Tips for attracting bluebirds to your garden

Attracting bluebirds to your yard

Those of us who live in cities and suburbs may not think about attracting bluebirds, which are usually found in wilder or more rural settings. When bluebirds nest or overwinter in cities or towns, they tend to be found in cemeteries, the large grounds surrounding college campuses (except where students congregate), and similar areas that don’t see too much sunlight. ‘human activity.

Bluebirds require large areas of open grassland and scattered trees or fences that provide nesting and roosting cavities. Like other thrushes, they feed on insects on the ground, but unlike their relatives, bluebirds do not run across the ground to find them. Instead, they scan the ground from a perch, drop down to grab a promising-looking insect, then return to their perch.

People living in suitable bluebird habitat have long been installing nesting boxes. And since its founding in 1978, the North American Bluebird Society (NABS) has focused on researching best practices for the construction, maintenance, and monitoring of bluebird nesting boxes. Their website provides a wealth of free information, sound recommendations, and bluebird house plans.

People who have nesting bluebirds can’t help but worry during spring cold snaps when few insects are available, and so feeding bluebirds has become popular. Like robins, bluebirds aren’t what we call “feeder birds,” but some have learned to turn to special feeders for mealworms and certain types of suet mixes. They are more likely to notice food first if live, wiggly mealworms catch their eye.

Mealworms do not provide a complete diet — in particular, they are low in calcium, an essential nutrient during the breeding season. Adult females need it for egg production and bluebirds for bone development. The NABS Mealworms Fact Sheet suggests putting the mealworms in a plastic bag with calcium carbonate or calcium citrate and shaking it gently to coat the mealworms before setting them down. Even with this calcium supplement, the NABS warns, “Offer mealworms in limited amounts once or twice a day, unless bad weather dictates more frequent feeding.”

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Some of us with urban or suburban backyards are lucky enough to attract bluebirds during migration. After all, to get from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds, bluebirds can’t pull out a communicator and say, “Teleport me, Scotty!” They have to fly over many habitats that would be unsuitable in the long term but can provide quick and healthy meals during the trip.

They are unlikely to notice feeding stations, but when traveling they pay attention to fruit trees and shrubs. A few times over the years I’ve seen them in my non-native flowering crabapple tree, and some native plants they’ve been known to frequent include flowering dogwood, eastern red cedar, and American elderberry. Planting them doesn’t guarantee you’ll attract bluebirds, but you’ll definitely attract lots of other native birds, including vireos, thrashers, catbirds, mockingbirds, thrushes and orioles – maybe not ‘the bluebird of happiness,” but happiness-inducing, nonetheless.

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This article first appeared in the “Attracting Birds” section of the July/August 2021 issue of BirdWatching magazine.