Turn your yard into a B&B for bluebirds

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Feeders that are designed for bluebirds can exclude larger birds. The bluebirds can fly into the feeder for a private dinner. (Fred Lynch)

I live on the edge of town where there are open spaces adjacent to woodlands. As I was driving up our lane last week I was surprised to see an Eastern bluebird fly from his perch on the branch of a Bradford pear tree. I normally see them in spring, summer and early fall. This one evidently was either late or early in migrating.

If you are also pleasantly surprised in the next few weeks as I was, there are some things you can do to keep your open meadow denizen around until breeding season. If you can't lure them to stay that long, you can at least provide them with a comfortable country inn to use for a day or two. After their rest stop, they can continue their migration refreshed.

Bluebirds are cavity nesters during the breeding season. They also appreciate a cavity to use as a shelter against cold, snow, sleet, ice and rain during the winter.

Natural cavities are provided by squirrels and woodpeckers, but you can provide a cavity shelter by purchasing or making a bluebird box and placing it along the edge of a wooded area. Place the box on a post about 5 to 6 feet off of the ground and orient the entrance hole to the south. This orientation will protect the resident from that cold north wind we often get during the winter.

Next, purchase or make a bluebird feeder. I would either hang it on a shepherd's hook or mount it on a pole about 5 to 6 feet off of the ground. Locate the feeder about 10 feet away from the front entrance hole of the bluebird house. You want the bluebird to look out of his shelter and see food.

Kathleen Vinyard shows the best way to serve mealworms to bluebirds. A mealworm heater will keep dinner warm in a bluebird feeder. (Fred Lynch)

Now that you have put together your bluebird bed and breakfast area, you need to devise the menu for your patrons. Bluebirds are primarily insect eaters. That is why most bluebird landlords provide them with meal worms during warmer seasons.

Bluebirds naturally switch to seeds and berries during the winter because of the lack of insects. You can purchase bluebird nuggets to have on hand in case a bluebird accepts your overnight invitation. Just keep them in the covered bluebird feeder. The bluebirds will find them.

If you really want to entice the wayward bluebirds to stay in your neck of the meadow, tempt them with meal worms in the feeder. If the temperatures dip below freezing, you can keep the meal worms nice and warm (and wiggly) with a meal worm warmer. It looks like a miniature crock pot without a lid. Just place the warmer in the feeder and run an extension cord to it.

After all, what human traveler would turn down a juicy steak over a salad at the end of a long and tiring day on the road?

Of course every traveler needs to have a nice warm bath at the end of the day. Bluebirds are no exception. Yet they need to bathe for survival, not just for refreshment. Clean fluffy feathers provide insulation for protection from the cold temperatures experienced during winter.

Feathers are kept in that condition by cleaning and preening them on a daily basis. The birds need water for this activity. You can help by keeping a bird bath near the nest box. To keep the water from freezing during the winter, install a bird bath heater in the bath. Keep the water shallow, no more than one or two inches deep. After all, a bluebird does have short legs.

I know all of the effort required by a bluebird landlord seems daunting. But if you do have a temporary (or permanent resident) in your backyard aviary bed and breakfast you will be amply rewarded by enjoying the presence of the bluebird of happiness.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, MO, 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: