Dear Bird Folks,
I was in your shop the other day and overheard other customers talking about all the bluebirds that were coming to their yards. I wanted to ask you how I could get these pretty birds to come to my yard as well, but you were too busy with the other customers. So now I’m writing. What’s your advice?
– Carol, Barnstable, MA
I don’t think so, Carol,
I know I’m not supposed to doubt the word of a customer, but are you sure you were in my store? I’m asking because you said I couldn’t answer your question because I was “too busy with the other customers.” Our store? Busy in February? There are mausoleums that are busier than we are in February. The only Outer Cape shops that have any business this time of year either sell coffee or cocktails, and we don’t sell either one…yet. I’ve been trying to persuade the town that we need a liquor license. My argument is that we need to sell alcohol for birdbaths because it’s the only way people can keep their baths from freezing in the winter. But so far, they aren’t buying it. I don’t know what their problem is.
Back in the early 80s, if someone on Cape Cod spotted a bluebird, we’d all run off to see it. Fortunately, things have improved since then and the local bluebird population has started to recover. That’s the good news. The bad news is there still aren’t enough of them to go around. Some people have lots of bluebirds in their yard, while other folks have been totally snubbed. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m one of those snubbed people. They never come to my yard. Why do bluebirds hate me? (Hey, there’s a catchy book title.) Therein lies the problem. I’ve had no firsthand experience on the subject. Asking my advice about attracting bluebirds is like asking Lance Armstrong advice about honesty. They’re foreign topics to both of us. Luckily, many of my customers have had success with bluebirds and they love to tell me all about it. Here’s what they have to say.
Offering water is one of the cheapest and easiest things we can do to attract bluebirds. We have received lots of great photos showing bluebirds drinking from birdbaths. The birds are especially attracted to water in the winter, when everything else is covered in snow and ice. How do you keep your birdbath from freezing? Well, you could wait for the town to give us a license to sell alcohol, but a better way is to put out a heated birdbath. An open source of water on a frigid day will attract more birds than a feeder will. (BTW: I was only kidding about adding alcohol to your birdbath. Don’t do that. Not only is adding alcohol bad for birds, but you might end up with my uncle drinking out of your birdbath and believe me, you don’t want that.)
Customers also report bluebirds coming for hulled sunflower seeds (aka sunflower hearts, sunflower chips, naked sunflowers). Bluebird beaks aren’t properly built for cracking open seeds, but they are able to deal with seeds if the shells have been removed. Just yesterday a ten-year-old student from Harwich (MA) sent me a photo he took of a bluebird chowing down on hulled sunflower seeds. It’s beautiful. (As you might imagine, that picture wasn’t taken in my yard, but we don’t need to get into that sad story again.)
Suet is the other item high on the bluebird’s menu. Like hulled sunflower and water, suet will also attract a variety of birds to your yard, including woodpeckers, wrens, warblers and those ever-so-cute Brown Creepers. Sometimes bluebirds are seen clinging to suet feeders, competing head to head with the woodpeckers. But more often bluebirds are happy just to pick up the suet scraps off the ground. In fact, bluebirds frequently feed on the ground. So keep an eye on your neighbor’s stupid cat.
Many people ask about mealworms. Bluebirds love live mealworms. But they will also take dried mealworms, especially in the winter when live worms aren’t practical. However, I don’t encourage people to make the mealworm plunge until bluebirds start regularly coming to their yards. Mealworms are pricey and putting them out won’t guarantee you’ll get bluebirds. If bluebirds aren’t in your area, offering mealworms won’t make them magically appear. If you want to see something magically appear, put out a “sale” sign. My wife will turn up within seconds.
One way to make your yard more appealing to bluebirds is to provide some of their favorite plants. In the summer bluebirds eat worms and crickets, but worms and crickets can be hard to find in the dead of winter. So bluebirds supplement their winter diet with fruit. Trees such as holly, dogwood, eastern red cedar and elderberry will likely attract bluebirds more readily than a dish of mealworms will…and they’re aren’t as creepy looking.
All of the above suggestions aren’t bluebird specific. Water, suet and sunflower seeds will attract an assortment of birds to your yard, but they will also draw any hungry bluebirds that happen to be in your area. Keep in mind that these are mostly winter suggestions. Nesting boxes are still the best way to attract bluebirds in the summer.
Here’s one last suggestion, Carol. In the South, bluebirds eat mistletoe berries. Perhaps you should hang some mistletoe around your yard. It may be worth trying. Who knows, you might get lucky with the birds…and whoever else is passing by.