Attract nesting bluebirds to your yard

March 30, 2017

Female bluebird (left) has a cricket ready to feed her offspring as her mate, the male looks on. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Bluebirds are very energetic birds. If you enjoy watching wildlife in your yard, now is a fantastic time to put up a few bluebird houses. You might gain hours of entertainment watching all the hard work these small birds put into gathering materials to build nests and gather food to feed their chicks.

March is when bluebird nest-building begins in the Panhandle. Believe it or not, these enterprising birds are likely to continue building nest after nest from now through July or even August!

The reason we can observe bluebirds more closely than many other birds is because they prefer to nest in cavities situated in open, sunny locations. These birds readily use nest boxes because natural cavities in clearings are quite scarce.

If you’re considering putting up a nest box to attract bluebirds, be aware that these birds are rather fussy when it comes to selecting nest boxes. They prefer structures that are approximately 4”x4”x9” or 5”x5”x9”. These structures could be rectangular, cylindrical, or wedge-shaped. It’s best if the entrance hole is 1.5” in diameter, and located about 5” above the floor of the box. Each house should be mounted on a pole 4-8’ above the ground.

UF/IFAS tested bluebird preferences for 3 types of houses: the traditional rectangular wooden house (left), the Gilbertson (cylindrical house of PVC, center), and Peterson (wooden wedge-shaped, right).

UF/IFAS Extension have been conducting an experiment the past few years to determine which of three common nest box designs local bluebirds prefer. The three types of houses we tested were:

  • traditional wooden rectangular house (4”x4”x9”)
  • Gilbertson (cylindrical houses made of a PVC tube with a wooden floor and roof)
  • Peterson (wedge-shaped houses made of wood and covered in metal, with a sloping floor and roof).
  • We put up 18 houses during the summer of 2013 and have been keeping track of the number of nest attempts, eggs laid, and chicks fledged ever since. The ambitious birds using these 18 houses have fledged 124 chicks during the past three years! The standard rectangular wooden houses have performed best, with bluebirds laying an average of 8.3 eggs per house per year, and fledging 4.3 chicks per house per year. The other two house types performed similarly, with bluebirds laying an average of 4.3 eggs per house per year in each. An average of 2.4 chicks fledged from each of the Gilbertson houses each year, whereas 1.8 chicks fledged from each of the Peterson houses each year.
  • Regardless of which type of house you choose to put up for bluebirds, be sure to place the houses at least 100 yards apart. These birds are very territorial and will not allow other bluebirds to nest nearby.

Click here to find bluebird box assembly instructions.

Bluebird eggs. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Cool facts about bluebirds:
 It takes 14 days to incubate, and 17 days to fledgling after hatching.
The male Eastern Bluebird displays at his nest cavity to attract a female. He brings nest material to the hole, goes in and out, and waves his wings while perched above it. That is pretty much his contribution to nest building; only the female Eastern Bluebird builds the nest and incubates the eggs.
 Eastern Bluebirds typically have more than one successful brood per year. Young produced in early nests usually leave their parents in summer, but young from later nests frequently stay with their parents over the winter.
Eastern Bluebirds occur across eastern North America and south as far as Nicaragua. Birds that live farther north and in the west of the range tend to lay more eggs than eastern and southern birds.
 Eastern Bluebirds eat mostly insects, wild fruit and berries. Occasionally, Eastern Bluebirds have also been observed capturing and eating larger prey items such as shrews, salamanders, snakes, lizards and tree frogs.
The oldest recorded Eastern Bluebird was 10 years 5 months old.

Information courtesy Holly Ober, UF/IFAS Extension holly.ober@ufl.edu