This small but vocal bird is endemic to North America, found primarily between southern Canada and northern Mexico. They nest in trees and migrate up into Alaska during winter months, where they return south in search of food. These feathered travelers have also been known to stop over at ponds and lakes along their journeys.
The name “eastern” refers to the fact that bluebirds prefer habitats farther north than other members of the family. In addition, this type of bluebird prefers cooler temperatures, which makes sense considering how cold Alaskan winters tend to get. And while we don’t see as much of them as we do the western bluebird (Cyanocorax caeruleus), when we do encounter flocks of eastern bluebirds, we notice because of their loud songs and large numbers.
So what exactly attracts eastern bluebirds? Is it something about our own backyard environments that make us so irresistible to these creatures? Find out on the next page.
- Eastern Bluebird Tips
- 1) Maintain your property
- 2) Plant native plants
- 3) Keep cats indoors
- 4) Leave windows open in winter
- 5) Don’t feed them
- 6) Use birdbaths instead of suet cakes
- 7) Make sure you’re prepared for their migration
- 8 ) Catch the eye of females
- 9) Get their attention before feeding birds
- First, plant the correct plants.
Eastern Bluebird Tips
While migrating through forests near lakes and rivers, the female will lay her eggs in cavities within dead branches of trees and shrubs. Once all the eggs have been laid, she’ll then cover them with mud and leaves to keep predators at bay. When the little ones hatch, the chicks will remain hidden inside the cavity until they become able to fly. After hatching, the young fledge around 10 days after birth.
But perhaps most interesting about the eastern bluebird is not only why they travel thousands of miles every season, but how they find their way home again. It turns out that the same instincts that help guide animals like deer, bears, hawks and eagles work just as well for the tiny songbirds.
A few years ago scientists discovered that the birds use a process called’magnetic orientation’ to navigate themselves back to familiar areas. It works kind of like compasses used by ships, except instead of using magnetic fields, the birds rely upon Earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves. We know that migratory birds often follow certain routes due to wind patterns and temperature changes, however, researchers believe that this new method is another reason why these birds move across state lines without any real problems.
In addition to following their natural urges, it seems that humans play a part in attracting these birds too. One study showed that people who planted flowers in their yards were likely to attract migrating birds. Another experiment proved that simply having human structures nearby increases the likelihood of seeing these colorful, noisy visitors.
For example, if you put up a tree house, create a pond or install a water feature, eastern bluebirds will probably show up sooner rather than later. If you’d like to further encourage these birds to call your yard home — even if you live hundreds of miles away — here are some helpful hints on maintaining and beautifying your backyard landscape.
1) Maintain your property
Keep weeds trimmed down, especially those growing under trees and bushes. Also consider planting native wildflowers in flower beds and borders throughout your garden. Many varieties of native plant bulbs produce edible blossoms and berries that provide important nutrients to both the soil and local wildlife. Additionally, adding mulch helps retain moisture, keeps bugs off leaf surfaces and discourages weed growth. Finally, take care of lawn maintenance by keeping mowing height low, limiting fertilizer application and watering thoroughly. All of these actions should reduce insect populations and deter rodent infestations. By doing so, your yard becomes less hospitable to invasive species and provides homes for native birds looking for places to raise families.
2) Plant native plants
Native plants may offer benefits similar to those offered by mulched groundcovers. Native plants support beneficial insects and discourage harmful pests; therefore, planting native vegetation encourages healthy ecosystems. Additionally, many types of native plants supply nectar and seeds to pollinators and seed dispersal agents like squirrels, chipmunks and birds. So choose wisely!
3) Keep cats indoors
This tip applies mostly to homeowners living in colder climates. Cats enjoy hunting and killing smaller birds, mice, snakes, lizards and frogs. To control cat predation, try installing motion detection cameras around perimeters of your gardens and houses. Or better yet, confine outdoor pets to enclosed spaces whenever possible. Your pet won’t go hungry, and you’ll protect your feline friend from being attacked by predators. On top of that, indoor/outdoor dog fences are available for pet owners concerned about protecting their dogs against coyotes.
