Bluebirds

One of the simple pleasures in life is seeing bluebirds on my weekly walks along the Leon County Miccosukee Greenway. Sometimes four or five of these brilliantly colored birds can be seen lined up on a fence. Other times, I watch prospective parents flying in and out of nest boxes or I observe a bluebird perched on a limb of a large tree, swoop down to gobble up a grasshopper from the grasses below.

Many Tallahasseeans have never seen a bluebird, yet there are healthy populations even within the city. Bluebirds inhabit meadows and fields, open pinewoods and parkland, cemeteries and golf courses. They seem happy in neighborhoods with tall trees, open lawns with shrubby borders. I see them regularly while walking in the Betton Hills neighborhood and they sometimes nest in our front yard.

  Bluebird parents at their nest box. Photo by Glenda Simmons.

Bluebird parents at their nest box. Photo by Glenda Simmons.

If you live in or near this type of habitat you can provide lodging for bluebirds by setting out nest boxes with a one and one half inch diameter hole on a post or pole. Nest boxes should have doors so they can be cleaned and monitored. A predator guard should be installed on the pole below the nest box. These are commercially available or can be fashioned from 6 inch diameter stovepipe or PVC pipe. This will prevent raccoons and rat snakes from raiding the nest.

Though bluebirds are primarily insect eaters, they also eat berries especially in winter. Plant or encourage existing hollies, wild cherry, crabapple, red mulberry, blueberry, dogwood, elderberry, hackberry, pokeweed, black gum and native viburnums.

At Birdsong Nature Center in southern Georgia, I enjoy watching bluebirds in winter feasting on mistletoe berries high in the pecan trees. The trees sit on the edge of the “House Pasture” that is burned annually and is teaming with life – broomsedge grass, wildflowers, lots of insects and, of course, bluebirds. Native plants are of utmost importance for supplying proper habitat and food for insects that bluebirds eat. Bluebirds primarily feed in open, grassy areas.

For those of you on larger acreage, try converting part of your lawn to meadow by mowing just a couple of times each year. This will encourage native grasses, wildflowers and, yes, weeds, thereby creating a more natural environment that will support abundant insect life leading to more bluebirds.

Like other birds, bluebirds enjoy a shallow bird bath or pool. The brilliant blue and red of the male bluebird and the subtle blue/gray of the female is intensified when they are splashing about in the water, especially on a sunny day.

If you want to entice bluebirds to a feeder for up-close viewing or for photography, you can set out mealworms in a small dish or feeder. Mealworms are actually beetle larvae that you can raise yourself or purchase. They are very nutritious and bluebirds gather them to feed their young; however, bluebirds are most capable of finding their own insects especially in good habitat.

To learn more about bluebirds, you are invited to join the Florida Bluebird Society for its regional meeting to be held on Saturday, February 6th at the Leon County Eastside Branch Library (1583 Pedrick Rd.). My husband Jody Walthall and I will present the program, “How to Change Your Landscaping to Benefit Birds, Bees, Butterflies and other Wildlife.” We will include a segment on managing for bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds. Participants may visit the home of Glenda Simmons after the program to see the changes she has made over the years for the benefit of bluebirds and other wildlife. The Meet & Greet begins at 10:30am with the program starting at 11am. For more information, go to www.floridabluebirdsociety.com.