When the Mayflower landed, the shores of New England were thick with the sweet songs of the Eastern bluebird. Imagine a world awash with brilliant blue wings!
Just imagine the springtime songs you’ll hear if you invite a flock of Western bluebirds into your garden!
Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Cody Polansky
The vibrant orange-red fruit of Pyracantha ‘Mohave’ (Mohave firethorn) persists into winter and is enjoyed by birds.
Photo Credit: Macore
A papa Eastern bluebird feeds his fledglings.
Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of David Kineer
So where did they all go?
The answer lies with the avian immigrants, carried to the New World by the same ships. Starlings and sparrows came across the ocean as well in the latter half of the 1800s. The immigrant birds took over urban areas, while the less aggressive bluebird fled to farmland barns for shelter. The growing population of foreign birds eventually expanded beyond the cities to take over the bluebird’s country food sources and nesting spots – simply driving bluebirds away. In just the course of several decades, bluebirds became quite rare.
But you can lure this beautiful wildlife back into your own garden – you just have to know how. It takes some planning to provide the right food and lodging, but with a little work, you can enjoy their company, as well as enchanting spring song!
First, you need to know what to feed these birds if you want to attract them – and bluebirds do not eat birdseed! One man’s nightmare is another bird’s feast: Bluebirds adore cutworms and grasshoppers. Of course, this means not spraying for these pests in your garden, because the pesticides used to combat such intruders can kill your lovely bluebird family, too. So you have to consider which is more important to you: a pest-free environment or the joy that only bluebirds have to offer.
In addition to particular insects, bluebirds also enjoy berries – especially in wintertime – so here’s a partial listing of plants with lots of berries that can keep your birds happy year-round:
* Considered an alien invasive weed in many parts of the US. Take care not to plant if it’s invasive in your neck of the woods. Ask your local Cooperative Extension if you’re not sure.
Once you’ve got the right food sources available for your bluebirds, you can start thinking about providing a good home for them. Mr. Bluebird chooses the nesting spot. He looks for a location with plentiful food, as well as a place to keep his babies safe, so you need to offer both if you’re to be rewarded with his family’s presence.
A nesting box is a good option. If you want to build one yourself, pay close attention the proper dimensions required for a proper structure for bluebirds – these animals are finicky when it comes to their humble abodes! You can build a box from one board, just be sure to follow these specific dimensions, or your nesting box will likely stay empty: 10 ¼ inches tall by 5 ½ inches wide and deep. The box also needs a hole that’s too small for the more aggressive birds that would otherwise move in and toss the bluebird family out. The hole should be precisely 1½ inches in diameter and located 7 ½ inches above the floor of the box.
Location is also key: Be sure to keep the nesting box in a sheltered area to help improve protection from the cold so your birds will stay through winter. Finally, don’t forget to use a compass to set your nesting box facing east. Bluebirds demand that their front door faces the rising sun. (Did I mention they’re finicky?)
Once Mr. Bluebird finds the right home, he goes after a mate. Together the couple will raise three nests of babies in one season – which means up to 18 little bluebirds a year! (Imagine the music you’ll hear!)
If you can supply the family with sufficient food and a fresh water supply year-round, your bluebirds won’t migrate to warmer places when cold weather sets in. These birds leave for food – not warmth. (My bluebirds stayed put for almost 3 years until a woodpecker wrecked their dead tree nest, so they moved on. But they didn’t go too far – I still get a glimpse of them feeding once in a while.)
If you’re looking to bring in a beautiful blue hue to your garden – not to mention a song that would make Snow White swoon – consider inviting a family of bluebirds into to your yard. Sure, it takes a little effort, but the year-round joy they’ll bring you and your garden is worth it!