Blazing the Bluebird Trail


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Bluebirds are one of the most spectacular birds you can attract to your backyard. Given the proper habitat and a willingness on your part to lend a hand when necessary, bluebirds will visit your bird bath, bird house and bird feeders.

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Blazing the Bluebird Trail

  1. 1. Bluebirds are one of the most spectacular birds O nce you have attracted your first bluebirds to your bird bath, nesting box or feeder, you can attract to your backyard. you’ll be hooked. These Given the proper habitat and a willingness on absolutely gorgeous birds will become a part of your daily life. your part to lend a hand when necessary, Plus, they really need your help. bluebirds will visit your bird bath, bird house and bird feeders. Bluebird sightings were “few and far between" a decade ago. Now, thanks to thousands of people across the country who Blazing the build and install bluebird nesting boxes, bluebirds are making a comeback. Bluebird Trail This is especially true for the Eastern bluebird where housing and business developments are For more nature habitat information replacing much of their habitat and natural nesting sites. Visit these helpful websites: Developers are destroying the A Plants Home cavities where bluebirds like to A Birds Home nest and raise their young. A Homesteaders Home Dead trees are cut down for firewood and for appearances sake. Wooden fence posts that were hollowed out by woodpeckers are being replaced with steel ones. And, house sparrows and European starlings are taking over the few remaining natural nesting sites. Here’s where you can help Bluebirds readily adapt to man-made nesting cavities (nesting boxes). But, there needs to be a lot of them, if bluebirds are to survive. Putting up a nesting box in your backyard is okay, but what’s really needed are multiple nesting sites. That’s why the bluebird trail concept makes sense.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 1 A Plants Home
  2. 2. Here are some tips from the North American Bluebird Society If the area where you live is on building a bluebird trail: not good habitat for bluebirds, go where they are s Select proper bluebird habitat. Open rural country with more likely to raise their scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover is best. families – rural areas. Suitable habitat also includes a perch such as a fence, wires, or dead branches where bluebirds may perch to search for Maybe you can form a food. Look for these when you are selecting a location for group of interested your nesting boxes. If bluebirds do not like the habitat, they individuals to work together probably will not use your boxes. on the project. s Avoid brushy and heavily wooded areas. This is the habitat Look for less traveled roads of the house wren. and open areas with sparse or low ground cover with s Avoid areas where the house sparrow is abundant. scattered trees. Stay away from areas that are sprayed s Avoid areas of heavy pesticide use. with pesticides. s Mount nesting boxes four feet or more from the ground, Be sure and ask permission preferably on smooth pipes or posts. from the landowner or manager before installing s Mount boxes so that the entrance hole faces a tree or your nesting boxes. Also, shrub. This allows the young bluebirds to fly directly to a place them where you can branch when they leave the nesting box. This will keep them easily monitor the boxes. off the ground, away from predators. Bluebird trails are an s Boxes should be spaced at least 100 yards apart. extremely effective method Bluebirds are territorial and don’t want other birds any of reestablishing the closer. bluebird population. Many youth groups, such as 4-H s Protect boxes against snakes, raccoons, feral cats and and Scouts, service clubs other predators. and senior citizens groups, are dedicated to bringing s Monitor the boxes, if possible, at least once a week during back the bluebirds. the nesting season. The work of so many s Always remove house sparrow nests immediately. Remove devoted people are producing bluebird nests and those of other birds as soon as the young wonderful results. More and birds have fledged (left the nest). more bluebirds are being seen. And, the population is s Inspect boxes in late winter. Clean and repair, if necessary. stabilizing in some locales. s Boxes should be mounted in pairs in areas where tree But, the task nor the fun, swallows are abundant. Boxes can be mounted back to back doesn’t stop with installing or up to five feet apart. This provides nesting sites for both the nesting boxes. It’s now species and helps to prevent competition between them. time to monitor them. Different species of birds usually do not mind nesting close to each other. Each breeding pair can and oftentimes does have three Don’t be discouraged if your nesting boxes are not used the broods per year. After each first year. If bluebirds have not normally been in the area, it may family leaves the nest, the take them a few seasons to find your new box. box should be cleaned out.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 2 A Plants Home
  3. 3. Keeping house sparrows out 12 days old or older. If they of the boxes is the most prematurely leave the nest, important monitoring task. If they could fall to predators. The they try to move in, be ruthless only way to tell is that you and immediately toss their must follow the progress of the nests. If you do this over and young from the time they hatch. over, they will eventually move on. If you accidentally cause the fledglings to leave the box, put Birds will not nest in boxes them back in and put a hole where there are wasps. When restrictor (false front with a you see a wasp nest in the box, 1-1/8" opening hole) on the box. spray pyrethrum in the hole and This will prevent the young from cover it immediately. The leaving and the adults can following day remove the wasp continue to feed them. Then, on nest. the same day, remove the restrictor after it gets dark. If possible, monitor your nesting boxes weekly. The best Keep a record when you way is to go quickly and quietly monitor the boxes. Number each to the box, open it, and look box. Then record such things as: inside. You may want to tap date, number of bluebirds seen, softly on the box