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OUTDOORS: Attracting backyard bluebirds

The Eastern bluebird is a welcome addition to any backyard. It is easy to attract and enjoy these colorful birds during the spring and summer months. (Special Photo: Laurie L. Schaerer)

The Eastern bluebird is a welcome addition to any backyard. It is easy to attract and enjoy these colorful birds during the spring and summer months. (Special Photo: Laurie L. Schaerer)

The increased activity of Eastern bluebirds is a certain sign that spring and summer nesting season has arrived. A member of the thrush family, the Eastern bluebird is commonly found throughout Georgia. Unlike other species of the thrush family, bluebirds regularly use cavities for nesting and readily take to man-made nest boxes.

The male bluebird is bright blue with a rust-colored breast and white sides and underparts. The female is a much paler blue than the male. Bluebirds inhabit both rural and urban areas, and open habitats such as gardens, parks, golf courses, orchards, roadsides and farms are preferred. Bluebirds are highly beneficial because they consume large quantities of insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and cutworms, all of which may be considered pests in certain situations.

Attracting bluebirds to your property is quite easy, but there are a few things to consider. Offering food, water and nest boxes will increase the likelihood of attracting these colorful and interesting birds to your area.

The first consideration is to determine if you have enough open area to support the bird’s natural nutritional requirements. Bluebirds are primarily insectivores, meaning they eat insects, insect larvae, etc. In fact, 60 to 80 percent of their diet comes from insects, though they also occasionally enjoy berries and suet from suet feeders. They do not often frequent seed feeders unless insects are present.

If you want to view bluebirds up close and personal, you can feed live mealworms either from a feeder specially made for serving up mealworms or out of any container that will keep mealworms in one place. Live mealworms can be purchased from online birding sites or directly from a local pet store. Freeze-dried mealworms are also readily available.

You will likely find much enjoyment watching bluebirds load up on as many mealworms as possible to feed their young. Many other species of birds that consume insects on a regular basis will be attracted to the mealworm feeding site as well. They, too, will become common visitors.

Fruit and berry trees are also welcome additions to the bluebird’s backyard habitat. Intersperse berry and fruit trees in open-area landscapes to provide additional forage opportunities. Dogwood, cedar, sumac, and bayberry are some species to plant where appropriate.

The next step is to evaluate your area for nesting habitat. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and utilize natural tree cavities and abandoned woodpecker holes. Make an inventory of “snags” (dead trees) on your property. You may already have natural cavities on site and be pleasantly surprised as to what is living there.

If you do not have natural cavities available, try putting up a nest box. Bluebirds readily take to man-made nest boxes. However, nest boxes need to be built according to specific dimensions. You can either build the bluebird box yourself (plans for bluebird boxes are readily available online and elsewhere) or you can purchase one from a hardware store or other bird-supply outlet. Mount bluebird boxes on a fence post or pole roughly 4 to 5 feet from the ground. If placing your box along a woodland edge, situate the opening toward open land. If possible, keep your nest box as far away from human disturbance as possible and include a reliable predator guard on the pole.

Bluebirds will make hundreds of trips back and forth from nesting material sites to their nest box. Providing nesting materials such as fine grasses, pine needles and dog hair (just to name a few) will further entice a pair of bluebirds to use your nest box. Place the collected nesting materials in an empty suet feeder or gather small bunches of nesting materials and place in the bark and crevices of a tree trunk. Before you know it, bluebirds will be setting up housekeeping.

Finally, do not forget to offer plenty of water. During the hot summer months, fresh clean water can become a scarce commodity for backyard wildlife. Although bluebirds get moisture from insects, fruits, and berries it is still a good idea to provide clean watering stations throughout your backyard.

If you plan and manage your property to meet the life requirements of bluebirds, then you will most likely have bluebirds as backyard neighbors. The presence of backyard bluebirds is always a pleasant warm-weather feature of any local landscape.