Bluebirds are some of the most sought after backyard birds, whether they are eastern, western or mountain bluebirds. Backyard birders who know how to attract bluebirds can enjoy the benefits of these colorful thrushes throughout the year.
Why We Love Bluebirds
All three North American bluebirds – eastern bluebirds, western bluebirds and mountain bluebirds – are small thrushes, songbirds related to the American robin. While all three species are migratory, large portions of their range are occupied year-round, and many backyard birders actively try to attract bluebirds in every season.
All three bluebird species have stunning plumage with rich blue backs and rusty or pale underparts. That color alone makes them desirable for a beautiful backyard, but their insectivorous diets also make them welcome guests because they will readily eat large numbers of insects. Their trilling, warbling song is another great reason to attract these birds, and successful backyard birders will enjoy bluebirds' serenades throughout the summer breeding season.
How to Attract Bluebirds
The key to attracting bluebirds is to meet these birds' specialized needs for food, water, shelter and nesting sites.
- Food: Bluebirds consume a wide variety of insects, particularly during the nesting season when hatchlings need protein for adequate growth. Avoiding insecticide use is critical for giving these birds a healthy food source, and backyard birders can augment the natural insect supply with mealworms in ground or platform feeders. Bluebirds will also eat a wide variety of berries, such as sumac, holly and elderberry, and adding these berry-producing shrubs to the yard will help create a bluebird-friendly landscape. Suet offered as crumbles or shreds can also be valuable for attracting bluebirds, particularly with insect or fruit blends.
- Water: Bluebirds require fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing, and a low basin with 1-2 inches of water is ideal for these thrushes. Moving water with a bubbler or small fountain will attract their attention more quickly, but choose a bird bath design that is large enough to accommodate bluebird family flocks that may have a dozen birds all vying for a drink. In the northern and winter areas of these birds' range, a heated bird bath is essential to provide liquid water during freezing weather.
- Shelter: Bluebirds typically prefer mature, widely spaced trees, and they are less likely to visit a backyard with dense areas of foliage. Instead, choose just a few mature trees and opt for low ground cover surrounding open grassy areas to provide these ground-feeding birds security while foraging. Berry-producing shrubs that are a good food source are an excellent choice for plants that will do double-duty as food and shelter. In winter, supplement bluebirds' shelter with medium or large roosting boxes to provide shelter from storms and freezing temperatures.
- Nesting Sites: Bluebirds are cavity-nesting birds, and they will regularly nest in wooden bird houses of the appropriate dimensions, which should ideally be placed 4-7 feet above the ground in open areas. Putting out nesting materials such as pine needles and cotton scraps may attract bluebirds' attention to the houses. Monitor bluebird houses to discourage house sparrows and European starlings that may usurp the nesting spots and could harm the bluebirds, and clean bird houses after each brood fledges to encourage additional nests.
More Tips for Attracting Bluebirds
Even after you've taken steps to meet bluebirds' basic needs, it can take time to attract them to your yard. For even more success attracting bluebirds, try…
- Being prepared for bluebirds year round, including early spring and late fall to accommodate migrating birds.
- Keeping grassy areas of the lawn trim to allow bluebirds to access insects and feed more easily.
- Discouraging feral cats and keeping pet cats indoors to eliminate that threat to bluebirds and other wild birds.
- Provide low (3-4 feet) perches such as old fence posts or wire fences for bluebirds to forage from.
Above all, patience is required when learning how to attract bluebirds. Different bluebird populations may be used to different habitats and feeders from other backyard birders, but once they become accustomed to your efforts they will prove loyal visitors for many happy years.
Photo – Eastern Bluebird © John Benson