Considered one of the first signs of spring, these birds are very beneficial to us, as they eat large quantities of insects, such as cutworms and grasshoppers, which can damage crops. These beautiful birds were once very common in the United States. However, over the last two centuries their numbers have diminished. As cavity nester, the bluebird’s search for a protected, closed-in space has become more difficult to find due to the use of metal fence posts, rather than wooden ones, and the aggressive competition by English sparrows and starlings for available nesting cavities. The use of pesticides has also scaled back the bluebird population.
Eight Steps to Attracting Bluebirds
Bluebirds make ideal tenants, as their needs are fairly simply. They will accept the most basic of housing, and they barter fairly for their rent by providing insect-eating services, and by delighting all with their interesting antics, beautiful song, and fabulous color.
1. Bluebirds can be found throughout Georgia, preferring habitat with scattered trees that are large enough to provide nesting cavities and shelter from storms. They usually avoid heavily forested areas.
2. Nesting between February and July, they usually begin to look for woodpecker holes and cavities, which they will clean out if necessary. When natural nesting sites are scarce, bluebirds will readily use nesting boxes.
3. Since bluebirds are territorial, your property will only support a limited number of bluebird pairs. They will usually not nest within 100 yards of each other.
4. Nest boxes should be attached to steel posts if possible. Seven-foot smooth steel fence posts work extremely well. Wooden posts allow predators to climb and access nest boxes more easily. If you do use wooden posts, predator guards can be attached.
* Don’t attach nest boxes to dead or dying trees within a forested area, unless you want to attract house wrens, chickadees, or nuthatches.
* The recommended height for bluebird houses is four to six feet from the ground. Face the front of the nest boxes in an easterly direction to avoid the hot afternoon sun from shining into the access hole. More important than this, face the box in a direction in which the young fledgling birds can reach a perch within 100 feet.
* Providing nesting materials is a strong factor in attracting nesting bluebirds, since collecting nesting materials can take hundreds of trips. Bluebirds prefer soft, dry grasses, pine needles, small twigs, hair, and feathers as nesting material to build their deep, cup-shaped nest. Provide these nesting materials by placing in either an empty suet cage, or simply gathering the material and tucking into the bark of a tree.
5. Bluebirds are attracted to water. They like to bathe nearly every day, so provide fresh water in a birdbath, no more than two inches deep. Add flat rocks to create varying depths and secure footholds. Locate the bath near tree branches, as it gives bluebirds a chance to look it over from their perch.
6. Sixty to 80% of a bluebird’s diet is insects. Therefore, provide perches in and around your property. Dead tree limbs, fence posts, fence wires, and garden stakes will improve foraging opportunities.
7. Plant scattered fruit and berry trees, mixed with open lawn and herbaceous flowerbeds to make an excellent habitat. Bluebirds enjoy the berries and fruits of dogwood, red cedar, sumac, bayberry, Virginia creeper, holly, blueberry, serviceberry, and elderberry.
8. You can also offer chopped fruit and peanut kernels on a platform feeder, as they do not typically visit seed feeders. Mealworms are also exceptional.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.