Bring on the Blues by Anita Harris, Hunt County Master Gardener.
It’s easy to see why bluebirds are among the most treasured and beloved backyard visitors. With their brilliant colors, musical voices and gentle habits who wouldn’t want to entice these beauties into their backyard? These harbingers of spring always bring a welcome case of the “blues”.
Not only are bluebirds endearing symbols of happiness, peace and hope, they also play a vital environmental role. With a diet consisting mostly of insects, bluebirds help control harmful pests and reduce the need for pesticides in the environment. No other species of birds can be viewed as closely and intimately as bluebirds with their entire life cycle observable in 45 days.
More bluebirds winter in East Texas than anywhere else in the United States, and Wills Point Texas has been designated the Bluebird Capital of Texas. Each April the popular Bluebird Festival is held there. Did you know birding is the #1 sport in America with some 53 million birders?
It is much easier to attract bluebirds to your backyard than one might think. Here are my top 8 tips to help you “bring on the blues”:
Timing: Boxes should be out by the first week of February. Blues build nests, lay eggs and raise young from late February to mid September. They often mate for life, and return to the same nesting area each year.
Location: The ideal habitat would be an open, or semi-open wide expanse of chemical-free lawn close to a water source.
Food : Much to the delight of gardeners, bluebirds devour large masses of crickets, snails and grasshoppers. In winter berries and some fruit are added to their diet. Sumac, cedar berries and mistletoe are locally available nutrition sources. Mealworms can also be provided both as a supplement during hard times and a treat.
Housing: As cavity nesters, bluebirds will readily move into a birdhouse on the edge of a field or open lawn. Ready- made bluebird boxes can be purchased for less than $15 at local discount stores. For do-it-yourselfers, the Texas Bluebird Society website provides box designs with detailed mounting instructions. Remember all nest boxes should have a door that easily opens for monitoring.
Monitor: If you put up a nest box, you should monitor it. What exactly is monitoring? On a regular basis, you peek inside a nest box – or you watch the activity around the box to see how its residents are doing. Regular monitoring is critical for backyard boxes because of the risk of house sparrows claiming the bluebird boxes or interfering with their nesting.
Water: Bluebirds regularly use birdbaths to drink and bathe. If the water is moving and splashing you’re more likely to entice them.
Control: Sparrows and barn swallows may try to nest in the bluebird boxes. If this happens, remove their nests and cover the opening with duct tape and leave it on 3-4 days then remove it. Bluebirds usually return within a few days and begin nest building.
Protect: Cats kill millions of songbirds each year, so be vigilant and keep cats indoors to protect newly fledged nestlings that are especially vulnerable.
Hosting bluebirds to your yard offers the homeowner a unique opportunity – the ultimate hands-on, up-close-and-personal experience in wildlife conservation. There is no better way for your children to explore the delights of the natural world and learn about its intricacies than to teach them to care for their bluebird charges. Good luck and go get the blues!