Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Bringing Bluebirds to the Garden

Stopping to smell the flowers

Female (l) and male bluebird have insects in their beaks for their hatchlings.

Female (l) and male bluebird have insects in their beaks for their hatchlings.

Naturalist John Burroughs was accurate in saying, “How readily the bluebirds become our friends and neighbors when we offer them suitable nesting retreats!”

Eastern bluebirds are members of the thrush family, a melodious songbird family that includes the American robin and hermit thrush. All three inhabit Columbia. The eastern bluebird is a permanent resident in its southern range. Bluebirds prefer woodlands with open areas, meadows, orchards, pastures, and farmland edges. Bluebirds are seen perching in open areas on power lines or along fences.

Human housing and commercial development have removed many trees suitable for these cavity-nesting birds. Other cavity nesting species like house sparrows, starlings, chickadees, and nuthatches also compete with bluebirds for natural cavities so bluebird nesting boxes have provided a solution for eastern bluebird families. Good bluebird landlords place the box on a pole five feet off the ground and far enough from trees to deter predators.

Bluebird eggs

Bluebird eggs

In early March, a pair of eastern bluebirds selected a nesting box facing an open area in my backyard. The female formed a cup-shaped nest of pine needles, bark strips, and fine grasses. The male hovered nearby watching her.

Females lay three to six blue eggs and incubate for 14 days. Eastern bluebirds generally have two broods per year, sometimes three.

On April 23 I watched from afar as both parents took turns feeding the hatchlings insects gathered from oak, pine, and tulip poplar trees. When a grey squirrel approached the nesting box, the male bluebird dive-bombed at the squirrel until it retreated. Both sexes are known to act aggressively if the nest is threatened. There is a wooden block guard on the nesting box entrance to deter predators. Squirrel baffles on the pole help too.

Bluebirds are foraging generalists. They consume worms, arthropods, and fruit. Bluebirds feed on flying and jumping insects gleaned from foliage, compost piles, or brush piles and may be seen sallying their prey. Sallying involves flying from a perch to the ground to snag an insect and then returning to the perch.



Bluebirds will come to backyard feeders that stock mealworms, suet, and sunflower hearts. These can be purchased at wild bird food stores.

A garden for bluebirds needs fruits. Dogwood, eastern red cedar, holly, black cherry, beautyberry, sumac, blueberry, wax myrtle, and viburnum are a hearty bluebird buffet.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a resource on “right bird, right house” and can assist with blueprints for bluebird nesting boxes. Visit all-about-birdhouses for more information.

A male bluebird enters the nest to feed hatchlings.

A male bluebird enters the nest to feed hatchlings.

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