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Bluebirds: the Challenges They Face and How We Can Help
The difficulties facing our beautiful bluebird population are many. But with our help, they can again be a familiar, cheerful and plentiful sight. There are ways we can make their lives much easier by decreasing the impact of the many things they have to overcome:
Say that you are a male bluebird looking for your first house. Because the majority of your diet consists of insects, you check out the neighborhood to make sure there is a ready supply of grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders and beetles, etc. Fruit trees and berry bushes are a definite plus. Is there by any chance a sunflower feeding station? And a mealworm feeder filled with mealworms is to bluebirds as an ice cream truck parked in their driveway 24/7 is to humans!
EASTERN BLUEBIRD RANGE MAP
WESTERN BLUEBIRD RANGE MAP
As far as the housing situation goes, years ago bluebirds had no trouble finding knot holes in fence posts that were ideal for their needs. Nowadays many of those fence posts have disappeared, and prime cavity nesting sites have been taken over by lots of other birds like house wrens and house sparrows.
You continue your search for a good spot in this promising location. Flying around you spy what looks like another male bluebird in this territory! This time of season brings out the feisty side of you, so as they say ‘this means war!’ Turns out, the other bluebird is merely your reflection in a window, but you don’t know about windows. As you battle this difficult foe you begin to tire and you finally succumb to exhaustion. Luckily, when night comes this enemy disappears.
A kindly human has realized your dilemma and removed your rival by covering the window with a piece of cardboard temporarily. After the breeding season this can be removed safely. This allows you to continue your hunt for the perfect nesting spot.
Ideally you look for a nesting cavity about 5 feet off the ground with a 1-1/2" diameter entrance hole facing southeast. That way your offspring will not have to endure the afternoon heat of the sun.
You like wide open spaces with lots of tree limbs on which to perch and survey your territory for possible predators. This area has those features, plus a nice bird bath and feeding station stocked with sunflower hearts and mealworms. Prime real estate for a bluebird!
Predator Guards can include tunnel like cylinders that attach to bluebird nest box entrance holes. In addition to raccoons, squirrels and cats,they also keep large birds like starlings and cowbirds away from the eggs or nestlings.
Instructions for Tunnel-type Raccoon Guard invented by Don Hutchings, Tx.
Human intervention has come to your aid once again. There before you is a beautiful nesting box mounted on a metal pole at just the right height. The kind person has added an 18” cone-shaped baffle to prevent predators like raccoons from climbing up the pole and grabbing any of the beautiful blue eggs your mate will soon lay.
A tunnel-type pvc guard placed in the entrance hole can keep lots of predators from reaching the nest.
A stovepipe or canister-type guard will help keep snakes, mice and rats from reaching the adults, their eggs or nestlings. Observe the area where your nest box is located. Are there raccoons or squirrels around? How about snakes? Choosing the correct baffle or pole guard can be determined by the predators in the area.
This little male bluebird was very lucky he happened upon the property of a kind person that knew his housing needs and ways to prevent predation. Additionally, this bird lover knew that adding a circle of sand under the metal pole would help keep snakes away from the next generation of bluebirds. A bar of mild soap (like Ivory) rubbed all over the inside of the bird house will keep wasps and other bees from attaching their nests.
This house is nice and clean inside. There is no debris from previous nests or bird droppings, feathers, etc. that can call blowflies. These nasty, deadly flies will lay their eggs in the young birds. The larvae use the nestlings as food! So it is extremely important that birdhouses are cleaned out at the end of the nesting season.
A narrow slit near the roof provides ventilation so that the bluebird youngsters will have plenty of fresh air to keep them from overheating.
Those fire ants and mites won’t be able to climb that pole either. A cooking spray was applied to prevent them from reaching the nest. Also, a 20”piece of foil was wrapped around the bottom part of the metal pole to deter raccoons and squirrels.
Be sure to reapply the spray from time to time, especially after it rains.
Refrain from spraying any insecticides inside the birdhouse. The toxic chemicals are deadly to adults and baby birds alike.
Help from humans can mean the difference between life and death. Even though their challenges are many, using the above strategies for your bluebirds will help insure future generations of these gentle little birds that ‘wear the sun on their chests and the sky on their backs’.