How to Attract Bluebirds to Your Yard
Provide a few habitat essentials to attract eastern bluebirds to your landscape.
With a wide range covering the eastern half of North America, eastern bluebirds are easy to spot and a favorite to many. Perched on electrical wires and fence posts, flitting about in open fields, bluebirds are a welcome sight during a drive through the countryside.
Tree cavity dwellers, eastern bluebirds will nest high up in old woodpecker holes and in dead trees abutting open meadows, but these birds are well adapted to using nesting boxes in artificial habitats in suburban areas. Since lawns, schoolyards, churchyards, parks, golf courses and agricultural fields resemble open woodland spaces and countryside, these places can be turned into prime bluebird habitat. With nesting boxes, water and food, it is easy to create habitat requirements for the bluebirds and it is fun to observe their behavior.
My husband and I have a nesting box we bought years ago, and one day, the bluebirds just showed up. Now, every year, they run off the chickadees and take the house over. We watch the whole process from our kitchen window. In mid-March, they begin courting and checking out the birdhouse. To attract the female to the box, the male takes nesting material to the birdhouse. It appears he is going to build the nest, but it is all for show. When the female gives the go-ahead, she builds the nest with no help from him. It doesn’t take long, and all of a sudden, we’ll look in the box, and there is a beautiful little blue egg. The next day, two eggs, then three, four, five, and sometimes, up to seven eggs. Sitting on the nest, the female usually is the one to incubate the eggs for 11-19 days. When the baby birds hatch, both parents, and sometimes siblings from previous broods pitch in to rear the young. Watching the parents care for the babies is sweet. As an adult bird approaches the nest, the naked and wobbly birds cheep and open their beaks wide. It takes a lot of caterpillars, insects, and worms to satiate the baby birds’ appetites. We’ve watched our bluebirds have as many as three broods in a year.
If you have noticed bluebirds around your neighborhood and want to entice the birds to nest in your yard, it is important to create a habitat so the birds will want to stick around. If your yard is not located near an area with abundant natural food sources, you’ll need to plant native plants to produce plenty of food, or you can offer the birds supplemental food. The diet of adult birds consists mostly of insects and fruit. The birds forage for caterpillars on native host plants, earthworms, insects, spiders from the ground and wild berries from trees and shrubs. We have planted native trees and plants in our yard to host caterpillars of butterflies and moths, and I planted native micro-prairies in the yard to attract insects. Those insects and larvae are an important link in the food chain. We also have several berry-producing trees and shrubs surrounding the yard.
If you offer supplemental food for bluebirds, they will take you up on it. Suet is good high-protein food for adults and mealworms are good for the adult and baby birds. A friend, Nelda Faulkner, who was introduced to me as the bluebird lady, raises mealworms for her backyard bluebirds. Nelda’s yard is a one-acre lot with plenty of open areas, and in her habitat, she offers food, water (a fountain and a birdbath), shelter, and eight nesting boxes.
"They like to use pine straw and little sticks from the pecan trees in my yard to build their nests,” Nelda told me. "Last year, there was a couple, and something happened to the female," Nelda recounts. "She didn’t come back. The babies were without a mother, and the daddy did all the work, raising the babies until they fledged." She continued the story, "One day, they were high in the tree, and he taught them how to fly. He lined them up and fed mealworms to them in order on the branch, and then taught them to go to the feeder. I think he took better care of them than the mama bird!"
Judi and Paul Aucoin have bluebirds in their yard too. I’ve written about them before, and while shooting pictures of their yard for a previous story, we watched a fledgling begging the mama bird for food. Paul always has his camera ready, and with a clickety-click, he captures nature in their yard.
One of the most fascinating things we’ve observed (and by fascinating, I mean a little bit gross) is what the parents do to keep their house clean. The parents are always on doody duty. While a parent bird is feeding one of the babies, another baby will turn around, deposit a sac of poop, then the mama or daddy bird will take away the fecal sac and deposit it far from the nest. This isn't just to keep their house tidy, clearing the poop from the box is an easy way to avoid attracting predators.
When the baby birds are ready to leave the nest, the parents work together to coax the baby birds out of the nest. The birds will eventually take their first flight, fledging the nest. Parents will stay nearby to watch over the birds for a while, sounding an alarm if danger appears. The babies will beg for food, and the parents will continue to feed them for a little while. Sibling birds from earlier broods will pitch in to help out as well. For a seriously cute video of our backyard bluebirds, click here.
If you have the right space for bluebirds, try putting up nesting boxes. You can follow these guidelines for nest box placement. Other birds like tree swallows might try to move into the house, but instead of discouraging them from doing so, you can add nesting boxes for them too. They will tolerate each other and live side by side if there is enough room for all.
For more information and fun facts on eastern bluebirds, see this article on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website.
For a more thorough breakdown on what bluebirds eat, watch this video.
If you want to feed mealworms to your bluebirds, see this factsheet from the North American Bluebird Society.
You can download this beautiful John J. Audubon Birds of America Bluebird print for free from the National Audubon website.