How to Attract Eastern Bluebirds With the Right Foods, Plants and Nest Boxes
Creating A Bird-Friendly Backyard For Bluebirds
Eastern bluebirds inhabit open spaces in rural areas, and they are often found near fields, pastures and in open areas at the edge of woodlands. Bluebirds can be enticed to visit gardens that cater to their basic needs for food and shelter while providing an environment that lets them feel safe and secure.
Bluebirds are part-time residents in our garden, arriving in late winter and staying through early summer. Though we live in a wooded area, eastern bluebirds are frequent visitors to our yard and have taken up residence in several specially designed bluebird birdhouses placed strategically around the property.
Eastern bluebirds were once common throughout their range, but populations suffered from loss of suitable nesting habitat as well as competition from introduced species such as European starlings and house sparrows. Bluebirds are cavity nesters, and rely on using natural cavities in trees or the abandoned nesting holes created by wood peckers. In recent years, bluebird populations are making a come back, thanks in large part to bird watchers and gardeners who mount and monitor trails of bluebird houses.
Bird watchers and gardeners try to attract bluebirds into their yards, both for their beautiful plumage and for the beneficial role they play in the environment by eating many different types of insects. Here are a few tips for attracting bluebirds to your yard.
Our garden strives to provide the four essential requirements for bluebirds and other feathered visitors: food, shelter, water and nesting areas. Our property is surrounded by a woodland full of mature oaks, and we added a variety of planting beds include a mixture of native and cultivated perennials and shrubs to create areas where the birds can find berries and hunt for bugs. Several conifers were added for four-season interest, and their weeping branches offer protected areas for the birds to hide and to escape from the rain and chilling winds.
The white birdhouse shown in the photo is centered in a grassy area of our yard and in the middle of our raspberry patch, giving the birds a clear view of the world around them. This birdhouse has served several generations of eastern bluebirds over the years, and is the birdhouse that the bluebirds occupy each spring. When feeding their young, the bluebird parents routinely perch on the top finial and scan the area for prey. When an insect is spotted, they swoop down on the unsuspecting bug, often capturing its victim in flight before returning to the nesting box to feed their hungry offspring.
In winter, the bluebirds often return to the birdhouse to seek shelter from the cold weather.
Provide the Right Foods
Eastern bluebirds prefer to eat insects during the spring and summer months, and then turn to small fruits and berries in the fall and winter. Our yard includes plantings of trees and shrubs which produce berries in the fall such as dogwood trees, blueberries, viburnums, winterberry and grapes. We do not use any pesticides, to decrease the chances of bluebirds eating contaminated insects or feeding poisoned bugs to their young. In the garden, watching bluebirds swoop down from their perches in trees or from atop a nesting box to take moths and other flying insects on the wing is a spectacular sight.
Bluebirds are also very fond of mealworms, which are readily available at birding specialty stores, feed and seed supply stores and online, and they will readily approach a tray of mealworms or enter specially designed bluebird feeders. Many other birds also enjoy mealworms, and will quickly empty the feeder when given the opportunity, so we use a specially designed bluebird feeder that is inexpensive and easy to make. Buying mealworms in bulk costs significantly less than the small containers of live mealworms commonly sold at pet stores.
Plans for building this Eastern Bluebird Feeder are shown a little further down (below).
Offer Fresh Water
Bluebirds need to drink often and they love to bathe. In natural areas, bluebirds travel to ponds and streams for their water needs, and the sound of moving and splashing water will attract bluebirds.
In our garden, eastern bluebirds are year-round visitors to our small garden pond and they often splash around in the small stream that leads to the waterfall. During the summer months, the bluebirds will even fly through the spray of the lawn sprinklers.
A birdbath is another way to add a water source for bluebirds. Replace the water daily during the summer months to discourage disease and to eliminate any mosquito larva. During the colder winter months, check the bird bath daily to keep the water clean and free from ice.
Hang A Bluebird House
Bluebirds are cavity nesters, but their bills are not designed to excavate trees or fence posts to create their nesting sites. Fortunately, bluebirds will move into birdhouses and nesting boxes built to the proper specifications. Bluebirds seem to prefer nest boxes between 4 to 5 inches square, with an entrance hole about 6 inches above the floor of the birdhouse. An entrance hole of 1 inches prevents the larger starlings from out-competing the bluebirds for occupancy.
