HOW CAN I ATTRACT BLUEBIRDS TO MY NESTBOX?
Bluebirds show up at the beginning of Spring to scout out where they want to park it, eat it, breed it, and live it for the remainder of the warm seasons. How can you make your nestbox locations the most desirable choice?
Park It - Location is key and these songbirds love Wide Open Spaces - like openings in a forest, large grassy fields, golf courses, you get the picture. Basically anywhere that makes you feel like frolicking.
It’s like the song by the Dixie Chicks - Wide Open Spaces. We’ll change the words a bit though:
She needs Wide Open Spaces
Room to make her big broods
She needs familiar places
With the highest perching stations
Eat It - You know the old saying, “the best way to attract bluebirds is with mealworms!” Okay, it’s not a classic or catchy saying, but it does work! Putting a snack of mealworms on top of your nestbox is a great way to seal the deal with a househunting songbird.
Also, Drink it - With eating comes drinking. Bluebirds need access to water every day. If there isn’t a pond, river, creek, lake, or neverending puddle near your desired nest box location, think about adding a bird bath nearby to sweeten the deal.
House It to Breed It - Male bluebirds decide on the nest site with the sole priority of finding, romancing, and protecting a mate. Female bluebirds choose their mate by doing an advanced Zillow Search to find the property that meets her high standards. She knows what she wants and doesn’t settle.
Priorities of a bluebird’s housing search?
Safety - bluebirds enjoy a clean, private shelter.
An entrance of 1 ½ inches is crucial to keep out the larger invasive starlings from getting in and taking over.
No perch, no porch...if you don’t have a perch attached to the front of the box, then there is no welcome mat. Same for humans, if you don’t want people to come over, don’t have a porch. Who wants noisy neighbors perched outside and peeking in your window.
Nest box attached to a pole at least 4-5 feet high is ideal versus attached to a tree or fence which gives predators an invitation to come over. Bluebirds want to be in wide open spaces and left alone. They have happiness and hope to create!
Gated community consists of a baffle and Noel guard installation with short clipped grass.
They are just like us, when we go on vacation we want safety, security, scenery and sanity!
Live It - Using this information will allow bluebirds to love and live it up in your nestbox.
WHO ARE THE PREDATORS?
English House Sparrow - vicious bullies and invasive species
European Starlings - invasive species
Hawks - hungry and quick
Blowflies - suck the blood out of nestlings
Wasps - annoying and scary
Mice - invite themselves in to stay
Squirrels - chew the entrance holes and nest over winter
Raccoons - tiny arms can reach into entrance holes for an egg snack
Cats - when fledglings first leave the nest the cats come out to play
Snakes - slithers up the poles, eats eggs for snack and slithers away
Bears - bend the poles to 90 degree angle and look inside nest box
Ants - climb up pole, enter floor cracks, sting and kill bluebirds
Home and Work Windows
Bluebird Experience’s MOST WANTED:
House Sparrows (aka Sky Trash)
Here we are minding our own business, caring for our native songbirds like a Disney Princess. Meanwhile, some invasive species, some bully from across the big blue comes along and decides to rob and kill our native songbirds. Those English House Sparrows are the worst predators, such nasty bullies who thrive on our trash, eat food from humans and birds, and are extremely sloppy. House Sparrows will kill a family of bluebirds and then set up camp in a nestbox directly on top of the deceased. They are truly a classless, tactless bird.
Then we have cats, they snatch up the newly fledged baby bluebirds, squashing all hopes and dreams of adulthood. Screw cats, get a dog!
Snakes, Ants, & Bears; oh my!
All we can do is educate ourselves on how to defend against predators. We use trial and error, research our opponents, and monitor our boxes. It’s quite the brain and physical workout!
HOW DO WE PREVENT PREDATORS?
We try to create a gated community with its own security system to ward off each type of predator.
Monitoring; the more you are checking on your nest boxes, the more you will notice - whether it be a House Sparrow built its nest on top of your songbird, there’s scratch marks on the outside of the box, or the pole is bent at a 90 degree angle, checking your boxes will lead to higher success rates of songbird survival.
