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Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to Help Bluebirds in Winter

Some of you have written to us recently expressing surprise and concern that you are seeing bluebirds in northern areas in winter. Here's some tips to help them survive.

1. Bluebirds can roost together in bird houses to keep warm. Insulate your bird houses by closing off all cracks, drainage holes, etc., with some sort of insulating material so less drafts and cold get into the bird house. Just leave the entrance hole open. Face bird houses away from prevailing winter winds.

2. Bluebirds mainly eat fruit and berries in winter. Plant your property with an abundance of crabapples and native, berry-producing shrubs such as viburnums and hollies (like winterberry holly). Place these berry plantings in sunny, protected areas, blocked from winter winds. The bluebirds will have a warm place to eat and use less precious energy.

3. Some bluebirds will come to food such as, hulled sunflower, suet, dried mealworms, and some of the many "bluebird meal mixtures" or nuggets. Generally most bluebirds do not learn to do this. You can certainly try putting out these foods, but your best bet is to have lots of berries planted in your yard.

4. Bluebirds like water (may help with processing the berries) and will visit bird baths and heated bird baths. In general, when it is very severely cold, some people think it is a risk for birds to bathe. Holding off on the water, or placing sticks over the bird bath to only allow birds to drink, not bathe, may be a good idea in this situation. Many birds will eat snow in winter to get water.

Most bluebirds move out of the northernmost areas of their range in winter. Even ones that may linger eventually move on, once their berry sources are depleted or ice-covered. For bluebirds, and many birds, there is a trade-off of staying more north in order to be first to claim prime breeding territories, yet risking survival due to bad weather. Some of these tips may help them survive and you feel you're helping them. Bluebirds are truly beloved.

For more complete information see Stokes Bluebird Book.

For the very latest identification information and range maps on all three species of North American Bluebirds; Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird and Western Bluebird, see our new best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.


Unknown said...

Thank you! They are back again this morning with a robin! We have an abundance of fruit on our property, so now understand why they can stay.

Amy B said...

Several years ago (2007)I traveled from Athens, GA to the Hiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in TN to see the whoopers from Operation Migration fly over. We got there about 3:30 a.m. and listened to sleeping cranes and owls until dawn. There was a birdhouse that erupted at first light--I counted 19 bluebirds fly out of there! They were presumably much warmer than I was standing in an open air gazebo!

Kat said...

I live in N. Alabama, and we have Bluebirds most all the time, that I know of. I have been watching a pair or two checking out boxes in the backyard, and asked my husband why they would be doing that now. Now I know, they are looking for a warm place to get!