How to Attract Bluebirds

How to Attract Bluebirds: 8 Effective Tips

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Wherever you are in North America, you likely have at least one type of bluebird in your vicinity. Since these beautiful birds are said to bring happiness and good fortune, it’s only natural that you’d wish to attract them to your backyard or property!

But because bluebirds are less common and less dominant than other backyard birds, you need to know how to coax them to spend time in your garden where you can enjoy them.

The great news is that bluebirds can readily be attracted to backyards by offering them nest boxes, bird feeders, and the ideal local habitat.

In this article, I’ll be sharing the very best tips for attracting bluebirds to your backyard so that the bluebird of happiness can grace your garden every day.

How To Attract Bluebirds to Your Backyard

Install Bluebird Nest Boxes

Installing bluebird boxes (otherwise known as bluebird houses) is one of the very best ways to attract bluebirds to your property.

Not only that, but it will give you the rare chance to witness these fascinating birds build nests and raise their young.

Before people began making specially designed bluebird houses, their numbers were falling fast. Invasive birds like house sparrows and European starlings were stealing many of the bluebird’s natural nesting sites, and there were fewer ancient or dead trees around to make their nests in.

Since the 1970s, bluebird houses have had a huge impact in helping bluebird populations recover.

These specially crafted nest boxes have specific design features to deter house sparrows, starlings, and predators from entering.

To learn more about bluebird bird houses and where you find them, check out our dedicated buyer’s guide to bluebird houses here.

Open Up Your Garden & Provide a Hunting Perch

Bluebirds are primarily insectivores that enjoy hunting in places where there’s open space, short grass, and overhanging perching spots. This is especially true in spring and summer when insects are plentiful.

If you can create a backyard with an open layout where bluebirds can effectively hunt insects, you’re much more likely to draw them in.

Bluebirds like perching and catching insects from posts and tree branches that are between 5-30 ft off the ground, so if you have any shrubs or trees that they can use for hunting that’s perfect. If you don’t, you can create a specially dedicated bluebird perch!

Simply install a tall fence post in an empty, spacious place in your garden where there’s short grass and plentiful insects surrounding it. Adding a T-bar at the top of the post increases the perching area and may make it even more appealing to feeding bluebirds!

Choose Native Plants That Attract Insects

Since bluebirds rely on insects, grubs, and caterpillars to feed themselves and their young during the spring and summer, you need your backyard to be filled with insect life to support them.

The best way to encourage insects in your garden is to plant lots of native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. While pollinating insects will feed all types of flowers, many people don’t realize how selective insects are with the plants on which they can raise their young.

Most native insects will only lay their eggs on native plant species. This means if you have a garden full of exotic, foreign plants, there won’t be any caterpillars and grubs to feed the baby bluebirds.

Native wildflowers are an oasis of humming insects that will feed your bluebirds all summer long, and attract beautiful hummingbirds and butterflies, too.

Planting native shrubs and native trees that also provide berries for bluebirds during the fall and winter provides the best of both worlds…

Plant Berry Bushes and Fruit Trees

While bluebirds are chiefly insectivores during the warmer months, colder weather sees them turning their attention toward fruits and berries as important sources of food.

You can help bluebirds fuel up to survive cold winters by planting native berry bushes that fruit in autumn such as aronia, blackberries, grapes, cranberries, holly, dogwood, pokeweed, and viburnum.

Trees with autumn fruits such as culinary apples, crab apples, pears, late plums, Sorbus species, and hackberries will also be appreciated by these native birds.

Even if you don’t manage to attract bluebirds to your garden for nesting, planting trees and shrubs like these might help you to see these birds during the winter and fall.

Install Backyard Bluebird Feeders

Another way to help support bluebirds during the cold months is to install a purpose-made bird feeder.

The best food to feed bluebirds through the winter is mealworms and small quantities of dried fruits. You can buy mealworms fresh (live) or freeze-dried in pet stores, garden stores, and online.

Two notes of caution. One: Freeze-dried mealworms aren’t as enticing to bluebirds as fresh ones and must never be fed during the nesting season as they’re unsuitable for baby birds. Two: Dried fruits such as raisins should only be fed in moderation since they contain some of the highest concentrations of pesticides in any food.

While some people will simply mix in mealworms and dried fruit pieces onto their existing platform feeder, this isn’t the best feeding method.

Because other birds such as jays, cardinals, blackbirds, and robins can easily outcompete bluebirds, they’ll often polish off the bird food before your bluebirds have had a chance.

Specially-designed bluebird feeders are designed to keep mealworms within the feeder and limit the size of birds that can access the food so that larger birds don’t guzzle everything before the bluebirds have had a chance.

Check out our buyer’s guide to the very best bluebird feeders on the market here!

Install a Bird Bath

Eastern Bluebird pair sit in a bird bath

As well as nest boxes and bird feeders, you can also attract bluebirds to your backyard by offering them a source of water such as a garden pond or bird bath.

