Attracting Bluebirds: Tips and FAQs

It’s easy to see why so many people are interested in attracting bluebirds to their yard. We’ve got seven easy tips and answers to your questions.

It’s easy to see why eastern, western and mountain bluebirds are among the most beloved backyard visitors. With their gorgeous colors, musical voices and gentle habits, who wouldn’t want to welcome these beauties into the backyard? Attracting bluebirds can take some time and patience. But once you’ve won them over, they’ll bring their special bluebird pizzazz to any yard or garden.

Seven Tips for Attracting Bluebirds

attracting bluebirds

Bluebirds love mealworms!Pat Piercey

  1. Open it up. Bluebirds prefer open areas with low grass and perches from which they can hunt insects.
  2. Leave it alone. Dead trees provide important nesting and roosting sites for bluebirds and a whole host of other cavity-nesting birds. Leave dead trees standing (or leave dead limbs on live trees) when it’s safe to do so.
  3. Plant native. In winter, bluebirds add berries and other fruit to their diet, so planting trees and shrubs native to your area is a natural way to attract them.
  4. Just add water. A simple birdbath is often enough, but bluebirds are partial to moving water, so even a small fountain or dripper will make your water feature more enticing.
  5. Go chemical-free. Between spring and fall, a bluebird’s diet is mainly insects gleaned from the ground. Pesticides and other lawn chemicals are dangerous for birds that feed this way.
  6. Beware of roaming cats. Each year, cats kill millions of songbirds. Newly fledged nestlings are especially susceptible, so be a good bird landlord and keep your cats indoors.
  7. Offer mealworms. Feeding live mealworms can pose some challenges, but bluebirds find them irresistible, even eating them from people’s hands.

Bluebirds FAQ

attracting bluebirds

Build nest boxes to the right specifications. Don (dwsbas)

Is my yard a suitable habitat for bluebirds?
Bluebirds prefer open to semi-open areas. They feed mainly on insects, often watching from a low perch and then fluttering down to take bugs from the ground. A wide expanse of open, chemical-free lawn provides ideal habitat. A very small yard or one with little or no open space will probably not be suitable for attracting bluebirds to nest, but if you provide the right food, such as mealworms, you may still see them at your feeders.

What kind of nest box should I buy or build?
A number of good designs are available, but remember that you must be able to open the box for routine nest checks and maintenance. If you’re building your own, check with the North American Bluebird Society, nabluebirdsociety.org, for dimensions, and be sure to use a durable wood, such as cedar.

I see a new nest in my bluebird box, but I don’t see the parents. How can I tell if it’s a bluebird nest?
Here’s a quick guide to identifying the nests of some of the most likely species you’ll find in your bluebird nest box.

  • Eastern, mountain and western bluebird: cup nest made of fine grasses and sometimes pine needles; eggs pale blue (rarely pure white).
  • Tree swallow: cup nest of dried grass, always lined with feathers; eggs pure white.
  • House wren: nest made entirely of small twigs; eggs clear white, heavily speckled with reddish dots.
  • Titmouse: cup nest of roots, moss and dried leaves lined with hair, fur and scraps of string and cloth; eggs creamy white, speckled with small dots.
  • Chickadee: nest lined with moss, feathers, hair, rabbit fur and plant fiber; eggs white, evenly spotted.
  • Nuthatch: cup made with bark shreds, twigs, grasses, moss and feathers; eggs white, heavily speckled with pale-brown or purplish spots.
  • House sparrow: unkempt domed nest often with scraps of trash; eggs greenish white, splotched gray and brown.

What do I do about other birds using my bluebird boxes?
Bluebirds are cavity nesters. Instead of excavating their own nest holes, they use natural cavities in trees, abandoned holes made by woodpeckers, and man-made (and woman-made!) nest boxes. Several cavity-nesting birds will use bluebird boxes, which is fine as long as the nester is a member of a native species. (In fact, it’s illegal to remove the nest of any native species.) Nonnatives are a different story. House sparrows, for instance, are very aggressive competitors for nesting space and will even kill bluebirds and other natives. So if you’re not prepared to evict house sparrows, being a bluebird landlord may not be for you.