Nest Box Placement: Keep the nest boxes off trees and fences! Attaching a nest box to one of those is like setting up a buffet for the climbing predators. Use a free standing pole!
Entrance Hole Size; these should be 1.5” in circumference. This small of a hole will not allow larger predators inside.
Entrance Hole Guards; this is an added piece of wood surrounding the entrance hole, making it just a little harder for a hand to reach inside or a woodpecker to chip away at their doorway.
Noel or Wren Guards / Pole or Baffle Guards - Adding an element to the pole will really help keep the climbing animals and snakes away. There are many ways to protect your pole - even greasing it every time you’re out monitoring will help.
Window Stickers - Crashing into windows is one of the leading causes of bird deaths. HOW SAD! Putting a translucent sticker on your large windows will help birds know that through your house is not a shortcut to the other side.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A PREDATOR DESTROYS A NEST?
Man… gotta go there.
In reality, this sucks to tell you, but it’s all a part of being a well-rounded citizen scientist. First, you’ll need to button up your lab coat and fill out the monitoring sheet with details and descriptions. Answer:
What do you see? In your best words, what happened here?
Where are you? Try to be specific.
Do you hear or smell anything?
How’s the neighborhood? Do you hear a lot of bird chatter? Can you see other birds around?
Next, you’ll have to clean up the crime scene. Clear out the nestbox so it encourages another songbird family to move it, add some predator guards, and make sure you are monitoring! Security systems and monitoring is needed for our beloved songbirds.
DO BLUEBIRDS RETURN TO THE SAME NEXT BOX EACH YEAR?
Yes, they do! Banding birds taught us this fact. Our Bluebird Landlords report knowing some Bluebird’s behavior and recognizing patterns from year to year. When we restore we have made lifelong, flying friends!
HOW OFTEN DO I CLEAN OUT MY NEST BOX?
Remember house parties in college? Think of that as a bluebird breeding cycle. Quite the mess once the party’s over, huh? Clean the nest box once the party is over and the brood has left the house. If there is an uninvited lingering guest, put your foot down, kick them out and clean up after them. You don’t want their germs to linger.
Cleaning the nestboxes out as soon as a brood has fledged will encourage a quick turnaround for another family to utilize that nestbox.
WHAT IF A PREDATOR MAKES A NEST IN THE NEST BOX?
Yeah, no they are not allowed to make nests in our bluebird nest boxes. That’s treason. If predators decide to drop off their baby (cowbirds) or drop off their building supplies (sticks from wrens), squat on my property (spiders, ants, blowflies and wasps), or bring their bullying attitude (House Sparrows and European Starlings) around. We’ll know right away since we are monitoring. It’s like using an electric baby monitor for a human infant, our every 3-5 day monitoring walk through is the same concept. We are monitoring the nest box just like we would monitor an infant bedroom. If we find unwanted materials, dead or alive, in our nestbox we dispose of it, make note of it and modify it.
WHAT DO BLUEBIRD EGGS LOOK LIKE?
A picture is worth 1,000 words for this one.
As you see, the Bluebirds’ eggs are the color of a classy ‘Tiffany’ jewelry box. When you look at bluebird eggs, tell your mind, you are really looking at a little tiny box filled with lots of love, hope, and energy. It’s not shiny and you don’t wear it. You feel it. Witnessing the magnificence of a Bluebird egg will change something in you. This actual Bluebird Experience feeds deep into your soul.
HOW LONG DOES THE INCUBATION OF THE EGGS TAKE?
It depends on the weather, but usually 11-19 days. The Mom is equipped with a brooding patch on her belly, and it is up to Dad to go get groceries (insects and berries) and bring them back to her so she has nourishment during the process of sitting on her eggs and incubating them. This is a time of joy, protection, and rest for Mom right before those 4-7 little beaks are squawking at her.
HOW LONG DO NESTLINGS STAY IN THE BOX BEFORE THEY FLEDGE?
The nestling period is 17-21 days. Check out the nesting cycle and more information from BRAW.org here.