Creature Feature

In December 2007, we had an early snow. While taking a brisk walk through the neighborhood, I saw a small flock of Eastern bluebirds in a holly bush eating the snow-capped berries. That was the first time I saw any near where I lived. I had always thought that they were an uncommon and special bird. 

Over the next several weeks I researched how to attract them and promote a nesting site. By February I had made some adjustments to my yard’s layout and put up a nesting box. By March birds were checking out the box. By June there were babies and more again in September.

Three species of bluebirds are present in North America. The Western bluebirds live west of central Colorado. The male is a deep intense blue with a splash of red on its wings. 

The bluebird in our area is the Eastern bluebird but its range extends into Canada and overlaps that of the Western bluebird in Colorado and Utah. 

The prettiest one is the azure-colored mountain bluebird, found above 5000 feet in western mountain ranges from Arizona to Alaska. 

All bluebirds prefer to live near open fields and feed on insects and occasional fruit. Unlike robins, they do not seem to like earthworms. 

Bluebirds also partner for life and talk to each other with quick, tiny one-sided wing flaps combined with a high-pitched whistle.

To create a yard that appeals to bluebirds, you need open grassy areas that are free of insecticides, low open perches and available fresh water. A nesting box needs to have a very specific-sized opening of 1.75 inches. The box should be placed at least six feet away from other objects, about five feet off the ground and needs to be easy to clean. The box needs to be cleared between broods to deter ant or fly infestations. Since black rat snakes can climb up rough surfaces, the post should be made with smooth wood or metal.

Over the last 12 years, I have had the pleasure of having two broods of bluebirds a year. Well, actually sometimes three and sometimes one. Unpleasant outcomes have occurred. Last year, a warm early spring followed by a cold spell froze the eggs. Several years ago a raccoon pulled open the box, leading me to attach a critter guard. Once, when the nestlings were old enough to enthusiastically greet their parents by looking out the box, a crow landed on the box and pulled out two nestlings before I could scare it away. I extended the front lip on the box to prevent that from happening. Sometimes English house sparrows decide that they want the nest and force the bluebirds to abandon the area. When that happens, I remove the sparrows’ nest before eggs are laid. Fights between sparrows and bluebirds are sometimes to the death. 

To keep the bluebirds happy, I put a few dried mealworms in a screen tray a few times a week but only when there are no hatchlings. I whistle when I put out the worms and they will come. 

Because of nesting boxes, the once uncommon beautiful bluebird has become much more common. If you have the right-sized open grassy area and don’t poison the insects they eat, they may nest in your yard, too.