Into the Outdoors: The Bluebird

I don’t know about you, but I am plenty sick of winter. As I write this, it is brutally cold, with more cold and a possible snowstorm in the forecast. I find it downright depressing. For that reason, let’s look at a little critter that we commonly associate with the arrival of spring. That would be the bluebird. This is the eastern bluebird, not to be confused with the indigo bunting. They are a little bigger than a sparrow, with blue feathers above and a reddish breast and sides. They are sometimes seen in winter around these parts. In fact, about a year ago, I came across an entire flock of them while I was driving along the Allegheny near home. For whatever reason, they were a rare sight around here for awhile, but, in recent years, their numbers have rebounded nicely.

For a number of years, the Game Commission has sold bluebird nesting boxes. Bluebirds are extremely attracted to manmade boxes, and placing them around your property can almost assure of bringing them in. Here is an excerpt from a Game Commission news release on the subject.

“Bluebirds are early nesters, so now is the time to put up new nest boxes, as well as to clean and repair existing boxes,” said the Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Division chief. “These bluebird boxes enable Pennsylvanians to help wildlife in a natural way.”

“Also, building nesting boxes is a great project for individuals, families or civic organizations interested in connecting with wildlife. These box designs are proven to attract bluebirds and other native species, such as tree swallows and house wrens.”

Bluebirds live in open country, and are a beautiful songbird native to Pennsylvania. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and have become less common due to a lack of suitable nest sites. Many nest sites have been lost through changing land-use practices, as well as to urban and suburban sprawl. But the introductions of house sparrows and starlings in 1851 and 1890 have been the primary reasons for the bluebirds’ decline, as these non-native species took over native bluebird nesting cavities.

The bluebird boxes offered by the Game Commission include an opening that is the prescribed one-and-one-half inches in diameter. This precludes starlings from being able to enter. However, house sparrows still may be able to enter the boxes. If this occurs, the house sparrow nests should be removed immediately.

Boxes should be erected on a free-standing pole three to five feet above the ground – facing south, if possible – and facing a nearby tree or fence where young birds can safely land on their initial flights from the box. To reduce predation and competition from other species, no perch should be placed on the box; bluebirds do not need one. Boxes placed in pairs, about 20 feet apart, may help reduce competition from swallows.

The Game Commission’s Howard Nursery has been manufacturing bluebird nest boxes and box kits for more than a quarter century. Each year, about 9,000 boxes are manufactured there and sold or provided to Pennsylvanians to help bluebirds. That annual influx of new nest boxes helps ensure Pennsylvania remains a “keystone state” in bluebird conservation.

I had one of the boxes given to me a number of years ago, and never got around to putting it up. I plan to correct that this year. I know that other birds tend to inhabits the boxes. That’s not so bad, but, what is bad, is that various wasps, including yellow jackets, tend to like them as well.

After doing a bit of research, I found that bluebirds will nest higher than the three to five feet from the ground mentioned in the release. Personally, I would place them higher. I love cats, but the fact is that they are hard wired for predation, and nests that close to the ground would be vulnerable.

Bluebirds are really neat. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to attract them to your backyard.

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