Bird baths provide a place for wild birds to bathe and drink from, and it can be tremendously rewarding watching them splashing about and washing in the clean water source that you’ve provided them.

Bluebirds tend to favor bird baths that feature running water, so choosing one with a fountain or some sort of water current will be more enticing for them.

Also, since bluebirds spend the winter in cold territories as far north as New York State, a bird bath with a heater can ensure a constant supply of fresh water when the surrounding water supplies are frozen solid. Freshwater provides better hydration to wild birds than snow because it doesn’t waste their body heat to melt it.

Just remember, if you do install a bird bath, you’ll need to keep it clean to ensure that it stays free of brown and green algae, as well as potential diseases.

To find out more about the different types of bird baths, check out our buyer’s guides to the very best bird baths and heated bird baths on the market.

Protect Bluebirds From Cats

I recently installed a bird box in my friend’s garden. Although she managed to attract many birds to her feeders in the winter, none of them volunteered to use the nest box. Why? We’re pretty certain it’s because she has three (highly acrobatic) cats.

Cats are notorious killers of songbirds, especially young birds, and are responsible for the loss of billions of birds in the USA every year. Believe it or not, cats are the number one cause of human-related mortality in birds, and bluebirds are included.

But there is an amazingly simple and effective way to prevent your pet cat from killing backyard birds. Bright cat collars, especially those with a bell are excellent for alerting local birds that a cat is hunting so they can get away in time.

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If your cat appears irritated by a bell, very large and colorful but silent ‘birdsbesafe’ cat collars are available. Just remember that these won’t help much for those who let their cats out at night, though!

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While I don’t think it’s fair to keep cats inside all the time, you might also consider letting your cat out less often when baby birds are fledging.

Make Your Garden Chemical-free

Every suggestion that I’ve given so far on attracting bluebirds is important and effective, but there is one more that is crucial for the long-term success of your wild bird haven: Going chemical-free.

Because little critters are so important for insectivores like bluebirds to thrive, you need your garden to be a sanctuary for insects, spiders, and other invertebrates throughout the year.

While adding native wildflowers, a garden pond, bug hotels, and log stacks are all important steps to encouraging a healthy insect population, they’ll have limited scope unless you’ve gone chemical-free.

Insecticides are the worst chemical for crippling insect populations and contaminating the food chain, but herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers can all damage insect populations, too.

Instead of resorting to pesticides, consider adding a garden pond to your backyard. Even a small one can host frogs, toads, newts, and dragonflies, all of which will help to control pests and keep your garden in a harmonious balance.

Attracting Backyard Bluebirds FAQs

How Many Types of Bluebirds Are There in North America?

There are three species of true bluebirds in the USA and Canada: eastern bluebirds in the central and eastern states, and western bluebirds and mountain bluebirds in the west.

You can attract all three bluebird species to your backyard feeders, bird baths, and nest boxes.

While there are other ‘blue birds’ like indigo buntings and blue jays, these belong to different families than true bluebirds.

Can I Attract Bluebirds to a Small Yard?

Bluebirds prefer large, open spaces to hunt for insects, but you may be able to attract them to a smaller backyard, too.

To do so, you’ll need to make your backyard as open as possible while retaining a perching place and areas that will support strong insect populations.

Follow some of the steps given above, and you might be soon enjoying bluebirds nesting, bathing, or feeding in your tiny garden!

What’s a Bluebird’s Favorite Food?

Ideally, bluebirds like to be able to forage their own varied diet from the wild. When they’re available, the best food for bluebirds are things like caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, moths, and even termites.

From a birdfeeder, however, there’s little doubt that the favorite bluebird food is live mealworms!

Where Do Bluebirds Nest in the Wild?

Bluebirds are cavity nesters, meaning they need some type of entrance hole or nesting cavity in which to build their nests.

In the wild, they would typically choose old or dead trees in which to build their nests, often with a natural cavity ready-drilled by a woodpecker.

How Large Should the Entrance Hole Be for a Bluebird Nesting Box?

Bluebird bird boxes should have an entrance hole of 1.5 inches (38mm) in diameter.

This is large enough for them to enter easily, but small enough to prevent European starlings and many types of nest predators like squirrels and raccoons.

What Do Bluebirds Build Their Nests From?

Bluebirds build their nests by weaving together grasses with other materials such as animal hair, feathers, and pine needles.

Some people like to help them out by hanging up bags of pine needles for them to use.

Are Bluebirds Endangered?

None of the three bluebird species in America are considered endangered by the IUCN, but they do need our help to recover and thrive.

Before people began putting up bluebird houses in the 1970s, their numbers were in serious decline. The bird box campaign has been a considerable success, and there’s little doubt that eastern bluebird numbers are increasing again.

The status of the western bluebird and mountain bluebird seems less certain, and the continuation of nest box installation will be critical for all three species to prosper in the future.

Where Should I Put a Bluebird Box?

Site your bluebird house at least 5 feet high on a post or tree in an open, sunny space that’s surrounded by short grass.

If possible, face your bird to the east, and avoid areas of brush or woodland.

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