A Landlord’s Guide to Getting Started
By Treasa Runzi
Bluebirds are native to the North American landscape. The last couple of centuries, their natural habitat has dwindled due to increases of urban, agricultural, and industrial developments. The introduction of non-native species, like house sparrows and the European starling, has led to an aggressive competition for the nesting and food resources of bluebirds and other native species. You can help create solutions for the challenges bluebirds face in your area by providing supplemental support, and hopefully enjoy the benefits of having more bluebirds!
With the right planning and foresight, you can create an environment that will help bluebirds thrive and encourages population growth. There are several ways you can help, including:
- Providing the proper cavity nesting boxes appropriate for bluebirds
- Mounting and specific placing of these nesting boxes
- Providing nesting materials
- Outfitting the nesting boxes with predator guards to protect the young and prevent aggressive non-native species such as the European starling from moving in
- Considering the creation of a bluebird trail: they will love you for it!
- Monitoring your bluebird house for activity, such as how many eggs hatch, and to help avoid unwanted predators or guests.
- Providing an environment conducive to conservation: try to avoid chemicals and fertilizers that may poison the food or water supply that your bluebirds utilize.
Winter is a great time for choosing and placing your bluebird nesting boxes.
Choosing a Bluebird Nesting Box
There are many designs for bluebird nesting boxes, and many are successful. However, there are some basic principles to consider when choosing. A good nesting box must provide safety from both predators and the elements for the eggs and the broods of young birds that will be hatched. · Avoid treated lumber, as this can be toxic. Natural wood is always best.
- Have at least one panel that opens so you can monitor and clean out your nesting box. This can be a side, top, or front panel.
- Floor size guidelines – generally most bluebird nesting boxes require 4.5” x 4.5” to a 5” x 5” minimum interior floor size.
- Hole sizes depend on the bluebird. Eastern bluebirds require a 1 ½” hole, and Western and Mountain bluebirds have larger shoulders and require a slightly larger, round hole of 1 9/16”. If you live in a range that includes two different types of bluebirds, provide the larger size round hole.
- Never have a perch, as these attract sparrows and wrens.
Mounting and Placing Your Nesting Box: The Essentials
Careful consideration in mounting and placing your bluebird box is very important in attracting bluebirds and keeping them safe.
Bluebirds are territorial, and their daily activities need to be taken into consideration when placing the nesting box. Avoid brushy areas and those that are heavily wooded. Bluebirds prefer to hunt for their insect prey on the ground, so placing their nesting box in an open area with access to places that offer them a few places to perch, search for food, and guard their nest is helpful. Open areas with scattered trees are ideal.
Mounting the nesting box in a place that you can easily get to for monitoring is a consideration as well. Ideally, a pole works nicely and can be crafted from items such as smooth round pipes. You may consider using a baffle to prevent climbing predators, too. Avoid mounting your nesting box on fences or on trees, as raccoons can easily climb and gain access to precious eggs or hatchlings. Mounting the nesting box opening at least 5 feet above the ground is ideal.
Some suggestions for the direction in which to position the entrance hole include considering the following:
· If there is a prevailing wind direction, turn the box so that the entrance does not face directly into the wind.
· Point the entrance towards a tree or shrub within 100 feet of the box giving the adult a safe place to perch and a place for the new fledglings to land on their first flight.
· Some prefer to direct the entrance hole to face an easterly direction so that the rising sun can provide more warmth in the mornings.
Common native nesting material may not be in abundance within your area, or they may have been taken over by more aggressive non-native birds. Supplementing your bluebird nesting box with a nearby collection of resources may encourage the female bluebird to choose your box because much needed nest building materials are readily available nearby.
Predator Guards: Why You Need Them and Who to Watch Out For!
Predators of bluebirds include domestic cats, raccoons, and other animals that may try to access the nesting box and eat the eggs or hatchlings. House swallows and European Starlings are two of the non-native bird species that are very aggressive and have a tendency to move into a nesting box and take over, often killing the young inside. To prevent this, predator guards are an invaluable resource to ensure your nesting box stays safe and secure. They are simple to attach to the opening of the nesting box and come in different sizes.
How to Create a Bluebird Trail
If you have enough space, creating a bluebird trail—or a series of five bluebird nesting boxes—in the right environment greatly increases the ability of the bluebirds to successfully increase their population. Nesting boxes for Eastern bluebirds should be at least 100 yards apart, while the nesting boxes for Western and Mountain bluebirds should be at least 300 yards apart. Do not consider creating a bluebird trail unless you are willing to monitor and care for the bluebirds to help ensure nesting success.
How to Monitor Your Bluebird Nesting Box
Contrary to popular belief, the adult will not abandon the nest if you observe them respectfully. You should monitor your nesting box weekly to make sure house sparrows have not taken up residence. Open the panel and look inside when the adult has flown away. You can count the eggs and keep track of their progress. Only monitor the nest during warm, dry weather. Do not open the box once the nestlings are 12 days old, as they may try to jump out before they are able to fly. Keeping a journal is an educational and enjoyable way to monitor the bluebirds you invite to take up tenancy.
Between spring and fall, a bluebird’s diet consists mainly of insects from short-grass areas such as lawns. Deciding not to use chemicals on your lawn is beneficial to bluebirds and other birds. Remember that the baby birds in your birdhouse can be poisoned more easily by these kinds of toxins if they are being fed insects that have been foraged from chemically treated lawns or that contain small amounts of these chemicals. Clean the nesting boxes after each set of fledglings vacate. That way the nesting material does not build up inside the box, moving the next occupants precariously closer to the entrance opening.
Sources:Laubach, R., and Laubach, Ch. M. (1998). The backyard birdhouse book: building nestboxes and creating natural habitats. North Adams, MA: Storey Publ.McNeil, D. (2002). The original birdhouse book: Step-by-step plans for 26 birdhouses: Build feeders and baths: Tips for bird landlords: Baffle predators & pests. Marietta, OH: Bird Watcher’s Digest.North American Bluebird Society. (n.d.). Getting started with bluebirds. Darlington, WI: NABS.Shalaway, S. (1995). A guide to bird homes: Nesting & roosting space for your backyard birds. Marietta, OH: Bird Watcher’s DigestStokes, D., & Stokes, L. (1998). Bird gardening book: The complete guide to creating a bird-friendly habitat in your backyard. New York: Little, Brown & Co.