Where do my bluebirds go in winter?
Bluebirds disappear from many neighborhoods in winter, and it’s natural to assume that they’ve all gone south, but this may not be the case. Some regularly stay through the winter as far north as Oregon, the southern Great Lakes and New England. They may switch habitats, however, gathering in small flocks and moving into open woods or juniper groves where wild fruits and berries will keep them fed in the cold. During the winter, small groups may roost together at night in tree holes or in other shelters. This is one good reason to consider leaving your nest boxes up for the winter season – attracting bluebirds may be possible even in the winter.

Are bluebirds endangered?
Bluebird populations are directly linked to human behavior. In the early 20th century, loss of habitat and competition for nesting cavities with the more aggressive house sparrows and European starlings had the species in serious decline. Fortunately, humans came to the rescue when enthusiasts realized these beauties were in trouble. Building nest boxes for them became a popular hobby, and the species began to rebound. Populations are now much more stable—and with our continued support, there’s no reason bluebirds shouldn’t grace our lives for generations to come.

  1. Cindy Murray says

    This piece serves to inform both the novice and experienced birder. I’ll be using this information to attract western bluebirds to my property. Thanks!

  2. Glenda Y. Baker says

    Bluebirds are a blessing to me; they are so beautiful to me. They have become a great source of comfort . I am a 14 year cancer survivor. When I see them at their nest box or when they are eating meal worms from the tray feeder, I stop and think just how much GOD loves us to create such a beautiful creature for our enjoyment. Thank You.

  3. Kathy Schlegle says

    The past three years we have had bluebirds nest in our front yard. We have a house that faces east, there is a pond across the street and a cherry tree by the house. They raised two broods of young this year. I have some awesome pictures of them poking there heads out of the house and sitting on top of the house. I also pictures of them in the cherry tree when it was in blossom what a background to there blue color

  4. Jan says

    We’ve had Blue birds nesting in our house for several years. This year Sparrows were relentless. We cleaned out each Sparrow nest, but a male Sparrow stayed next to the house guarding it while waiting for a mate. When a Blue bird finally tried to move in the Sparrow almost killed it. My husband found the BB in the house bleeding and with few feathers left on its head. Needless to say we did not have a nesting pair this summer.
    What can we do next year to keep the Sparrows away???

    • Kathleen Kawakami says

      Make sure there are no perches on any nest boxes. Many people think that birds need a perch to enter a box which is not true. Perches make it easy for predators to gain access.
      A friend who monitors bluebird boxes for the BB society in the park near my house, and having problems with house sparrows invading, placed a piece of wood (with a hole) over the existing hole to deepen the entryway. There were wires on the outside surrounding this hole. I’ve seen the bb boxes with the setup and it seemed to work. I don’t think it kept the swallows out but I did not hear any reports of house sparrows in the boxes last year.

  5. Barbara Bowlen says

    After years of both good and bad luck with bluebirds, one tip I want to pass along is to place the house on a metal fence post covered with a plastic pipe. A baffle at the top is extra good protection from raccoon predation. If placed on a tree ants will attack the new babies. Good luck!! We’ve enjoyed decades of bluebirds right out our kitchen window.

  6. rebekah prettyman says

    I loved this article! I have been helping the bluebird population for over 20 years. Hubby builds their nest boxes. I whistle my special tune when I go out to feed them their live or freeze dried mealworms. In they come and so delightful, especially when the little one come in. I have many different birds, but they are my Bluebirds of Happiness!

  7. Elisabeth Penland says

    Stated in the article that bluebirds create a “cup nest made of fine grasses and sometimes pine needles”. My bluebirds use ONLY pine needles.

  8. Luanne Magee says

    Are bluebirds in the area of Temecula, Ca. We are in southern Riverside County. We have Mexican Blue Jays. Would they be compatable?

    • Brenda says

      Hi Luanne
      I live in the south part of Hemet, CA, not far from Temecula. I have bluebirds most of the year. I live on a golf course (Seven hills) that has a couple ponds. My daughter has a house in East Hemet which also has bluebirds. She lives in a regular neighborhood and has a birdbath.
      I’ve never seen bluejays at all where I live.
      I hope you get some bluebirds!

