Bluebird and Small Cavity Nester Conservation
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Advice for New Bluebirders

There is a wealth of information and varying opinions on how to attract and enable successful bluebird nesting. However, sometimes too much information can be overwhelming for the beginner. Here is some bottom line advice. If you don't do these things, your odds of success are much lower.

  1. NESTBOX: Buy or build a well-constructed nestbox specifically designed for bluebirds. Moisture should not be able to enter a nestbox during a storm. [Also see footnote a]. See plans.
  2. GET EDUCATED: Learn from the experiences of others. Read about the basics. Buy a good book on bluebirds (e.g., The Bluebird Monitor's Guide) that explains how to identify birds, nests and eggs, correctly monitor an active nestbox, and prevent/deal with problems.[b
    Contact a bluebirding association or check out an online bluebirding forum.
    Expect to make some mistakes and even have some disasters, but don't give up. Many successful bluebirders made lots of mistakes in the beginning - e.g., putting a nestbox made out of cardboard on a tree stump surrounded by bread crumbs that attracted House Sparrows. See Frequently Asked Questions.
  3. PLACEMENT: Put the box up - it won't attract bluebirds if it's sitting in your garage. Put it in a somewhat open, grassy area.[c] Face the entrance away from prevailing winds, in an area protected from excessive heat during summer months. If it's not on your property, get permission first. Put boxes 50-300 feet away from brushy areas to avoid problems with House Wrens.
  4. SAFETY:  Mount the box so that nesting birds are protected from predators such as cats, rats, snakes, raccoons (e.g., put a predator guard on a metal mounting pole), and vandals.  Don't use pesticides in or around boxes.
  5. KILLER BIRDS: Learn to identify, and take steps as necessary to manage House Sparrows (see www.sialis.org/hosp.htm) and starlings. These pest birds are not native and must not be allowed to nest in your box. Any other (native) bird is protected by law, and their nests/eggs can not be disturbed. 
  6. MONITOR. Monitoring includes opening the nestbox at periodic intervals, being able to recognize problems, and taking appropriate action, if necessary.  
  7. REHABBER:  If problems or injuries occur to birds, you will need to quickly locate a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Jot down your first-choice and an alternate rehabber and keep it in a convenient location. See http://www.tc.umn.edu/~devo0028/contact.htm for a list of rehabbers by state or contact your State wildlife management/environmental protection agency.[d]
  8. CLEAN out the nestbox periodically (e.g., after babies have fledged).[e]

Also see my Top Ten tips on attracting bluebirds, to increase our odds.

Footnotes with more information:

[a] As a test, you can put the box under a sprinkler for a few hours. See links to Nestbox Plans.

[b] MORE INFORMATION AND HELP: Benefit from lessons learned by others by reading books, joining a bluebirding forum, and/or joining a bluebirding society. A state or local bluebird organization can provide region-specific advice. In-depth information on all Bluebird-related topics can be found in the archives of Best of Bluebird-L at http://www.bestofbbml.audubon-omaha.org/index.htm.  All topics are organized under a Table of Contents and can be read by anyone, anytime. If you have ANY bluebird-related question, need a quick response in an emergency, or simply want to connect with other bluebirders, you can join Bluebird-L (http://birds.cornell.edu/bluebirds/joinbblist.html), which is hosted by Cornell University. Other resources:

[c] Install nestboxes away from thickets if House Wrens are in your area.

[d] Your local rehabber would probably appreciate a call from you well in advance of the busy nesting season, to provide directions to the facility/home, tips on transporting injured birds and how to keep them warm, as well as other tips and preferences.

[e] Dispose of the nest away from the nestbox or in the trash to avoid attracting predators.


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May all your blues be birds!

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Last updated June 17, 2013. Design by Chimalis.

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