February is the time to start getting Bluebird nest boxes ready for the summer. Although in most parts of the country Bluebirds may, and often do hang around all year and use the nest boxes for nighttime huddling, as many as 6 or more snuggled in a box. February is when the males begin checking out and claiming boxes for the summer. Our daughter used to call those eager males the Bluebird real estate agents!
Bluebirds can and do bring real love and joy to us. There is an old saying they carry the blue of the sky on their wings. I like to say they have the magic to make every day, a Bluebird Day!
If you’ve never experienced the joy of Bluebirds nesting in a box you’ve put up for them, you’ve missed one of the sweetest treats a person can enjoy. They love their nest boxes and will reward you with much fun, tenderness and beauty. For over 20 years I had the pleasure of talking about on tours, and erecting and monitoring Bluebird Trails in PA State Parks when I served as a volunteer for the PA DEP. Oh the friends I made and the beautiful sights I saw. And the joy I had. That was some years ago, but her in VA I still maintain a Bluebird trail on our tiny spot of heaven.
Nothing much compares to the sweet sound of a male Bluebird singing his springtime tunes perched high on a branch or wire. Or the tender beauty of 5 little brand new naked babies snuggled in the nest box—or those same babies launching from the box a few weeks later on their first flight.
Friends, if you’ve never had the fun and thrills of welcoming Bluebirds into your world, I strongly encourage you to! It is really very simple. Nothing difficult or challenging about it.
There are really only a few basic guidelines that when followed will bring those sweet little beauties to you. The first bit of advice is, keep it simple. That’s important.
Now for the box, just a simple flat roofed box (about six inches tall and 4x6 size) with an inch and a half hole, no perch. Here is a picture of the plan I have used for over 35 years. Works like magic. I do recommend roughing up the inside of the front wall so the fledglings can get a toehold as they scurry up to launch. Also I make larger ventilation slots than the plan shows, just under the roof, on all four sides.
|Click on picture to enlarge - This is all you need! One six foot 1x6 per box! Simple and inexpensive! I'll bet I've made close to 1,000 of these over the years!|
Erect the boxes in wide open places at least 300 feet from woods, brush and buildings, on steel posts 4 to 6 feet from the ground. Closer to brush and buildings invite predators such as house sparrows and wrens, who will kill the mammas and babies on the nest.
If you are doing a trail, they need to be at least 350 feet apart—unless you also have Tree Swallows which are also a delight, then I recommend putting pairs of boxes. Two boxes about a foot apart every 350 feet. Tree Swallows and Bluebirds are great friends and Tree Swallows will defend both boxes.
|4 little Bluebird eggs in a nest of grass|
Monitor your boxes at least once a week. Keep a journal; you will delight in watching your broods grow! Yes it is okay to touch the eggs and nest, the Bluebirds don’t mind, and often sit right there with you. Best to do your monitoring early in the day, so your track is not there for predators to follow overnight. I once took part in a survey to monitor nest building and incubating and feeding and checked the boxes every hour in the daylight to record activity and nest construction. What a fascinating and learning time that was!
|4 little babies about 5 days old. Look at those tiny blue feathers!|
Clean your boxes after each batch of babies. You can usually count on 2 nests a year, but 3 is common and we’ve often had as many as 5! It takes about a week or 10 days to build the nest of soft grass or pine needles—though if in a hurry they will complete it a day or two! Another week to lay their 3 to 5 eggs, and about a week days to hatch. They will grow quickly and fledge in about 15 to 20 days. It can be great fun to sit and watch the busy parents feed their growing brood. I once placed a bowl of mealworms about 20 feet from the box and counted 50 trips to the box in half an hour!!
That’s about it. I hope you’ll give it try this year, you’ll love it. Takes little to no money, and the rewards are boundless! Feel free to ask me any questions and there are lots of books out there, and info on the internet ... But remember, “Keep it simple.”
You can find a wealth of information at THE BLUEBIRD SOCIETY OF PENNSYLVANIA
I hope you’ll discover Bluebird love, if you haven’t already.
Gitty Up, Dutch Henry