4) Leave windows open in winter
To attract eastern bluebirds, leave your window screens open in winter months. During late fall and early spring, eastern bluebirds need access to short periods of sunlight. Therefore, opening curtains and blinds on upper floors of buildings allows enough light to enter rooms to stimulate activity levels of breeding males. Birds will typically begin singing outside of dawn and dusk hours, but if you want to increase sightings of these birds, keep your shades drawn once daylight savings time begins.
5) Don’t feed them
It goes without saying that feeding wildlife can cause conflicts with neighbors and laws. Still, it doesn’t seem right to deprive songbirds of sustenance when they’ve traveled so far only to end up starving. While bluebirds aren’t picky eaters, they prefer foods high in protein and fats. Feeding them table scraps isn’t going to give them anything worthwhile. Instead, try providing mealworms, crickets, worms, peanut butter and millet mixed together in a shallow dish. Other suggestions include offering fresh fruit and vegetables, breadcrumbs, fish, birdseed mixes, cheese cubes and fat strips of bacon among other options.
6) Use birdbaths instead of suet cakes
Birdbaths are great ways to introduce eastern bluebirds to neighborhoods and city parks. Suet cakes, made from animal drippings, are popular offerings for wild birds, but studies suggest that suet cake consumption causes nutritional deficiencies in birds, resulting in weaker immune systems. Furthermore, suet cakes attract rats, raccoons and other larger mammals. Opt for drinking bowls filled with sand and pebbles, or plastic dishes containing dried corn kernels. Avoid hanging feeders since they pose safety hazards.
7) Make sure you’re prepared for their migration
If you’re really lucky, you could witness dozens of eastern bluebirds gathering en masse in front of your porch steps. Usually, though, you’ll spot groups consisting of fewer than five individuals. That means you must prepare yourself ahead of time for the possibility of encountering these birds. Try setting out birdhouses and feeders several weeks earlier than usual. You can purchase nesting boxes and hang them on trellises attached to the side of your house. Hang feeders higher than 4 feet above ground level and place them strategically around your property. Some experts recommend placing feeders 1 mile apart to ensure maximum success rates.
8 ) Catch the eye of females
During mating seasons, lure females onto your property using artificial plumes. Be creative and figure out different designs based on the color and texture of feathers. Plume materials can be purchased online or at hardware stores.
9) Get their attention before feeding birds
When putting out feeders, watch for active male and female eastern bluebirds coming toward them. Approach the flock when the birds are close to land and startle them gently with a stick. Wait 20 minutes, then put out your feeder. Repeat this action 3 times daily. Remember to clean the area afterward.
So now that we understand why they come to us, let’s talk about how to draw them to your yard:
First, plant the correct plants.
Bluebird habitat includes deciduous trees, bushes and grasses. Second, make sure that you maintain your lawn properly. Thirdly, pay special attention to any flower beds in front of your property, including vegetable plots. Lastly, don’t forget to look at the weeds around your fence. All of these things provide food sources for the birds. Once again, never underestimate these guys. They really enjoy hanging around water, whether it’s a pond, stream, lake, etc., so build a bridge or dam if you have to block a body of water.
We said earlier that females generally lay eggs every few days or weeks. When they hatch, males usually tend to stick around until the young ones grow up enough to fend for themselves. However, sometimes older male adults will remain with the family unit until springtime.
Afterward, he’ll typically move onto another territory and mate with several different women. Females, on the other hand, usually return to the same spot each season. Now, if you happen to live in colder climates, you may want to wait until springtime to put together some bridges/dams to protect your pond(s) since ice tends to form in winter. Otherwise, though, it shouldn’t hurt to create some obstacles to deter predators (i.e. raccoons, otters).
As for feeding them, they prefer nectar from various types of flowers, as well as sugary fruits and seeds. Don’t forget to check inside tree branches to see if they contain anything worth collecting.
Lastly, you might think that getting rid of unwanted visitors such as squirrels, cats, dogs, hawks, owls, eagles, snakes, and foxes would harm the environment, but actually having them around protects the bluebirds from becoming prey. For example, if a hawk were to swoop down toward one of them, she’d definitely turn her back on him and fly away. On the contrary, the hawk wouldn’t dare touch her because she knows better. She’d simply chase her off rather than risk losing her life trying to catch her.