  9. Kathy says

    In your article you mentioned that bluebirds like open spaces … “Open it up. Bluebirds prefer open areas with low grass and perches from which they can hunt insects.”

    Well … I have a bluebird family this spring that is nesting in a house in my backyard that is full of trees! … their house is right underneath a large Palatka Holly here in NE FL … I was shocked when I checked the house one day and found a partially built nest … and then later saw Papa bluebird sitting on the roof! … From that day forward I see this young couple every day … we put up this house thinking wrens might use it but are thrilled a bluebird family chose it instead! … I have a very small piece of property in a small subdivision … we actually have two nesting bluebird couples on our property … one in the front yard and one in the back! Going to be exciting watching all this new life!

  10. Patty says

    I’d like to put out orange halves but, I have at least 8 squirrels coming to my tray feeders. If I put out orange halves will the squirrels eat them rather than the birds?

  11. Jackie says

    Hi, i just bought my house 2 yrs ago mostly because of the yard and trees. I’ve put up a blue bird nesting box and placed live mealworms out but to no avail. i get woodpeckers, hummingbird and other species but not them. How long will it take if they come at all?

  12. says

    We have had two pairs of bluebirds for about 3 years until this year. One of the bluebirds got killed on the road by our house and I don’t know where the other one went. I have a little birdbath by my back door where the birds take a bath every night. They are so fun to watch. They will rest on the phone lines over our driveway and dive down to get insects. We have cut 3 trees in your yard and they act like they don’t like it. The male will fly around where the cut trees were, occasionally perching on the stump.

  13. Paula Harris says

    I have a mail bluebird that constantly attacks my windows on my enclosed porch. I put a sun catcher on that window but now he is attacking the other windows. I have put blue painters tape on all my windows but that isn’t helping. I have closed my vertical blinds on the unscreened portion of the window but I have 10 other window above these and he is attacking them. Someone told me that he is probably seeing his reflection in the window and thinks it’s another male encroaching on his territory. I don’t want this poor thing to kill himself. Anyone have any suggestions? I really can’t afford 20 or so sun catchers.

    • Kathleen Kawakami says

      He is trying to rid himself of that “competition”. It is a seasonal thing. Once he finds a mate or the season winds down, he should stop. Other birds exhibit this behavior, too… Towhees, robins, mockingbirds, juncos, to name a few. When I was in Tennessee visiting a friend, I witnessed a female cardinal attacking her reflection in the side mirror on my friend’s car while parked in the driveway. My friend would place large rubber lizards on the frame near these mirrors to prevent them from pooping down her door. Of course, I forgot to do this one afternoon when I dropped her at work and was highly amused and baffled at this behavior coming from a female. I had to wash my friend’s car before I picked her up and never again forgot the lizards.

  14. Mike Ward says

    Why are most articles about birds so critical of cats? The solution isn’t keeping them indoors. The solution is feeding them. I live in a town with a lot of feral cats. I feed them every day. And they never eat my birds.

    • Gretchen says

      I have a neighbor with three very well fed cats that continually kill my birds. I caught one of the cats on top of my blue bird house trying to get to the chicks. That cat will see a bb gun in the near future.

  15. says

    Great article! Another tip: It’s very true that Bluebirds love live Mealworms which is a rather difficult and expensive food source. I found that mixing in some dried mealworms with the live worms got them hooked on the dried mealworms which are less expensive and easier to deal with. This winter (which was cold and snowy in NJ), I regularly put out dried mealworms in special mealworm feeders. The result was a flock of as many as 20 Bluebirds at a time. There are more Bluebirds nesting in my neighborhood than ever before. I gave nest boxes to my neighbors and they have Bluebirds nesting in their first year with a box.

    As mentioned, I leave boxes out all winter which were regularly used by the Bluebirds and the birds battled over which pair would be able to use the box closest to the mealworm feeder.

  16. Jane says

    I’ve had a bluebird box up for quite awhile & the stupid sparrows always use it. Just a few weeks ago I was so excited to see a blue bird in the tree close by & checking out the house. It’s been sitting in the tree singing for days now yesterday I saw the darn sparrows building in the house! Darn it I guess the chased the blue bird off! So mad don’t know what to do to chase them out! They don’t seem to be bothered by my 4 dogs!

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