Eastern Bluebirds are one of the most well-known and popular of North American birds. Although precious and peaceful-looking, bluebirds are actually fierce and fearless, as well as a great entertainment to watch! The way the males carry on demonstrations to attract females; the way they build their nests together by carrying pine needles, grasses and hair, and stray feathers into the nesting box; the way the male brings insects and worms to his mate and how they protectively chase off other birds attempting to perch nearby their nests, the way hatchlings will leave the nest within 21 days, only for the parents to begin another brood. Bluebirds stay very busy!
Solution to the Problem
Their numbers were seriously declining in the 1960's because of lack of suitable nesting places due to urbanization and loss of forest. But they are making an astonishing comeback thanks to citizens that began installing bluebird nest boxes on poles and fence posts across farm fields, along highways and in neighborhood yards. They called these installations along the eastern half of the United States "Bluebird Trails." Bluebird trails on golf courses have become very popular actually.
Bluebirds prefer open habitat with sparse undercover. In Houston, they are found in our more rural areas. But you can help our native cavity-nesting birds and watch them from your own backyard by installing a nestbox on your property, and helping to provide their food source (insects, worms, berries of native plants).
To a great extent, bluebird populations are limited by the lack of cavities that are necessary for them to raise their young. You can provide for that need, and attract bluebirds, with a nestbox. Build them. Buy them. Make them out of wood or old logs or even tin cans. Go ahead and get it installed now!
The Texas Bluebird Society provides detailed info on Nestbox plan types proven to be the most durable in our hostile Texas environment and that are easy to work with.
When Should I Install a Nestbox?
The answer on this question is always "now". But in general, fall and winter are great times to install a nestbox. Some birds will begin active nest site selection in January. But you can still install one throughout the month of March and as late as early April when breeding begins. If you don't attract the birds this year, then the birds will see it in the next winter and may use it for roosting on cold winter nights. By next January they will begin claiming nestboxes.
Where is the Best Placement of a Bluebird Nestbox?
Whichever method you choose to install your boxes, be sure that they are secure enough to withstand high winds and severe weather. The best way to put up small nest boxes is on free-standing metal poles or PVC pipes (harder for predators to climb), or on a fence line. Place bluebird boxes 4’ to 6’ above the ground. Bluebirds will tolerate a shaded box but usually choose fairly open areas interspersed with trees and shrubs. They collect grass usually for nests, and actually tolerate noises quite well such as lawnmowers. Take precaution so that the nestboxes are not bumped with the mower. Some have noticed bluebirds following along behind a mower to catch the insects that are stirred up.
How often should you clean out Nestboxes?
The most prevalent school of thought is that nests should be cleaned out each time the young fledge (meaning the young have grown big enough to leave the nest). Atleast one time a year when the nestbox is unoccupied, check to see if you have an old the old nest from last year and remove it. You will know it's an old nest if the nesting material, like grass, is a brownish color much like silver tarnish. The grass may also be matted down if babies fledged last summer with bird fecal matter strewn about. However if a pair of bluebirds this year have already started nesting, then leave it be.
Note: Garden pesticides may harm bluebirds that eat the poisoned insects or may eliminate some of the insects that bluebirds depend upon. You may consider not spraying pesticides around your flower beds and shrubs.