter migration is in response to local weather conditions. Yet even in very cold wintery weather, some bluebirds do not migrate at all. They tend to group together for feeding and protection during the winter months. While some bluebirds that remain do survive the inclement conditions, many perish.

What kind of food do bluebirds eat?
The bluebird food of choice is insects (first choice, as much as two-thirds of a bluebird diet) and wild fruit (second choice). Mealworms and waxworks are very popular with bluebirds and they also enjoy grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, beetles, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, sow bugs, and snails. We offer a variety of live and dried mealworms and waxworms, all of which bluebirds truly love! Typically, bluebirds will come to a feeder for seed only when insects are in short supply. Bluebirds will also eat small berries, such as cranberries, especially during winter when insects are not as readily available.

How can I attract bluebirds to my feeders?
In addition to offering bluebird food favorites, be sure to mount your bluebird feeder away from any bluebird nesting boxes since you don't want to attract predators to the nest box. Of course, you want to always have food available for bluebirds. An excellent idea is to offer a combination of live and dried mealworms, for example, in your feeder so there will always be food available, even if the live mealworms have been eaten.

Where can I buy bluebird food?
We believe the best place to buy bluebird food is right here! Our bluebird food products are of the highest quality and our prices are very competitive. We also offer combo packages of dried mealworms and dried waxworms as well as live mealworms and live waxworms so you can try a little of each. Order your bluebird food today!