Tag Archives: how to attract bluebirds

The Color of Love Is Blue – By Maribeth Shanley

My favorite season is spring.  I love the smell of growing grass.  I love the trees that are budding and sprouting leaves.  I love that it’s warm during the daylight, and slightly chilly when the sun goes down.  As a homeowner, I especially love feeding, listening to and watching all the birds.

A little more than two years ago, Bob and I signed the papers to build a new house.  This house would become our last home.

We paid extra to have the house built on a lot where the backyard met the pond.  It was early spring the day we signed the papers and put down our earnest money.  After signing, we stopped at the lot and walked back to see it.  The first thing I noticed were the bluebirds flying around the pond.  I was thrilled.

I’ve been feeding the birds for as long as I can recall.  I’ve also always provided a few bird boxes for them to build a nest.  Except for our residence in Illinois, we’ve had bluebirds.

At each home we owned in the Nashville, TN area, I would religiously put up a bluebird box.  Our last Nashville home, however, one of the existing residents had already established a bluebird nesting box.  I was fortunate to attract the sweet blue colored birds with a brownish belly to nest at every backyard, except that home we last lived in before moving to South Carolina.

Each spring I watched as one couple would build their nest.  The box in that neighbor’s backyard was visible to me when standing or sitting on my back deck.  I knew I wouldn’t have the birds nesting. However, I thought, Maybe there’s something I could feed the bluebirds to entice them to visit my yard.  After all, the same neighbor didn’t feed the birds.  I was the only person who did.

So, on my next trip to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store, I asked the clerk what bluebirds ate only to discover they love mealworms.  The store kept live mealworms in a small refrigerator.  I not only purchased a large container of squirming mealworms, but I also purchased a bluebird box feeder.  I had a ton of other birds coming to my backyard to feed at the birdseed boxes I had erected.  I wanted the bluebirds to feel safe in my yard.

The wooden bluebird feeder looked similar to most ordinary bird feeders.  Like traditional feeders, the front and back panels were plexiglass.  However, the plexiglass wasn’t slanted inward like traditional seed feeders.  Instead, they were straight up and down, creating a more squared off effect.  Like other feeders, one section of the slanted wood roof was hinged enabling me to lift the roof and drop in the mealworms.

Unlike seed feeders, on either wood end panels of the bluebird feeder was an entrance and exit hole making it easy for the birds to enter the box on one side and fly out from the opposite side.  From that year on I was able to sit on my deck and watch the little birds fly in, eat and then fly out.  I watched for the eight years we lived in that house from early spring through the end of summer.  The presence of the box would also give me the pleasure of listening to their quiet conversations which were sweet and low.

Our first home in South Carolina had a small backyard that backed up to a natural runoff ditch that, when it rained hard would fill up with water.  There were trees on either side of the ditch, and the lot behind one next-door-neighbor was heavily wooded as well.  We had a lot of different types of birds that visited our feeders.  A raccoon and an opossum also visited.

I recall, one night, as I turned on the back outside light the opossum was inside the feeder that I had nailed to one of the trees.  He was eating the cracked corn I put in that feeder for the squirrels.  When I walked out the door, the opossum stopped and looked up at me.  Because I didn’t walk toward the box or move threateningly, he put his head back down and ate more corn.   Since the backyard was small, I didn’t put up any bluebird houses.  Instead, I put one up around the front of the house and in the landscaping next to the roll-up garage door.   The bluebirds found it and raised several broods over the two years we lived in that house.

Unlike most other wild birds, bluebirds can nest up to four times each year.  However, between broods, the box needs to be cleaned.  The female bluebird won’t lay her new eggs in an existing nest, even if it was where she hatched her last brood.

When we moved into our current house, we had immediate success.  The blue colored nesting box I put at the end of our yard and overlooking the pond was perfect for a bluebird pair.  They nested three times that first spring and summer.

The following year, I added a box that still sits just outside the office I share with Bob giving me the opportunity to watch the birds as they enter and exit the box.  Last year, a pair of bluebirds nested in that house once.  The female laid her eggs in mid-August.  By the end of August, I began to worry about the eggs.  The temperatures last year were, for the third year in a row, record temperatures.  August was a brutally hot one.  Although the female kept going into the box, I knew something was wrong.  The eggs never hatched.  I guess that the heat was too intense for the eggs.  When I finally pulled the nest out of the box, I broke open the eggs.  There was a speck of blood in each of them, leading me to believe that the hot climate air caused the box to serve as more of an oven than a nest.

This year, there’s been a flurry of birds trying to nest in our backyard.  The original blue painted box was taken over by a house sparrow pair.  I watched a bluebird couple compete for that box when, finally, the sparrows won the competition.  I bought another box and hung it on the square column on our downstairs deck which runs up to the roof of the deck just above the patio.  For a short time, it seemed the bluebirds might use that box, but the female lost interest in it.  So, I went online and ordered another bluebird box and pole set.

That same week, I noticed the bluebirds seemed desperate to nest.  Thus, instead of waiting for delivery of the online order to arrive, I ran down to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store and bought another box and pole setup.  When we came home, Bob helped me erect the house.  We placed it so that the box hole faced away from both of the existing boxes which now were occupied by sparrows.  We also made sure that there was at least twenty feet from either of the other two boxes.  The same bluebirds seemed interested at first. However, the female wanted to use the original blue painted box from last year.  Of course, I can’t tell if the pair are the original pair that nested last year or if one of them was born in the blue painted box. However, the female simply wasn’t interested in either that newly erected box nor the other new box now secured to the patio column.

I continue to feed the bluebirds with mealworms.  I no longer buy the live mealworms.  Instead, I purchase large bags of dried worms and order them from Amazon.  As long as the bluebirds come to the feeder, I feel confident they will nest.  Once the sparrow’s broods have left their nests, I can clean out the houses giving the bluebirds a choice of four boxes during the remainder of the spring, and summer months.

Yesterday, the box and pole setup I ordered online from Walmart arrived.  I had one more opportunity to help the bluebirds raise their first brood.  I wanted to place the house away from the backyard and the other boxes.  I was about to set it up on the west side of our house and intended to move the mealworm feeder to that side but far enough away so they would use the box.  Then I remembered how hot last summer was.

Knowing that this summer will most likely be another record breaker as will all summers going forward if the U.S. and the world don’t embrace that climate change is real and dangerous, I walked around the front of my house and walked down the east side of our house to find a spot for the birdhouse.  I put it close enough to the house where I know it doesn’t get much sun so that the box can stay cooler than the other boxes.  Also, the box is about forty or more feet from the mealworm feeder.  However, it’s a straight shot to the box opening.

Sure enough, the bluebirds discovered the new nesting box and have been on top and inside several times.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  The new box location will not only provide shade for the birds, but I will be able to watch the birds now through the end of their mating season since it sits just around the corner from the patio.  When sitting on the deck, I can watch from directly above.

Spring is here, and love is in the air.  The color of love is blue!

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Filed under How To, Maribeth Shanley