Attracting Eastern Bluebirds to Your Garden

Many thanks to our guest author and co-op owner, Carol Stein for contributing this article.

Eastern bluebirds are my companions in the wee morning hours from February through June when the males serenade potential mates.  It’s not just romantic chatter – male blues will defend territory to the death against rival suitors.

~Healthy insects attract bluebirds.  Preferring a high protein diet, they don’t care for seeds or grains.  Healthy bluebird adults can stand to consume a poisoned insect occasionally, but their babies will almost certainly die if they’re fed even one poisoned bug.  

Twenty years ago there were clouds of Japanese beetles eating my grapevines, blackberries, roses, and even crepe myrtle flowers.  I tried sprays, traps, and the “two brick” method (Splat!!) to no avail.  Bluebirds came to my rescue after I stopped using chemical warfare.  I don’t recall the last time I spotted a Japanese beetle in my garden, except the dead ones blues feed their babies.

~ Provide nesting boxes.  Boxes should be mounted on a metal pole or a 4 x 4 inch wooden landscape timber set firmly into the ground.  Stability is important as bluebirds are cavity dwellers.  Their natural habitats were hollow trees, decaying wooden fence posts, barn rafters and the like.  “Modern farm methods” beginning over four decades ago laid waste to such things in the name of progress, thus destroying housing for all cavity-dwelling birds.  

~ Water.  A consistent source of fresh water in the form of birdbaths or a farm pond, lake or stream within a mile of the box is a must.  If you install a small pond be sure to add three or four goldfish to control mosquito larvae.  The fish can survive on algae and skeeter babies.  My 25-cent fish grew from tiny fingerlings to eight inches long in ten years.

~ Plants that provide cover, tall perches and food sources will encourage bluebirds to explore nesting boxes.  There’s a long list of suitable plants, but my personal favorites and the four species I selected to add to my landscape include:  American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana), Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), and Flowering crabapple (Malus species).  All four provide food when insects become scarce and are quite attractive as well.

Bluebirds are present in our area all year.  Their duller colors in winter keep them safe from the sharp eyes of predators, but they’re continually foraging for adequate food and water to sustain them all year.  They return to bluebird boxes for shelter and large numbers will huddle together inside the boxes on frigid nights to share body warmth.

Carol leads discussions about bluebirds in February and/or March every year at The Garden Hut on Old Honeycutt Road in Fuquay-Varina.  Sign up for monthly e-newsletters announcing upcoming Carol Stein’s Gardeners Forums and other classes and events. 

For more detailed information on attracting bluebirds, contact the North Carolina Bluebird Society or Bluebirders of Wake County.

[author] [author_info]Carol Stein is a master gardener, author and co-author of four gardening columns for The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina from 1998 until May of 2015.  She taught gardening, cooking and painting when she co-owned The Carolina School of Gardening in the 1990’s.  Now retired from newspaper deadlines, Carol has returned to her first passions, painting, sculpting, cooking, knitting and writing for pleasure.[/author_info] [/author]

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