Dear Bird Folks,
I’m a good person. I make my bed every day, floss regularly and never litter, but bluebirds avoid me and I don’t know why. I have a wonderful tree-filled yard that contains several specially designed bluebird houses, yet I have never seen a single one of those sweet birds anywhere near my yard. On the other hand, my cousin, who lives in the very next town, has lots of them. Why do bluebirds hate me?
– Roger, Groton, CT
It’s a tough one, Roger,
It’s hard to know why birds don’t like certain people, but I’m sure they have their reasons. Do you have a feather pillow or wear a down jacket? Using those things can go against you. What about your favorite superhero? It’s not Catwoman is it? You and I might think she’s hot, but birds can’t get past her name. Maybe your birdhouses are the problem. Did you buy them from a birding specialty shop or at a creepy hardware store? Birds really hate people who don’t buy their houses from specialty shops. And when I say “birds,” I mean me. Sometimes I project.
I’m going to answer your no-bluebird question by telling you a little story. Years ago I tried to get into fishing. (This was back before I decided fish looked more majestic swimming free than gasping for air in the bottom of a bucket.) When it comes to a new hobby, I’m one of those guys who spends more time shopping for equipment than actually participating in the hobby itself. I bought a fancy new fishing rod and reel, lots of lures and even got a pair of those jumbo, rubber wading boots that make everyone look like Humpty Dumpty. Each morning I would head off to a nearby pond, with my new rod and sporting my Humpty Dumpty outfit, but never caught a single fish. After weeks of frustration, someone told me what my problem was. The pond I kept returning to didn’t have any fish in it. Apparently, not all ponds have fish. Who knew? By then it was too late. I had become discouraged, gave up fishing and moved on to an even crazier hobby – bird watching.
As with fish, birds are habitat specific. For example, Hermit Thrushes like forested areas, sandpipers like mudflats and meadowlarks like open fields. Eastern Bluebirds fit into the latter category. Farmland, orchards, golf courses and power line right-of-ways, are the bluebirds’ habitats of choice, especially during the breeding season. Why do they like open areas so much? It has to do with their feeding preferences. Bluebirds love insects, but instead of picking bugs out of the air like swallows and flycatchers do, they take a less energetic approach. Bluebirds hunt much the same way Red-tailed Hawks hunt mice and rabbits. They sit on branches that over look open areas and carefully scan for prey. But instead of looking for rabbits and mice, bluebirds watch for crickets, grasshoppers or some other buggy things. Once prey is spotted the bluebird will swoop to the ground and crunch down on a fresh cricket. Bluebirds might seem like “sweet” birds, Roger, but crickets have a different take on them.
Living far away from the bluebirds’ habitat of choice makes it tough to entice them to use the birdhouses in your yard. It’s not your fault and don’t blame your birdhouses. If you don’t live in the right location, you could put out birdhouses that were specially designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and you still wouldn’t get bluebirds to use them. (Actually, a birdhouse designed by F.L. Wright would probably frighten the birds, but you get my point.)
Before you become depressed and decide to jump off the roof of one of your trophy birdhouses, I have some good news. Just because your yard isn’t prime bluebird nesting habitat doesn’t mean these birds won’t pay you a visit other times of the year. During the colder months bluebirds switch from insects to a healthier fruit diet. When it snows they forget about the crickets and start looking for berries on plants such as American Holly, winterberry, sumac, and hackberry (whatever that is).
In winter, bluebirds form flocks that travel about looking for food. Often these flocks visit areas that aren’t typical bluebird habitat. We get far more calls from people reporting bluebirds in their yards in the winter than in the summer. In addition to berries, customers report bluebirds coming for hulled sunflower seed and suet. The birds are also drawn to heated birdbaths. Actually, fresh water is one of the best ways to attract bluebirds in any season, but I don’t like telling people that. There’s no money to be made selling birdbath water to the public. People have gotten so cheap lately.
Bluebirds don’t hate you, Roger, but they may not love where you live. Instead of investing in more fancy birdhouses, my advice is to plant some holly, sumac, winterberry or something that calls itself “hackberry.” In addition, put out some hulled sunflower and some suet, and keep your birdbath ice-free all winter. You may not get bluebirds to nest in your boxes, but perhaps you could attract them to visit you in the off-season. The sight of a dozen bluebirds eating on a snow-covered holly tree or splashing in your birdbath will quickly make you forget all about your unused nest boxes.
BTW: If it makes you feel any better, I don’t get bluebirds in my yard either. But let’s keep that bit of info just between you and me. I have an image to protect. I’m still trying to live down the image of me wearing Humpty Dumpty fishing boots.