Bluebirds

Growing up on the farm, we rarely saw any bluebirds.  When I was in college, I put up a couple of nesting boxes; now I have them everywhere.  With the warm spell we had a couple of weeks ago, Eastern Bluebirds were checking out my nesting boxes. Bluebirds are vigorous insect eaters and are good birds to have around. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and do not build a nest in a tree or bush like other birds.  Occasionally you will see them use old woodpecker nests.

It’s time to get up a bluebird box if you haven’t.  A cedar box with a one and a half inch hole is needed. Because of territorial claims, place boxes around 75 feet apart.  Avoid boxes with metal decorations as this will help cook the babies in the hot summer. Also avoid boxes with oval holes as it makes it easier for predators and cats to reach in.  Place the box in a sunny open spot with the door facing south.  The box should be at eye level to eight feet off of the ground.  Placing near a tree or fence comes in handy for the young when they fledge. I like to put mine on metal fence posts to prevent snakes from crawling up to the box like they can do with wood posts.  You’ll need to drill a larger hole through the box and the post and use a carriage bolt long enough to go through both.  I don’t tighten the nut down all the way due to a frustrating experience sawing the bolt and nut lengthwise trying to remove a worn out box. You want to leave enough space to get a hacksaw blade between the post and nut, as it will rust or corrode.  If you are a city slicker who has never driven in a metal post, the little triangular part at the bottom of the post needs to go all the way into the ground in order to keep the post stable.  Use a small sledge hammer or borrow one of those fancy post drivers to beat it in the ground while keeping it level.  It’s easier after a good rain. Using a hatchet even though it has a bigger head than a hammer can be kinda dangerous if it accidently slips out of your hand.  Not that I’ve done that mind you. If you have problems with grackles use a door guard to prevent them from reaching in and killing the young may be needed.  This is a about an inch and half long tube that prevents the grackles from reaching the nest and pecking the young or nesting adults to death.

I have a couple of boxes I need to repair before this year’s nesting season starts  Last summer while in a hurry to get my three acres mowed with a finishing mower I accidently popped a couple of them off of the poles.  The wheels on a finishing mower will turn 360 degrees, so if you back up near something and go forward, sometimes the mower will shimmy.  This one day I was in a big hurry and backed near a box and shot forward.  The mower did a big shimmy and swung around and popped the pole.   The bluebird box minus the back wall shot off the pole like a missile and broke apart when it hit the ground.  I turned off the tractor and hopped off and ran to the box hoping there weren’t any babies in the box.  I lucked out.  They had just finished building the nest and hadn’t laid eggs yet.  I threw the box in the front end loader and continued mowing.  When I came back around, the angry birds were sitting on the fence near the empty pole fussing and glaring at me.   I was planning to repair the broken box that had a nest with parts off of an old box that was missing part of a door and re-hang.  When I went to the shed to get it, a Carolina wren already had laid claim to it.   I purchased a new box and right after I got it up and was finishing mowing, I noticed the bluebirds were already checking out the new digs. It still seemed like they were giving me angry looks the rest of the summer.

 Another box was popped off at the end of the season when I cut around too short and popped it off. I seem to do the same thing around curbs with Big Blue.  The white lettering was rubbed off. I switched to black walls with the next set of tires.  Lucy pulled the door off of another box.  It won’t take much to repair the two.

Bluebirds will lay two to seven blue eggs which won’t be incubated until all eggs are laid. Rarely you might see white eggs. All eggs will hatch at the same time in about thirteen to fourteen days.  The young will remain in the nest around fifteen days.  Both parents will feed and take care of the young. After fledging they will be fed by the parents for another seven to fourteen days.  Another nest is built on top of the old one and the cycle starts over. As many as three broods may be raised each year.   Chickadees will also use bluebird boxes using moss as nesting materials.  Allow these to stay.  Sparrows will use straw and fill the box up.  Wait until they start laying eggs and throw the bums out, nest and eggs. They aren’t native birds and were partially responsible for the decline in bluebirds.  The young from the first brood of hatchlings will often help out with subsequent broods by gathering food for the new offspring.

 Bluebirds eat a variety of insects such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and spiders.  The rest of their diet is made up of seeds of dogwood, holly, mulberry, wild grape, Virginia creeper, pokeweed, Viburnum and shelled sunflower seeds and chopped peanuts.   Don’t forget to have a birdbath, which is a big hit with bluebirds. Bluebirds will stick around all year, and they need something to eat in fall and winter. Planting native trees and shrubs with berries will attack bluebirds and others such as cedar waxwings and robins.   Since they stay around all year and do not migrate, you can supplement their diet with mealworms and suet.   There are several homemade recipes for suet, following is a one.  Store bought is available at several sources.  

Malinda’s Mix

1 cup lard

1 cup crunchy peanut butter

1 cup (yellow) cornmeal

3 cups oats (“Quaker” cereal type)

1 cup sugar (less is ok, but the full cup is great for a winter calorie boost in cold climates)

Melt lard and peanut butter together (microwave works fine – keep an eye on things). Stir until blended. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients, except for the oatmeal. Then, pour-in the melted lard and peanut butter. Next, start adding the oatmeal a cup at a time. The “suet” should be thick. Add extra oats if it is not thick enough, until it is too stiff to stir. You can add extra chopped peanuts, chopped raisins, chopped sunflower hearts, and powdered sterilized eggshells.

Pour the mixture into a greased pan (or glass pans – no extra greasing needed), cool in refrigerator and cut or spoon into the proper shape for your feeder. If you don’t use it up quickly it can be frozen until needed.

Here is a great suet recipe that EVERY bird loves.

Eastern Bluebirds fight over it.

I also give it to any Eastern Bluebirds in my rehab.

It’s not my recipe….I found it in a book and have made it for many years.

It’s easy to make and store….and it smells like peanut butter cookies when you make it….

so there is a bonus for your chore.

———————-

2 cups crunchy peanut butter ( or smooth )

2 cups real lard… ( no substitutes…NOT crisco )

4 cups  ” quick oats ”  oats

4 cups corn meal …( I think yellow corn meal works best )

2 cups white flour

2/3 cup white table sugar

Handful of raisins if you want.

———————

Melt lard and peanut butter in large pot over LOW heat…stir constantly or it will burn

Take off heat and mix in dry ingredients.

You need to work quickly because it starts setting up fast.

When done it should be the consistency of really thick cooked oatmeal.

Put it in your container(s) and let it sit overnight at room temp. to cool.

————————

The pans I use to put the mixture in are approx. 3 inches high…

And I make the cakes 1 and 3/4… to 2 inches thick…but you can make them however thick you want.

But if you make them too thin they will break and crumble.

I line my containers with plastic wrap on the bottom and up the sides….that makes it easy to get out of the pan…otherwise it sticks.

If you line the pan good enough….you can just turn the pan upside down on your kitchen counter and it will fall right out. 

Cut into squares after cooled…and store.

**Get everything ready BEFORE you start cooking it…because you won’t have time after.

You will love it…because your Bluebirds definitely will.  🙂

Tracy… Ride The Wind Wild Bird Rehab Center

***Photos by Mary Carton

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