When it comes to nesting, they often dig tunnels underground, making holes specifically designed to accommodate their eggs and chicks. Sometimes they’ll construct aboveground structures instead, depending upon what kind of climate they live in. Their preferred materials include dry straw, leaves and bits of dried moss.
Some experts recommend using old newspapers since paper acts as insulation. Then add a bit of shredded newspaper and place the structure next to the hole. Finally, cover everything with a layer of mud. Nests should be located approximately 12 inches below ground level and 3 feet apart. Remember that sunlight plays a huge role in helping the babies develop normally. Therefore, avoid placing them beneath trees with large canopy coverage. You should also be careful not to disturb the site during rainy periods. Your local Audubon Society should be able to suggest some great locations for creating a nest box. Be aware that many states require homeowners to obtain permits to set up these types of shelters.
Now that you’ve learned about how to attract bluebirds, here are some helpful hints to ensure your success.
Tip 1: During warm months, keep your pond filled with fish and offer them protein-rich crickets and mealworms. Birds love crunchy foods. Another idea is to mix up some catfish pellets with cornmeal and feed them to your pet mice.
Tip 2: To encourage the growth of aquatic vegetation, sprinkle leaf mold and fertilizer throughout the bottom of your pond. Additionally, you can add some edible floating devices called duckweed. Since ducks spend considerable amounts of time wading in water, these green balls act as natural stepping stones for the mallard drakes. Besides providing both nutrients and shelter for animals, they absorb toxins and nitrogen compounds in the air, thus reducing algae blooms. Floating cork pads serve as weed barriers and allow oxygen to circulate underneath.
Tip 3: As mentioned earlier, birds don’t like to visit places that are surrounded by thick foliage. If possible, remove dead brush and fallen twigs from around your property, particularly the parts surrounding your pond. You should also trim your trees’ limbs away from the shoreline.
Tip 4: There are lots of ways to scare away pesky racoons. One method is to stuff strips of chicken wire vertically along the perimeter of your property. Cut holes for the wires so that raccoons can climb through — but not enter. Next, pour hot asphalt tar directly against the wire. Raccoons hate the smell and will soon abandon the area.
Tip 5: Many people assume that adding chemicals to their swimming pool kills mosquitoes, but that’s not necessarily true. Only certain kinds of insecticides kill adult mosquitos, yet larvae thrive regardless. Plus, chemical treatments can cause skin irritation and rashes on humans, so it’s safer to rely on mechanical methods. Spray lagoons with pesticides to control mosquito populations. Or you can try sprinkling diatomaceous earth powder along the edge of pools and spas. Diatomaceous earth is naturally occurring silica gel created millions of years ago by microscopic organisms living in oceans and lakes. Although it’s used widely to prevent infestation of worms, flea beetles, grubs, snails, slugs, and aphids, some environmentalists believe it poses no danger to human beings. Simply sprinkle it along the surface of your body of water.
Tip 6: Using gravel traps at entrances to yards keeps rodents away from garbage cans, compost piles, trash containers, birdfeeders and outdoor kitchens. Place the traps flush with the ground, and then bury them deep enough so that animal burrows won’t reach the bait. Rodents will chew on the trap and die, but their carcasses will eventually float upward and become part of the decomposition process.
Tip 7: Before putting up new birdhouses, ask neighbors if they’d mind sharing information about the location. People tend to gossip about others, so word travels fast.
Tip 8: Birdhouses must be placed high enough to discourage birds from flying away. Ideally, they should be hung about halfway up a tree branch. Alternatively, you can buy feeders that attach to low branches. Other options include metal cages, wooden platforms, chimneys, porches and sheds.
Tip 9: Bluebirds are very territorial, so don’t bother putting feeders up within 100 feet of your neighbor’s property. Also, never allow pets near birdhouses unless they’re trained to stay indoors.
Another thing to keep in mind is that bluebirds are sensitive to harsh weather conditions. In fact, the National Audubon Society estimates that approximately 15% of all bluebirds perish during severe cold seasons. Therefore, you should place your feeders in sheltered spots where they won’t freeze.