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Male Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis

Valentine's Day (14 February) provides a reminder that it's time to take care of your bluebird duties for the current year. In many parts of the country, bluebirds have already formed pairs by Valentine's Day and are looking around for nesting locations, so you should try to hang new boxes by this date. Even with this early activity, however, it's not too late to build and erect new nestboxes; in much of the U.S. and Canada actual egg-laying won't begin for 4-6 weeks or so, but it's still best to try to have your boxes up no later than mid-February. Valentine's Day is also a good time to clean out your nestboxes to remove any droppings and other detritus that might have been left behind by winter roosting birds.

Although many people have put their imaginations to work in attempting to attract bluebirds, there's no universal agreement on what makes the "best" bluebird nestbox. One design that has worked well in the Carolina Piedmont is recommended by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History. His plan includes modifications that allow easy cleaning and that deter some predators and unwanted nesters (see link below).

Just as important as the box is the location in which it's placed. Eastern Bluebirds, Sialia sialis, appear to prefer nestboxes on the edges of open meadows or large lawns in which they can spot ground-dwelling insects. A nearby perch--whether it's a tree or a power line--provides a good vantage point for scoping out beetles and small grasshoppers. Placing boxes about 100 yards apart seems optimum; if they're too close together, territorial battles may ensue.

Don't forget that many kinds of birds will use a box intended for bluebirds, and most of these are native species protected by state and federal laws; chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, swallows, and wrens also need cavities and should NOT be removed if they try to raise a family in your bluebird box. However, European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and House Sparrows (Passer domesticus)--both of which are non-native species imported from the Old World--may occupy a bluebird nestbox and are NOT protected by law.

Humans have depleted the landscape of large trees in which woodpeckers excavate cavities that, in turn get used by other hole-dwelling species. Thus, placement of large numbers of nestboxes in appropriate habitats seems to have had a positive impact on bluebird breeding success. Because they eat large numbers of insects, bluebirds are indeed friends to gardener and farmer alike, but they're well worth helping regardless. Please let us know about your own successes with bluebirds by sending an e-mail message to RESEARCH.

Click here for access to a nestbox blueprint and for tips on Maintaining Bluebird Nestboxes.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

You may wish to purchase a commercially available bluebird nestbox from Duncraft, an established manufacturer and distributor of bird products. If you click on their logo below and purchase products online, 10% of the sale goes to support research and education at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History:
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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.