bluebird feeder

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 previous blogs. (Click here for tips on bluebird box placement.) 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, having 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 very 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. We really don’t think presenting mealworms before Bluebirds are seen is a good strategy. In other words it is not likely to attract them. All you are doing is presenting this very desirable food source to a lot of other birds.

The best time to begin offering live mealworms is when Bluebirds begin consistently checking out a nest-box. 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 after they have found a nest-box.

Seeing Bluebirds perched on top of the box and carrying nest material is a great time to offer mealworms.

Seeing Bluebirds perched on top of the box and carrying nest material is a great time to offer mealworms.

Bluebirds will often cling to the front of the box and look in when interested in a nesting sight.

Bluebirds will often cling to the front of the box and look in when interested in a nesting sight.

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 is 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 these birds 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.

Both Mockingbirds and Robins share the same food preferences as Bluebirds and being bigger birds will vigorously defend a food source like mealworms. If you slip up and allow larger more aggressive birds to compete for the worms we suggest a reset. Stop putting out worms for a week or two and begin the process again. Better to be patient than to create an adverse situation.

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 anticipating the offering, or even seeking you out in your yard as I’ve experienced in the past.TIPS For Feeding Bluebirds:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Some people employ the method of making a sound, like whistling, while they offer the worms. Bluebirds will key in on the sound and associate that with the treat about to be given them. Its simple conditioning. 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 be adversely affected.

Domed feeders can be adjusted to help discourage larger birds.

Domed feeders can be adjusted to help discourage larger birds.

Bluebird feeders can be any small dish or tray. however I would not put this many mealworms out at one time.

Bluebird feeders can be any small dish or tray. however I would not put this many mealworms out at one time.

Barrier type feeders will limit the size of bird that can feed. These feeders may take longer to train your birds to use.

Barrier type feeders will limit the size of bird that can feed. These feeders may take longer to train your birds to use.

……Next week Spring visitors are coming! We will outline some of the more notable feeder birds you may see.

Product Profile: Extended Reach Poles

erva long reach poles.jpeg

Ever try putting your squirrel proof feeder on a shepherd’s pole just to find out that it isn’t as squirrel proof as it should be? It’s not the feeder but it is the wrong pole that’s the problem. A squirrel proof feeder like the Squirrel Buster is very effective on the right pole and less effective on the wrong pole. The main thing to consider when pairing a weight activated squirrel proof feeder with a pole is how far your feeder hangs away from the pole. If it hangs too close squirrels may gain access by leaning out to the feeder leaving most of their weight on the pole, thus not triggering the feeder to close. Most feeders recommend a measurement of 14”- 18” from pole to hook. This ensures the squirrel climbs down on, or jumps to the feeder putting his full weight on the feeder. We have a few long reach options here at the shop that work great with the various weight activated feeders. The extended reach pole gets your feeder an ample 20” out from the pole and even allows for an extension to make the pole taller. This pole is also available in a deck rail mount option. We also have a super duty Shepard’s pole that has a 16” reach. This pole is great for larger feeders and is available in single and double hook options.

As always if you are having trouble with squirrels on your bird feeders stop by the shop and we will be happy to help.

Tips for Feeding Bluebirds

Picture taken out back of the shop.

Male bluebird getting as many worms as he can.

Maybe you saw our video we posted last week of the three handsome male Bluebirds eating mealworms on our loading dock (it's also re-posted below).  If you haven’t you can can see it in last weeks blog titled Get Ready For Bluebirds and for more videos visit our you tube channel.  And now you are interested in getting started.  Eastern Bluebirds feed primarily on insects and berries so feeding them can be a little tricky.  We have a great deal of experience feeding bluebirds and would like to pass on our tips and tricks to help you have success. 

We at The Wood Thrush Shop would never suggest that the way to attract Bluebirds is with mealworms.  Mealworms are really the second part of the equation.  We would always recommend that one attracts Bluebirds first with nesting boxes.  Feeding them then becomes a lot easier.  Why? Because natural food sources for Bluebirds are literally available everywhere they travel.  Nest-boxes are not.  Their need for nest boxes takes precedence during the breeding season and will bring them to your yard more predictably and reliably, and for several months.  

When Bluebirds begin checking out a nest-box that is the best time to begin offering the kind of food they prefer, like live mealworms.   The type of feeder to use is really not very important.  I use a small clay dish which is placed on a large rock easily seen from the nest-box, maybe 10 feet away.  Platform type feeders tend to work very well.  We can show you several Bluebird feeder types we stock. 

When I see the first signs of Bluebirds showing interest in the nest-box that’s when I bring home the mealworms and look for the first opportunity to walk out to the feeder and offer a small amount of worms, maybe a dozen.  THIS IS IMPORTANT!  The key is I make sure the Bluebirds are there to see me make the offering.  Most times, over the many years I’ve done this, I have immediate success.  They fly right down to the dish and gobble them up.  I’ll repeat this little scene every time the opportunity arises over the course of a few days or a week.  Usually 3 or 4 times is 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 a Robin, or Mockingbird sees them.  If they catch on to this offering feeding the Bluebirds will then become almost impossible.  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:

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.