Mount the bluebird houses between 5 to 10 feet above the ground, and face the entrance towards open areas and fields. Place several bluebird houses approximately 150 feet apart. Bluebirds are territorial, and will not tolerate other pairs nesting in their established territory. Multiple nesting boxes forms a bluebird trail and reduces competition between pairs of bluebirds. A trail of bluebird houses also offers nesting sites for other backyard inhabitants including wrens, chickadees and even flying squirrels.
Do not get discouraged if bluebirds do not move into your nesting boxes right away. If bluebirds are in the area, it may take a season or two from them to find the birdhouses.
Build A Bluebird Birdhouse
This bluebird house is a simple and inexpensive project to build, and it can be made from scraps of wood, salvage lumber or pine, cedar or redwood boards which are commonly available at home centers and lumber yards. The entrance hole is exactly 1-" in diameter, letting the bluebirds in but keeping out the larger sparrows and starlings.
I've made a number of these bluebird birdhouses, and scattered them around the property. Bluebirds are territorial, and will not nest within sight of another nesting pair. By hanging several birdhouses in different locations, the birds have their choice of locations. Other birds also benefit, and these birdhouses have sheltered families of chickadees, titmice, wrens, nuthatches and even flying squirrels!
For step-by-steps on how I built this bluebird birdhouse, please visit
How To Build A Bluebird House
Bluebird House Plans
A Few Fun Bluebird Facts - Did You Know?
- There are three species of bluebirds in North America: the Eastern, the Western and the Mountain bluebirds.
- Bluebirds eat bugs and berries, but are not attracted to bird feeders filled with birdseed.
- Bluebirds like mealworms, and will visit feeders filled with live or freeze-dried mealworms.
- Eastern bluebirds can have up to three broods per season.
- Bluebird eggs are pale blue in color.
- In winter, several bluebirds will often roost together in a bluebird house for warmth.
- Bluebird populations suffered and declined in the 1960s, but rebounded with the help from concerned birdwatchers. The North American Bluebird Society was formed to encourage and instruct and encourage people to build and hang bluebird houses.
Eastern Bluebirds Range Distribution Map
Range Map Key:
Yellow = Summer range
Blue = Winter range
Green = Year Round Range
Do Bluebirds Visit Your Yard?
Bird Man Mel: Attracting Bluebirds Video
This short video shows how to attract and keep bluebirds feeding and nesting in your backyard.
Build A Bluebird Feeder
Bluebird Feeder Plans
Bluebirds feed on insects rather than seeds, and they are especially fond of mealworms. This specially designed bluebird feeder is easy to make, and the birds learn quickly to enter the feeder to feast on live or freeze dried mealworms.
Mealworms are available in bulk at online retailers, feed and seed supply stores, and specialty birding stores. Buying mealworms in bulk costs significantly less than the live mealworms commonly sold at pet stores. The 1" entrance hole in the ends of this bluebird feeder lets the bluebirds in, but stops larger birds from entering.
For step by step instructions on how I made this bluebird feeder, please visit How To Make Bluebird Feeder
Bluebirds Love Mealworms
Around the Web: Bluebirds
- The North American Bluebird Society
The North American Bluebird Society is a non-profit education, conservation and research organization that promotes the recovery of bluebirds and other native cavity-nesting bird species in North America.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. Our hallmarks are scientific excellence and technological innovation to advance the understanding of nature and to engage people of all ages in le
- The Audubon Society
Includes conservation news and education information on birds with links to birding guides, nest box dimensions, watch lists, bird counts, bird profiles and much more!
- Wild Bird Watching
The Wild Bird Watching website has lots of information on building birdhouses including a chart below listing the dimensions and entrance hole sizes for some of the more common types of cavity nesting birds.
- Wild Birds for the 21st Century
News and information on birds including conservation, building birdhouses and creating bird-friendly gardens.
- National Wildlife Federation: Certify Your Wildlife Garden
So far, the NWF has recognized the efforts of nearly 140,000 individuals and organizations who plant native shrubs and plants for food, cover and places for raising their young, provide include a source of drinking water, and add nesting boxes for ca
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna