I welcome any sign that spring is near. One of those signs is seeing the first bluebird of the season. Anyone who has ever seen one knows the feeling of surprise and joy that accompanies a bluebird sighting. Since they are not overly shy of humans and nest and feed in open areas, bluebirds are some of the easiest birds to watch and learn about.
Bluebirds are territorial so once you’ve seen them in an area, odds are good that you’ll be able to visit and observe them on a regular basis. Those with a large lawn or property adjacent to open fields can attract their own resident bluebirds to enjoy on a daily basis during spring and summer. I am lucky to be able to host a pair of bluebirds, and the little effort needed to attract them to your yard is amply rewarded by the color and liveliness they add to the little bit of the world we call our garden.
The easiest way to lure bluebirds to your property is to provide bluebird-nesting boxes. If you would like plans for building a bluebird-nesting box, go to the NYS Bluebird Society webpage. If you purchase a bluebird box, all you need to know is where to mount it to attract bluebirds.
Your bluebird box should be mounted on a metal post. Mounting on trees is not advised, since it may allow predators to gain access to the box. Your bluebird-nesting box should be mounted with the bottom a minimum of 3’ from the ground. 4’ to 5’ is considered optimal. In our cold climate, the box should be mounted with the entrance facing southeast, away from our colder prevailing wind. Since bluebirds hunt for insects in lawns and meadows, it’s best to locate your box adjacent to these open areas. To help fledglings survive, try to place your boxes where there is a fencepost or tree within 100’ of the entrance hole. This will give young bluebirds an easy, safe perch to reach on their first flight from the box.
Since bluebirds are territorial, nesting boxes should not be placed closer than 300’ apart. If you have swallows in your area, they may compete with bluebirds for nesting boxes. In this situation, it may be necessary to place two boxes 5’ to 15’ apart. The swallows will occupy one box, leaving the other available for the bluebirds. Since bluebirds are on the increase in New York State, properly placing nesting boxes on your property is very likely to attract younger pairs of bluebirds with the possibility that they and their offspring will return to your area year after year.
To lure nesting bluebirds to your area, have your nesting boxes up as early in spring as possible. As soon as the bluebirds return to the area in March, they’ll start investigating possible nesting sites. If all goes well, you’ll have a nice clutch of eggs by early May.
After that, it is simply a matter of keeping the boxes clean and safe. In fall or early in spring before the bluebirds arrive, the nesting box should be cleaned out. Remove any old nesting material and then scrape out dirt and debris with a putty knife or wire brush. Old nesting material should not be left on the ground near the nest but removed from the area to prevent parasites that can harm baby bluebirds in the nest. Washing out the nesting box with a spray of 1/10 bleach/water will sterilize the box, and it is ready for the season.