so any adult empty box, partial nest, birds can leave. If the female is complete nest, number of eggs, on the eggs, come back at a number of young, age of young, later time. number fledged and make sure to have room for any special Checking the box will not make comments you want to add. the parents desert the nest. Also, touching the nest and Bluebirds cannot make a leaving your scent on it, will not comeback without our help. keep them away either. Each of us can make a difference. You will know success The only time not to disturb when sighting the colorful the boxes is when the young are bluebird is a common sight. Highlights... How Long Does It Take. Size: s 7 inches Build nest: 1 to 6 days Color: s Eastern – brilliant blue above, white belly, red breast Lay eggs: 5 to 7 days s Mountain – brilliant blue above, light blue below s Western – brilliant blue above with rust on its back, white Incubate: Eastern – 12 to 14 days belly, blue throat; Females – similar but duller in color Mountain – 13 to 15 days Western – 14 days Habitat: s Open fields bordering woodlands, golf courses, open parks, new developments with few trees, farms, Brood: 6 days cemeteries, orchards Fledge: Eastern – 16 to 21 days Food: s Caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, holly, sumac, Mountain – 19 to 23 days pokeweed, and poison ivy berries Western – 19 to 22 days© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 3 A Plants Home
  4. 4. What Type of Bluebird Nesting Box is Best. Your choices are many. They include the Peterson box, the front opening box, the side opening box and the PVC box. There Eastern are boxes made of cedar, pine and plywood. Bluebird Nest No matter which type you build, follow these guidelines: (1) No perch should be attached to the front of the box, for this may encourage house sparrows, which are undesirable competitors. (2) Entrance holes should be 1-1/2" in diameter for Eastern bluebirds and 1-9/16" for Mountain and Western bluebirds. Tree If the hole is oval, it should be 1-3/8" wide and 2-1/4" long. Swallow Nest (3) Floor dimensions should be approximately 4" x 4" for Eastern bluebirds and 5" x 5" for Mountain and Western bluebirds. (4) Height from top of floor to bottom of entrance hole should be about 5" to 7". (5) Opening the box should be easy for monitoring and Carolina cleaning. Side- or front-opening boxes are easiest to clean, Chickadee but top-opening boxes are easiest to monitor. Nest (6) Ventilation, by means of small holes drilled at the top of the sides or back, or gaps left between the roof and sides or front, should be provided. (7) Drainage holes, such as holes drilled in the floor or space between the floor and the sides, should be present. House Wren (8) Attaching the box to a tree or post should be easy. Be Nest sure this has been provided for. (9) At least 3/4" thick wood should be used as the building material to provide adequate insulation from the sun. (10) The roof should overhang the entrance hole by at least 1" to 2" to keep out rain and shade the entrance. House Sparrow – Donald and Lillian Stokes Nest The Bluebird Book Page 4 A Plants Home© WindStar Wildlife Institute
  5. 5. far up as 10,000 Bluebirds to 12,000 feet – just below the timberline. Their Sialia siaois (Eastern) range stretches Sialia mexicana (Western) from the Pacific Sialia currucoides (Mountain) coast east through and somewhat past It is estimated that between the Rockies and the late 1920’s and the 1970’s, from the Mexican bluebird populations decreased border north to 90%. Alaska. Efforts to save the bluebird by The Western bluebird is the providing artificial nest boxes to least abundant of the three Elderberry, replace natural nesting sites species. Its markings are very dogwood, blueberry, have been immensely similar to its eastern cousin. It, mulberry, cherry, viburum, successful. too, has a red breast but a blue Russian olive and Autumn throat and rusty back. olive provide food in the The bluebird belongs in the summer and autumn months. thrush family, as do robins and It’s found west of the Rockies Bittersweet, holly, wood thrushes. and from the Canadian border pyracantha, sumac, mountain south to the Mexican border. ash, red cedar, and hawthorn Unique to North America, are good sources for food in there are three species of Bluebird populations the winter. bluebirds – the Eastern, declined because of habitat Mountain, and Western. All are destruction, loss of nesting Given the relative tameness approximately seven inches long. sites and the introduction of of bluebirds, their melodic the European starling and the song and breathtaking beauty, English house sparrow. bluebirds have earned the love At least one of the species – and loyalty so many people Eastern bluebird, Mountain Like all birds, bluebirds need lavish on them. bluebird and Western water for bathing and drinking. bluebird – live in every state A bird bath situated in the except Hawaii. open to allow the birds to watch for enemies is ideal. This article was written by Thomas D. Patrick, President The Eastern bluebird is the Bluebirds eat insects and and Founder of the WindStar fruit. Don’t use lawn chemicals Wildlife Institute, a national, most common. Its range non-profit, conservation extends from the eastern if you want bluebirds. In the organization whose mission is seaboard west to the Rocky spring and summer, insects are to help individuals and families Mountains. their primary food. And insects establish or improve the are the only thing the young eat wildlife habitat on their While adult males are azure until they are almost ready to properties. blue with a white belly and red leave the nest. breast, juveniles have speckled For more information or for the breasts, like young robins. There are special feeders on name of a Master Wildlife the market designed for Habitat Naturalist in your bluebirds that hold insects, area, please contact: The Mountain bluebird spots the same intense blue feathers such as mealworms, where the WindStar Wildlife Institute above, but its breast and belly bluebird flies inside to feed. are a light blue. Bluebirds love berries which E-mail: As their name implies, are critical to their survival in Mountain bluebirds are found at the winter when insects are elevations above 5,000 feet as unavailable.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 5 A Plants Home