Feeding bluebirds

Everybody would like to attract Bluebirds.  The fact is it is not difficult to attract Bluebirds and the single best way to do that is with a couple of nest boxes placed in good locations as we pointed out in last week’s blog.  We want to help you attract Bluebirds and enjoy the entire experience from courtship to nest building, egg laying to chick development, and finally fledging.

Besides the nest boxes planting native berry producing trees and shrubs, like Dogwood and Beautyberry for example, have a consistent source of water, and offering an appealing food source like live mealworms are things that will help.  Eastern Bluebirds feed primarily on insects and berries’ so feeding them is different than the way we feed other birds.  At The Wood Thrush Shop we have a great deal of experience feeding Bluebirds and would like to pass on our tips and tricks to help you have success and enjoy the activity as much as we do. 

In the spring when Bluebirds begin checking out a nest-box is the best time to begin offering the live mealworms.  Why?  Their need for nest boxes takes precedence during the breeding season and will bring them to your yard more predictably and reliably, and potentially for several months.  Feeding them then becomes a lot easier.    

 Caged type bluebird feeders help discourage larger birds from accessing mealworms.

Caged type bluebird feeders help discourage larger birds from accessing mealworms.

 We stock lots of simple tray and dish options that work well for feeding bluebirds.

We stock lots of simple tray and dish options that work well for feeding bluebirds.

 These small glass dish type feeders come in a veriety of styles such as hanging, garden stake, and pole mount.

These small glass dish type feeders come in a veriety of styles such as hanging, garden stake, and pole mount.

Once you see Bluebirds showing interest in a nest box be prepared to offer mealworms.  The type of feeder to use is really not very important.  My choice of feeder is a small clay dish which is placed on a large rock which is easily seen from the top of the nest-box, just a few feet away.  Platform type feeders tend to work very well, too.

Look for an opportunity to walk out to the feeder and offer a small amount of worms, maybe a dozen.  THIS IS IMPORTANT!  The key is to make sure the Bluebirds are there to see you make the offering. 

After placing the worms in the feeder walk away and watch.  In most cases you will have immediate success.  They fly right down to the dish and gobble them up.  I like to repeat this after they consume the first offering just to reinforce the process.  I repeat this little scene every time the opportunity arises over the course of the next few days or weeks.  Usually 4 or 5 times are enough for the Bluebirds to catch on to what you are doing.  If during that first offering they fly away do not leave the mealworms there.  The longer the worms are there the greater the likelihood that other birds, like Robins, Mockingbirds, or Starlings see them.  If they catch on to this offering feeding the Bluebirds will then become almost impossible, not to mention possibly creating enough conflict the Bluebirds may look elsewhere to nest. 

 Repeated successful feedings will help get you bluebirds on a "feeding schedule".

Repeated successful feedings will help get you bluebirds on a "feeding schedule".

When bluebirds show interest in your nesting box is the best time to offer food.

So, keep the offerings minimal until the Bluebirds really catch on.  Then you can increase the amounts of mealworms being offered as they raise their young.  Soon they will be waiting for you, or even seeking you out in your yard as I’ve experienced in the past.

TIPS For Feeding Bluebirds:

Ø  Offering mealworms when Bluebirds are not present is a sure way to feed a lot of other birds.  Wait until you see them before offering.

Ø  If birds that you do not want are getting the mealworms suspend offering the mealworms for a few days or more and start over using the suggestions we’ve outlined.

Ø  Bluebirds may partake of other foods like dried mealworms, suet, Bluebird nuggets (a type of suet), raisins, blueberries, chopped apple and grape.  Experiment and let us know your results.

Ø  Location is important.  Don’t try to feed them near birdfeeders or a place that gets a lot of bird traffic.  Feeding them close to their chosen nest box is easiest but do make sure you don’t let other birds in on the mealworms treat.  Some birds may become territorial over the food source and create conflict at the Bluebird box. 

Ø  Some people employ the method of making a sound, like whistling, while they offer the worms.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, Bluebirds will key in on the sound and associate that with the treat about to be given them.  I’m convinced that the Bluebirds we fed behind the store one year became familiar with the sound and sight of my truck arriving in the morning.  As soon as I would get out of the truck they would be landing on nearby perches waiting for me to enter the store and bring out worms.

Remember, Bluebirds will not become dependent on the mealworms but will simply take advantage while they are offered.  You can suspend feeding Bluebirds any time and not worry that they will starve.