Not many other birds are as easily recognizable, or spark more excitement, than bluebirds. North America is home to three species of bluebirds, the Eastern Bluebird, the Western Bluebird and the Mountain Bluebird. Seeing these bright little blue birds is a joy for many, and most of us would love to have them in our yards. While not all habitats support bluebirds, there are some simple things you can do to make your yard desirable to them. Let’s talk about how to attract bluebirds to your yard, and keep them coming back.
How to attract bluebirds to your yard
1. Open up your yard
Bluebirds prefer habitat in open and semi-open areas near trees, with sparse ground cover. This includes areas such as the woodline along pastures (farmland) and agricultural fields, suburban parks, golf courses and some back yards. The majority of their diet is insects.
They often hunt by perching low in trees or shrubs and swooping down to the ground to grab them. Therefore they prefer yards that have larger sections of open lawn space with trees around the perimeter. If your yard is tiny or you can’t open up the space, don’t fret. You may not have bluebirds deciding to nest in your yard, but there are other ways listed below that you can attract them to visit.
2. Avoid pesticides and lawn chemicals
As we said above, bluebirds get a lot of their insects from the ground. If you have a large lawn it may be a very attractive hunting ground for bluebirds. You can see why using pesticides and certain chemicals for lawn growth and maintenance would be harmful.
Not only would they be exposed to these chemicals just by spending time in contact with your lawn, but also from eating insects that were exposed to these chemicals. If you can avoid treating your lawn, or finding other organic or non-toxic treatments, the bluebirds will thank you.
3. Feed mealworms
Perhaps the best way to try and attract bluebirds is to offer their favorite feeder-food, mealworms. Mealworms aren’t actually worms. They are the larval stage of the Mealworm beetle, which is a species of Darkling Beetle. Mealworms have an impressive nutritional profile full of protein and vitamins that make them an attractive food source. Bluebirds seem to absolutely love them.
They are especially helpful to bluebirds in the early part of spring when bluebirds begin to nest. In many parts of the country it is still fairly cold and the insect population hasn’t started booming yet. Finding a supply of mealworms in your yard during this time when food is more scarce in the wild will be like finding a pot of gold. They can also offer a great support as they are out looking to collect food for their young.
One of our favorite feeders for offering mealworms is the Droll Yankee platform feeder with roof cover. It works for mealworms as well as almost any other type of bird food, making it something you can always find a use for.
Live mealworms vs Freeze Dried mealworms
You can buy or raise your own live mealworms, or you can buy them freeze-dried. In most cases I have seen people say that bluebirds (and other birds) prefer the live mealworms. Makes sense since they catch and eat live insects. The live mealworms also contain a little more water, protein and nutrients than the dehydrated freeze-dried version.
However for many people it is simply much easier to buy them dried and the birds will still enjoy them and get nutrition from them. If you are raising chickens or have reptiles or other animals that eat mealworms it may be worth it to have a live crop of your own. Otherwise, freeze-dried is much more convenient.
We wrote an article all about the best types of bird feeders and food for bluebirds that can give you more information.
4. Offer water
All birds need a source of clean water for drinking and bathing. Birdbaths are one of the best ways to attract birds to your yard. It may be easy to find water during a rainy spring, but much harder during a hot dry summer or freezing cold winter. You can buy a nice sturdy pedestal bath, a bird bath that is heated and attaches to your deck, or make your own out of a trashcan lid and some large stones. You make it as simple or fancy as you wish.
Some tips for whatever bath you choose:
- keep it no more than 3 inches deep
- have a gradual, non-slippery slope into the deeper water
- locate near feeders if possible so the birds have a visual on it as they come and go
- add running water if possible using a fountain, mister or dripper.
For more bird bath tips see our article on getting birds to use your bath.
5. Put up nest boxes
Bluebirds are cavity nesters, which means they will use bird houses (also called nest boxes). Putting up one or more nestboxes for bluebirds, especially if you have an open yard as discussed in tip #1, is a great way to try and attract a nesting pair to your yard.
However nest boxes for bluebirds need to meet certain criteria to be attractive and usable by bluebirds. Namely the correct sized opening, and proper protection against predators. For more on how to set up a bluebird house, check out this factsheet by the North American Bluebird society. The Nature’s Way Cedar Bluebird Box House is a great place to start for nestboxes.
If bluebirds are not common near your property already, it may take a few seasons for them to find your boxes. Have patience, and if they do find you, they will remember your yard and likely continue to return.
6. Plant native berries
During the fall and winter, when insects are not abundant, bluebirds turn to berries/fruit for a large portion of their diet. Planting fruiting trees, shrubs and vines in your yard can attract bluebirds, and many other birds!
Just make sure the plants you choose are native to your area. Some examples are blueberries, currants, holly, juniper, sumac, black cherry, winterberry, pokeweed, serviceberry, crabapple, red mulberry, hawthorn, elderberry, and flowering dogwood.
7. Leave dead trees and snags
If you have a portion of woods or trees in your yard, consider leaving dead trees rather than cutting them down. Of course, if a dead tree is posing a threat to dropping branches on your car or falling over onto your house, cut it down! But if not, dead trees can provide opportunities for many cavity nesting birds, including bluebirds, woodpeckers, nuthatches and owls, to find a home.
It may take some time and patience for bluebirds to find your feeders, bath or nest boxes. But unless you live in the middle of a big city with no green space, chances are good they are around and will find you. So keep those feeders and boxes ready!