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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Now is the time to start attracting Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebird

Bluebirds are here in Texas year-‘round, but are mainly active in the spring*. Recently they were almost wiped out, but are now on the comeback trail. They still need your help, however.

During the middle of the 20th century, Bluebirds (all 3 species) nearly became extinct in North America. Pesticide use, habitat destruction and heavy competition from imported bird species decimated Bluebird populations.

This drew the attention of concerned individuals and groups who started an effort to provide human-made nesting sites (birdhouses) in the remaining suitable habitat. These became known as “Bluebird Trails”. At the same time, such nasty pesticides as DDT were banned and Bluebirds made a comeback from the brink.

Since Bluebirds like grassland habitat, you can put up a Bluebird house or two on the edge of your lawn (at least 100 ft. apart though). Do it now, and in the spring you may see them raise little Bluebirds. They’re here all winter, scoping out potential nest sites for when it warms up.

*Bluebirds living in Texas do not migrate in the typical sense that they fly to South America for the winter. They are what are called “partial migrators”. The ones spending summers up north (roughly north of the Mason-Dixon line) fly a little to the south for the winter (Texas is part of “the south”). The ones that are here in the summer stay here all winter, but usually fly a few miles to less developed land where the food supply is more predictable.


Eastern Bluebirds
Bluebirds insist on having grassland in front of their home, since it promises an adequate supply of insects. For this reason the homes must be at least 100 ft. apart – to ensure that each residence has its own territory. I’d mount the birdhouse on a pole, set right on the edge of the grassland – facing any direction but west.

They hunt from a perch on top of the birdhouse, so I recommend adding a perch a foot or so above the house, where an adult can scan the territory for insect activity (unless there’s a well-placed tree branch within about 3 ft. of the birdhouse).

Though it may go without saying to most of you, sharply limit the use of pesticides - they kill Bluebirds' food (although they treat mealworms like candy, and it's almost all nestlings will eat). Even then, never spread pesticides over your whole lawn.  Local use, like on a fire ant mound, is okay.



OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.

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