Feature Friday: Eastern Bluebird + DIY Bluebird Houses

Written by Abbey Holden, Naturalist

Eastern Bluebirds by Paul Blanchard

Photo by Paul Blanchard

In Wisconsin, the song of the Eastern Bluebird is a harbinger of spring. Their brilliant plumage ushers out the harshness of winter and reminds us that summer is just around the corner. Bluebirds prefer open areas such as native prairies, agricultural land and even neighborhood parks. This makes the Carpenter Nature Center’s Wisconsin Campus a great place to spot Bluebirds! They are skilled insect hunters, mostly feeding on caterpillars, beetles, crickets and grasshoppers. Often seen perching on fence posts or an overhanging branch, bluebirds can spot their prey from over 60 feet away!

Bluebird Houses
Did you know that Eastern Bluebirds were once at risk of disappearing? In the early 1900s loss of nesting habitat and competition from other cavity nesting birds led to significant population decline. Then in 1986, the WI DNR called upon conservation groups to help save the species. This led to the formation of the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW) and the artificial nest box program was hatched. Examples of these artificial nest boxes are found along the Wisconsin Campus trails. These nest boxes helped restore Bluebird populations, soaring to historic numbers. Maintaining Bluebird houses is one way Carpenter Nature Center provides habitat for native species while bringing an educational experience to our visitors.

Due to the success of the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW) and many conservation-minded groups around the country, Minnesotans and Wisconsinites are able to enjoy the Eastern Bluebird every spring. You can be apart of their success by building your own bluebird house with these printable DIY Bluebird house plans. There are two plans, ranging in difficulty but both are great for attracting Blue Birds.

Photo by Cathy Olyphant

Follow these tips and tricks below to attract Bluebirds to your freshly built house!
  • Plant native shrubs, trees and flowers. Bluebirds are incredible insect hunters but will also forage on the fruit and berries of native plants. Planting these native species will provide a rounded diet for your Bluebirds but will also help attract more native insects for the Bluebirds to eat.

  • Limit or stop the use of chemical lawn treatments. As stated above, Bluebirds rely on a diet of insects. Lawns that are heavily treated my not provide enough food to attract Bluebirds to your house.

  • It is recommended to set up at least two nest boxes 5-15 feet apart. This will allow for both Bluebirds and the more aggressive Swallows to nest next to each other instead of competing for space. While this will give your Bluebirds a fighting change it may also allow you to observe two native species!

  • If more than one pair of houses is desired provide ample space between sets. Bluebirds are territorial and males will often fight each other if houses are over crowed. Place each pair of houses at least 100 feet apart.

  • Bluebirds need perches for hunting. Fence posts, low branches or shrubs provide great resting places. If you have limited or no perches on your property you can add perches that Bluebird will readily use for hunting.

    Photo by Abbey Holden

  • Ideal height for a Bluebird house is 4-5 feet off the ground.

  • Face house entrance to the North or East to avoid the midday sun.

  • If you encounter problems from predators such as raccoons, opossums, squirrels or mice you can place a guard on the post, similar to those use on bird feeders.

    Photo by Mark Ritzinger

  • Put up your houses early! Bluebirds can start looking for nesting spots as early as February and will use them through August for breeding.

  • Clean out nest boxes after southern migration. It is important to open up your nest boxes and clean our any debris or old nests. Bluebirds will build new nests each season. This also prevents damage from unwanted occupants like mice.