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 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 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 may suspend feeding them any time and not worry that they will starve.  

Get Ready For Bluebirds

Have you been listening?  Birds are beginning to sing.  They know spring is fast approaching.  It’s apparent Eastern Bluebirds have already begun searching for potential nest-sites.  Several times in the past few weeks I’ve seen two and three Bluebirds land on and look in some of the nest boxes around my yard.  Their biological clocks are telling them the breeding season is almost here.  Although most Bluebirds won’t begin their first nesting until early to mid-April, their search for nest sites will typically intensify in the last weeks of February and into March.  Some eager Bluebirds may get on nest as early as mid-March.

So, get a jump on your neighbors and offer a couple of nest boxes in good locations.  If you already have nest boxes now is a good time to make sure they are cleaned out and free of old debris left over from last year’s nesting’s.   

Here are a Few Tips on Choosing a Location:

Ø  An open lawn area may be preferable but not absolutely necessary.  Choose the most open location available in your yard even if it means there will be a little more human traffic. 

Ø  Bluebirds would be more sensitive to a lot of bird traffic so it’s not recommended nest boxes be placed near bird feeders.  What’s a comfortable distance?  It’s impossible to be exact but we would suggest 50 to 100 feet away.

Ø  You may have heard that nest boxes need to face east.  While this may be helpful to keep wet weather from being a detrimental factor this is not something Bluebirds require.

Ø  A Bluebird box does not need to be on a pole.  The advantage of a pole, however, is it allows you to position the box in the location you determine to be the best.  Bluebird boxes can be mounted to trees, fences, structures like garden sheds, and utility poles.  A height  of 4’ or 5’ is just fine.   

Ø  How many boxes can be offered in a typical yard situation?  So, there is no harm in offering lots of nest boxes (birdhouses) in your yard but do not expect them to all get used at the same time especially if they are close in proximity to one another.  For instance, two nest boxes within 25 feet of one another are not likely to be occupied simultaneously.  Birds are too territorial to accept this situation unless they are colony nesters like Purple Martins and Cliff Swallows.  But feel free to decorate your yard with lots of birdhouses if that’s your thing.  Offering multiple nest-boxes is great and it does lessen the competition for a single box, but do consider the nature of the species you are trying to attract and what kind of setting would be most appealing.

And PLEASE remember to not let your desire to attract Bluebirds cause you to clean out Chickadee, Wren, and Tufted Titmouse nests.  In no way does cleaning out a Chickadee nest ensure you will get Bluebirds instead.  Chickadees typically nest earlier than Bluebirds and only once.  Bluebirds will nest up to 3 times per season and have plenty of time.  Even if you do not get Bluebirds during the first nesting there is still time for two more.  Besides, if a Bluebird wanted the nest-box it would easily out-compete a Chickadee.

….Next Week How to Feed Bluebirds

Bird Bio: Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Male Red-bellied

Male Red-bellied

Female Red-bellied

Female Red-bellied

The Red-bellied woodpecker has always been one of my favorite feeder birds.  This handsome woodpecker measures around 9.25” in length with a wingspan of roughly 16”.  It is common in mature deciduous woods, and visits backyard feeders regularly.  It has a uniformly barred back, which causes some to misidentify as a Ladder-backed woodpecker, brown under parts, and a white rump that is obvious in flight. The red on the male covers the crown (top of head) and nape of the neck, while the red on females, only the nape of the neck. Many people will ask why it’s called a Red-bellied woodpecker because they fail to see the red on the belly which is a faint round spot about the size of a quarter.  If you get them at your feeders watch closely and you will see the red spot.  The call is distinctive and very unlike the Downy and Hairy woodpeckers.  Calls include sounds such as a churr, or chaw, and a kwir.  

Standing dead tree sections are a great way to attract Red-bellies in the nesting season.

Starlings can be a threat to Red-bellied nest sites.

“Red bellies” nest primarily in cavities in dead snags of trees, another good reason to leave some dead wood in the trees around the yard.  In my yard I’ve had a Black Locust tree dying for years that I’ve left alone because a pair of Red-bellied woodpeckers choose it every year to excavate a new net-site. I’ve read in some books they will use a birdhouse but I’ve never witnessed this.  Starlings tend to be a real threat to a Red-bellies nest-site, often sitting very close by while the woodpeckers work for weeks excavating and then harassing them until they give up, or the Starlings destroy eggs or babies.  They will raise two to sometimes three broods here in the south. 

Male red-bellied on a fresh fruit feeder.

Red-bellies love peanuts in or out of the shell. 

At feeders they readily accept sunflower and safflower seeds, raw peanuts and shelled roasted peanuts, suet, and even fruit.  “Red-bellies” rarely back down to any bird at the feeders, even Blue jays tend to give them space. Don't forget all bird feeders (including peanut and suet feeders) are on sale through February 18th.

AND NEXT WEEK, BLUEBIRDS.  It’s that time.  February is a great time to get Bluebird boxes out as they begin to pair off and begin looking at potential nest-sites.  Over the next few weeks we will cover frequently asked questions about Bluebirds, like nest box location, competition from other birds, and best ways to offer live mealworms.