If you want bluebirds, offer them a place to live and a place to eat. It is hard for a bluebird to pass up free room and board. So start off with a birdhouse or two and an open space full of bugs, and wait to see what happens.
It has been reported that as much as 90 percent of the original bluebird population was wiped out in the 20th century. The blame was put on the usual suspects: pesticides, land use changes and uncontrolled cats. Personally, I believe House Sparrows and European Starlings were at least as responsible as chemicals, sprawl and cats. Starlings and House Sparrows are aggressive, and they drive timid bluebirds out of their nest holes.
Things were looking bleak until thousands of volunteers put up nest boxes around the country. With this effort, the bluebird recovery was on, and today almost anyone has a good chance of attracting a pair or two of bluebirds to his yard.
The most important thing you can do for bluebirds is put up proper nest boxes. By proper I mean a plain and simple box with a one-and-a-half-inch entrance hole. Bluebirds don’t need a house shaped like the Carrollton depot or a fat lady bending over. They prefer to keep things natural – not that a fat lady bending over isn’t natural; it’s just not natural for a birdhouse.
Remember that in real estate, location is everything: bluebirds like open spaces. If you live in the deep woods, forget bluebirds and concentrate on owls. A nest box should be in the open, mounted on a pole, a fence post, or a tree. I prefer to use one-inch steel conduit anchored firmly in the ground with the nest box mounted at eye level. Orient the entrance to the southeast, away from prevailing winds and approaching bad weather.
When you start to feed bluebirds, go slow until you are sure they are in your neighborhood. The most expensive food available won’t attract them if you don’t have the correct habitat. The commercial foods said to attract bluebirds include suet and sunflower hearts (shelled sunflower seeds) – the basic ingredients of backyard bird feeding. They don’t work for me.
The winter bluebirds in my yard prefer yaupon holly berries and wild bugs to commercial foods. In summer, they eat insects, spiders and scorpions. With suet, sunflower seeds, shelled or not, and seasonal natural food you will also get plenty of other birds so you won’t be wasting your money if bluebirds pass you by. If bluebirds do show up, you are ready for the next step.
The next level of bluebird feeding is meal worms. You can buy little worms to feed your bluebirds at pet stores, bait shops or bird stores. Put a handful of worms in a dish or a special meal worm feeder and wait for the birds to scoop them up. I haven’t tried meal worms, but some of my bird-feeding friends say they get great results with them. If live worms gross you out, try dried meal worms. You can also buy little suet nuggets made to look like meal worms. Or you can do as I do and use no insecticides on your grass so your bluebirds can safely eat what nature provides.
If you want bluebirds, start with a few birdhouses and start now. Bluebirds have been house hunting for several weeks. Providing them a place to raise a family when they want it is the only sure way to attract bluebirds. But remember to keep it simple.
Tate is a Carrollton resident and bird enthusiast.