Entries in bluebird house (2)


Searching for a New Home

A flash of blue wings outside the kitchen window caught my attention this week, and I stopped what I was doing to look. At least a half dozen male bluebirds were flying about, taking turns checking out a new birdhouse mounted only a few feet from the glass doors to the kitchen.When I bought the flashy red abode with metal roof and grand iron columns on each side of the entrance, I thought only about its decorative value. I already have birdhouses scattered over the property, and most of them have been occupied in past seasons by a variety of birds, including bluebirds, wrens, titmice, and chickadees. But this one was primarily ornamental, and I gave little thought to what critter would be attracted to it.

Nevertheless, the bluebirds were checking it out, and they completely ignored another birdhouse a few feet away, also decorative but not as ostentatious. Bluebirds do see colors, and I know they are drawn to the cobalt blue house next to the arbor garden. I did not know they also love red! 

I was amazed that all these male birds took turns looking it over, having heard through avian real estate channels about the latest addition to the neighborhood. No one tried to chase another away, and they were quite orderly. They even allowed a little yellow warbler to have a turn! This was obviously an open house affair. Perhaps the rusty bird on the back of the birdhouse was a draw.Maybe, like a lot of humans, they were curious after hearing rumors about a new house and wanted to see details for themselves. It was remarkable to me that the bluebirds not only arrived together, but departed all at the same time, too! 

Birds often choose their nesting boxes ahead of time. They may select several sites and then allow the female to make the final decision. It will be interesting to see who actually ends up in the red house come spring. 

It may not be a bird! I once had an anole lizard lay claim to a birdhouse, and he stayed there throughout the summer. So I was not surprised later that day to see this fellow, with his chameleon-like body assuming the exact colors of the rusty accessories.:An anole lizard checks out the new red birdhouse.

Of course, not all birds nest in boxes. Many are do-it-yourselfers, preferring to make their own nests. I caught this hawk with talons full of leaves, destined to be used as building material:With winter yet to come, these birds are already planning for spring. Or maybe those bluebirds were thinking of winter after all. During severe winter weather, birds often will crowd together in a sturdy house for protection from the elements. Whatever they do, I will have a front row seat from the comfort of my kitchen.



Tips for Attracting Bluebirds 

Recently a flock of bluebirds came by to check out the bluebird house. They flew around the house, examining it from top to bottom.

It was an old house in need of refurbishment, and I was concerned because squirrels had recently been chewing on the entry so that it was much larger than was desirable. Bluebirds choose nesting sites well ahead of time, so a few days later I repainted the house and added a predator guard that covered up the old hole and created a new entry. A copper portal cover will prevent squirrels from enlarging the hole. It looks like a new birdhouse!The new predator guard on the refurbished bluebird house will prevent opening of the box for cleaning, so I attached it with one screw so that I can easily remove it.

This house has had bluebirds in it since the first year we put it up. I painted it bright turquoise and cobalt blue after reading that bluebirds can see colors very well and are attracted to the color blue. Perhaps that was the key, but there are several important requirements for creating a welcoming habitat for bluebirds. 

Just any old bird house won't do. The house needs to have an entry hole one and one half inches in diameter. Wood is the safest material for the box as this mimics a natural cavity. The house needs to have ventilation and drainage holes. One should purchase a house designed with specific bluebird requirements in mind, or you can get bluebird house plans and build your own. If you paint it, make sure you use non-toxic paint and do not paint the interior of the house. Bluebirds do not clean out old nests but sometimes will build on top of old ones. This can promote disease, so be sure your box has easy access to the nesting cavity so that you can clean it out after the young have fledged.After the babies leave the nest, it is time to clean out the box. Bluebirds often will raise two families in a single season, so clean out after each one.

The house should be mounted on a pole between four and seven feet off the ground. Never put it on a tree trunk, as this will provide a superhighway for squirrels and other predators. Site the house so that it faces away from the prevailing winds and is out of hot midday sun. There should be small trees or shrubs nearby to provide safe places to perch. Conifers and other evergreens will provide protection from predators and shelter during harsh weather. The perfect location is at the edge of a field, where the birds can find plentiful insects. My own property is partially wooded. My bluebird house is at the edge of a clearing under tall trees. It is not perfect, but the bluebirds also have a selection of open lawn and field areas that are a quick flap of the wings away. It seems to be sufficient.

Bluebirds love water. They will enjoy a shallow birdbath year-round. They both drink and bathe in the water, so keep it clean. We have a birdbath located a few feet from the bluebird house. This makes the real estate even more desirable!

Bluebirds mainly eat insects, and it is important to avoid pesticides.Bluebirds also love seeds and berries, especially in winter. If you provide a variety of berry-producing trees and shrubs, you will give the bluebirds a good selection of food choices. Holly trees provide both shelter and food for bluebirds.

More berry producing plants to attract bluebirds. Above left: A Possumhaw tree, Ilex decidua, and winterberries, Ilex verticillata; Top right: Serviceberry or Amelianchier; Middle and lower right: Yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria.

Not so long ago bluebirds were declining, but back yard birders are having a positive impact. If you provide food, shelter and water with these delightful birds in mind, they will discover your garden and soon you will see the flash of a blue wing and hear their lovely song.