A FALL PROJECT – PUTTING UP A BLUEBIRD BOX
Bluebirds are small beautifully colored thrushes that once were as common as robins in the north. They are cavity nesters and their numbers have declined greatly as competition for nesting sites increased from starlings and house sparrows, as well as habitat loss, removal of dead tress, and the shift from wooden to metal fence posts. Recently their numbers have begun to bounce back with the placement and maintenance of artificial nest boxes in an appropriate habitat. A series of boxes can be grouped into a “bluebird trail” as long as they’re spread about 100 yards apart as this is their feeding territory.
Bluebirds will return to the same nesting site year after year, and will usually raise 2 or more broods every year – thereby increasing the local population greatly. I’ve had the good fortune to maintain a trail of about 18 boxes on a friend’s dairy farm and around my home when I was living in NJ. On return visits the bluebird population is still abundant, and it was no problem to encourage others to maintain the boxes every year.
Florida has excellent bluebird habitat! The reason for this has to do with their feeding habits. Bluebirds will perch on a fence or telephone wire, or a tree and feed by sight on ground crawling insects. Hence the boxes need to be located nearby to areas of short grass – for example cow pastures, golf courses, orange groves, alongside country roads, etc. Back yard lawns will do as long as there are available trees or fences to perch on.
Boxes need to be placed about in the open about 4 – 8 feet above the ground. Fence posts, telephone poles, or their own post will do nicely. Trees are generally not a good site as they will attract other birds such as wrens. An excellent website for further information is the North American Bluebird Society at www.nabluebirdsociety.org. There you can find plans for several types of approved nestboxes listed under “bluebird facts”. I prefer the Eastern or Western Bluebird Nestbox for its simplicity and ease of construction. Be sure to check out “predator control” in this section as raccoons can wreck havoc with the nestlings. I’ve tried the “Noel Guard” listed under “Entrance Hole Guards” this past year with good success. If you wish to buy a ready made bluebird box the critical dimensions are an entrance hole of exactly 1 ½ inch (smaller no good and larger will admit starlings), and an interior floor of 5 x 5 inches.
Bluebirds begin nesting as early as February – April for the first brood and will raise a second or even a third brood during their nesting season. After this, they will form loose family groups in search of food and may winter over if there is an available food source – usually berries. It’s never too early to get your box(es) up as these family flocks will move through while foraging. They’ll inspect the box only to return and use them when nesting season arrives. I’m planning a ‘bluebird trail’ of several boxes on the telephone poles bordering an active cow pasture on my road and a friends cattle ranch this fall.
Bluebirds are the most pleasant and beautiful backyard companions! Good luck and talk to me if you need any advice.