Bluebirds ~ Pictures of Bluebirds~Bluebird Houses~Attracting Bluebirds
Favorite pictures of bluebirds
Bluebirds Choose a Home
Eastern Bluebirds were already investigating the bluebird houses on the edge of our lawn when we returned from our winter travels in March. Two bluebird houses, placed two years ago in hopes of attracting bluebirds, are easily seen from our patio and kitchen windows, and we enjoyed watching and photographing a pair of bluebirds as they inspect both houses before deciding on their residence. The male Bluebird sits on the post above the house and chirps instructions while the female goes into the house and back out again several times. Sometimes she carries a piece of grass into one of the boxes. Then she’ll look over the other empty bluebird box again checking out the interior. It made us laugh to see the female carry a few pieces of grass into the second box, too, as it seemed she couldn't make up her mind on which was the better bluebird house.
Backyard Bluebirds Nesting
Having a nesting pair of bluebirds so close to our house is different from birdwatching in the field as it gives us the opportunity to closely observe their daily activities while they build their nest and raise their young. I keep binoculars, camera and tripod, necessary birdwatching equipment, by the widow so that I can more closely observe them and, if I'm lucky, snap a good picture of the bluebirds. Sometimes they would pose on top of the bluebird house or in nearby branches as if to say, "Take my picture!" So I did!
Bluebirds like to live near open areas like meadows, agricultural fields, fence rows, suburban parks and golf courses that have some old trees or patchy vegetation around them. In natural areas, bluebirds will nest in old woodpecker holes in dead pine or oak trees, sometimes as much as 50 feet off the ground. A pair of bluebirds will claim two or three acres of territory. Because they like to be at least one hundred yards from other bluebird nests, you'll seldom see two pairs of bluebirds nesting close together.
Bluebird House Hunting ~ Location, Location, Location!
The Male Bluebird Finds the Bluebird House
Typically, the male bluebird will find a suitable nesting hole and perch on top of it fluttering his wings to attract the female. He’ll take a few pieces of nesting material and go in and out of the hole as if to say, “Look, it’s a great house!” When the female enters the nest box with him, it usually means that she has accepted the site and that they will begin nesting.
Once the female is satisfied with the location of the nest box, she does the remainder of the nest building while the male guards the territory from his perch on top of the house or from nearby trees or bushes. Bluebird nesting materials will include grasses, and pine needles, but may also include feathers or hair loosely woven into the nest.
Our bluebird box is about twenty feet from a small mimosa tree, and the male loves to sit there watching over his territory. With excellent eyesight, he can spot insects and grubs on the ground and will swoop down occasionally to catch a tasty morsel for himself or to feed his mate.
Picture of female bluebird peeking out of the nesting box
Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird Start a Family
Because their nest box is so easily seen from our patio and kitchen windows, we are able to watch the bluebirds' behavior as they build a nest and begin their family. When we built and set out two boxes, we put them at the edge of our lawn near a field that is cut infrequently. Of the two boxes, the birds seem to like the one farther away from the tall trees and seem to like the proximity of a small mimosa tree that they can use as a lookout perch. Often in an afternoon, they will come to the our birdbath to drink and bathe.
Bluebirds Build Their Nest in Our Bluebird Box
Typical of bluebirds, the female does the nest building while the male watches closely. He will chase away other birds who came too close, and stand guard while she is away gathering nesting materials. Occasionally, when she goes into the box, he will look in to see what she is doing, sometimes going in for a few seconds. We like to joke that she is making him rearrange the furniture.
Photos of Bluebird Eggs and Babies in Their Nest
Mrs. Bluebird Lays Her Eggs
Once the nest is finished, the female lays her eggs. We occasionally peek in the box while she is out and see that she lays one egg each day until she has five eggs in the nest. Since the typical clutch is two to seven eggs, that is average. The female bluebird spends most of her time in the nest with the eggs while the male bluebird, like any attentive father-to-be, brings her choice tidbits of food, catching insects or picking up grubs from the lawn. Sometimes we see her poke her head out the entrance hole and look around as if to say, "Where's my lunch?"
Baby Bluebirds Hatch
After about twelve days, the babies begin to hatch. The average incubation period for bluebirds is 11-19 days. Since the eggs were laid a day or two apart, the chicks don't all hatch on the same day. When the first bluebird hatched, it was so ugly - only a mother could love it!. Baby bluebirds are born almost entirely naked with just a few tufts of down on their bodies (see photo). Their beaks are huge compared to the rest of their bodies, and we were afraid they would hurt each other in the crowed nest. But it isn't long before they began to develop more down, and then show signs of real feathers.
Meanwhile, the five hungry baby birds are running their parents ragged. Both parents bring food to the nest, though it seems that the male does the major food gathering. He catches insects on the ground and in the air, and is in and out of the box many times each hour. Sometimes one of the parents will enter the box with the young ones. It has be be really crowded in there!
Bluebirds fledge (leave the nest) after 16-21 days. We watch the nest closely because we don't want to miss the big event, but one day we went out for the day and came home to an empty nest! (A lot like when your teenagers go to college.) After that we sometimes catch sight of the young bluebirds in the bushes or hidden in the trees at the edge of the lawn as the male continues to supplement their feeding. Mrs. Bluebird, however, is already checking out another nest box and carrying in nesting material for her second brood!
Bluebird babies almost ready to fly
How to Attract Eastern Bluebirds
If you want to attract these beautiful birds to your area, you can help create a bluebird friendly neighborhood by putting up some nesting boxes made specifically for bluebirds. One of the reasons that bluebird population fell in the mid 1900s was that competition for nesting sites by European starlings and house sparrows drove them out of their natural habitat. In the 1960s and 1970s when bluebird trails were established and encouraged, bluebird populations increased.
How to build a bluebird box
Because they depend on pre-made nesting holes which may be scarce, bluebirds are also perfectly happy with man-made nest boxes. They are a little fussy on how their house is designed, though. An ideal bluebird house is about 5”x5” on the bottom, 8-12” tall. It should have ventilation holes on top and drainage holes in the bottom. It has an entrance hole that’s 1 ½ inches in diameter. This may seem small, but a larger hole will encourage bigger birds to take over the site. Bluebird houses do not have perches outside the entrance hole because that would encourage sparrows or other birds to invade their houses. When more than one box is placed, they should be at least 100 yards apart.
What Bluebirds Eat
While Eastern Bluebirds don’t often visit feeders, they will feed on insects, grubs, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, crickets and grasshoppers from your backyard, so you should not use insecticides if you hope to attract them. Some people do buy mealworms to put out on flat feeders for the bluebirds that are feeding their young. In the fall and winter, bluebirds will also eat many different kinds of fruits and berries including sumac, blueberries, black cherry, tupelo, currants, wild holly, hackberries, honeysuckle, bay, pokeweed, juniper berries, mistletoe, dogwood berries.
Enjoy These Beautiful Birds
I hope that you are lucky enough to have bluebirds visit your backyard. You are sure to enjoy glimpses of their sparkling blue feathers as they hunt for grasshoppers in your lawn or fuss at the other birds who invade their territory. Maybe they'll even reward you by drinking from your birdbath and preening themselves outside your window.
A bluebird slide showClick thumbnail to view full-size
Questions & Answers
When do I clean a bluebird nesting box?
You can clean out the nesting box after the brood has fledged. Sometimes bluebirds will raise another family in the same box, so be sure you don't destroy the nest for the next brood. You can also clean out the box at the end of the summer so that it's ready for the spring arrivals.