Songs have been written about them. Fairytale princess inevitably have them follow them wherever they go. Recognized as the symbol of hearth, home and happiness, the bluebird is one of North America’s most beloved species of birds. Sadly, this songbird has suffered a decline in population in the Adirondacks and all throughout the country for a number of years, for a variety of different reasons.
The urbanization and deforestation of America has been a prime reason. Bluebirds no longer have as many options for safe nesting. Bluebirds are known as secondary cavity nesters, meaning they cannot create their own cavities in trees for nesting, so rely on ones that are already there. Because of the deforestation and removal of dead trees from the natural landscape, it has become increasingly difficult for bluebirds to nest.
Another factor in the decline in the bluebird population is use of inorganic materials for fencing, such as vinyls and plastics. Again, in the past bluebirds used wooden fencing for homing and nesting, but plastic fencing doesn’t lend itself to how bluebirds typically nest.
The introduction of pesticides for insect management in orchards, as well as the introduction of aggressive starlings and sparrows to the United States, has also helped contribute to a decline in the bluebird population. Unfortunately, it has become more apparent over the past few years that the bluebird will likely not survive without the help of humans.
One of the best ways you can help the Eastern bluebirds that live in the Adirondacks and all throughout the East Coast is by building – and carefully maintaining – bluebird houses. This is not an enterprise to be taken lightly. Poorly maintained bluebird houses can actually do more harm than good. To build the best bluebird house for your fine-feathered friends, follow these guidelines:
- Make sure the opening is appropriately sized for the Eastern bluebird – 1 1/2” to 1 3/8”.
- Provide overhangs for shade and protection from cats and raccoons.
- Use a naturally light wood to help them withstand hot temperatures.
- Provide drainage and ventilation holes.
- Keep the houses perch-free – perches can encourage predators.
- Space additional houses 100-300 yards apart.
- Keep sparrows away by adding a second bluebird house back to back. This gives sparrows their own place to nest, so they’ll leave the bluebirds alone.
- Build houses out of direct sunlight and facing trees or shrubbery, but avoid placing in heavily wooded areas.
Clean out the bluebird houses at the end of the summer once the birds have vacated the home. Leave the house alone in winter, because occasionally birds can roost in large numbers for warmth, even though ideally they would have migrated. Eastern bluebirds in particular will often build three nests per season, and lay from three to eight pale-blue eggs at a time.
The bluebird’s cuisine of choice is bugs and insects, and it particularly enjoys worms, small spiders, grasshoppers and crickets. Bluebirds much less prefer berries, poison ivy, mistletoe and pokeweed but will eat these foods for survival if insects are unavailable. You may choose to feed your bluebirds, and if so, the best choice is to supply the food on platforms near their houses.
To learn more about Eastern bluebirds and many of the other bird species living in the Adirondacks, why not browse the book selection at Charlie Johns on your next visit to Speculator? They carry a wide variety of books on Adirondack flora and fauna, as well as many other books for those interested in Adirondack living.