For a real treat in your yard or garden this year, try putting up a bluebird house. These gorgeous birds are so sweet and charming, swooping from tree to post to guard their nests and see what you’re up to. And if their stunning beauty weren’t enough, they’re also great for natural summer insect control!
Setting up and maintaining a bluebird house properly can take a bit of attention, but it’s really quite easy. Follow these tips to get started.
About Bluebirds and Bluebird Houses
Bluebird nesting season starts between February and April, depending on the weather, and goes until August. Some areas have bluebirds year-round. They usually raise at least two broods of three to six eggs per year, with the babies fledging about four to five weeks after the eggs are laid. While spring is the best season to install a bluebird house, you can do it any time.
When shopping it’s important to buy an actual house made for bluebirds and not a decorative bird house. The house has to be built just right in order to attract bluebirds and keep them safely, while deterring other competing birds.
Thankfully, most commercial bluebird houses are built to the proper specifications, but when in doubt be sure that your bird house has these characteristics:
- Well Built: A bluebird house should be watertight, yet ventilated and with drainage holes. It should be built of a rot resistant wood, like cedar, or untreated exterior plywood. You can paint the outside a light, neutral color or coat it with linseed oil, but the inside should be untreated wood.
- No Perch: Perches encourage competing birds and predators.
- Right Size: Most bluebird houses are around 5” wide and deep and around 8” to 12” high, with an entrance hole about two-thirds of the way up.
- Proper Opening: The opening is the most important factor for keeping out competing and predatory birds. Round openings should be 1 3/16” to 1 1/2” inches in diameter. Slot entrances should be 13/16” to 1 1/8” wide. Oval entrance holes should be vertical, 1 3/8” by 2 1/4” high.
- Easy to Monitor: Most bluebird houses have a hinged top or side that can be opened to check the nests and clean them out during the off season.
How to Install a Bluebird House
Bluebirds like fairly open areas, with scattered trees for perching. Organic farmland is perfect, with open spaces bordered by fences and tree lines.
In more developed areas, bluebirds are likely to be found around large open lawns, quiet roadways, old railroad paths, parks, cemeteries, golf courses, new housing developments, and neighborhoods on the edge of cities. They usually don’t hang out in heavy woods or city centers.
When installing a bluebird house, consider:
- Location: While scattered trees or shrubs are fine, choose a fairly open spot away from woods.
- Mounting: A pole or fence post is ideal, especially if you can add a baffle to keep out predators such as cats, snakes, and raccoons. Mount the house at around 5’ high, so that you can easily reach it to monitor and clean.
- Orientation: Ideally, face the opening toward a safe perch, such as a small tree or fence. Also try to face it away from prevailing winds, and away from midday sun in hot climates. If you are installing the house near a road, face it parallel to the road, so the birds won’t fly out directly into traffic.
- Spacing: Bluebirds are competitive and usually claim two or three acres, so be sure their houses are widely spaced. Eastern bluebird houses should be 100-150 yards apart, and Mountain and Western bluebirds should be over 200 yards apart.
- Organic Garden: Since bluebirds eat insects, they can provide natural insect control, but avoid areas with heavy application of pesticides.
Dealing with Competitors
One of the biggest challenges to bluebirds is the threat of other birds competing for the nesting space. European starlings and house swallows pose the largest threat to bluebird nesting, and these non-native birds will attack bluebird nests and destroy the eggs.
You can reduce the risk by making sure your bluebird house has the right size opening (to keep starlings out), and locate it away from urban areas, houses, and barns (to deter house swallows).
Native competitors – such as tree swallows, titmice, house wrens, chickadees, and nuthatches – are beneficial birds and can be encouraged to nest by installing the house a little higher (10 feet or so) in a wooded spot.
Tending a Bluebird House
Once you’ve got your bluebird house in place, a little attention throughout the season will keep it safe and snug for repeated broods of eggs. Clean your box every February before nesting season starts, and repair any damage. Then, clean and brush out the box in between each brood of eggs, making sure to throw away the old nesting material to get rid of any disease or parasites living in it.
If you monitor your bluebird house, be sure not to open the box after the babies are about a week old, and leave it closed until they fly – you don’t want them accidentally leaving the box too early.
- Landscaping Tips for a Bird-Friendly Yard (article)
- Wild Bird Feeding Basics (article)
- How to Make a Suet Bird Feeder (article)
We put a box up recently and now have a pair of bluebirds nesting in our yard!
Glad to hear about your bluebirds. We have a pair, too.
I have fed bluebirds all winter-my own suet and mealworms.. Some bird keeps trying to make a nest moss like. I keep pulling it out. My neighbor who is gone all winter had 3 broods of bluebirds last summer-what do I do about keeping the other nester out??
I have always put up hummingbird feeders and get them all summer. This summer my son’s girlfriend’s dad gave me a bird bath. The other day there was 8 bluebirds splashing around in it. It was really neat. Am checking into bird houses for these beautiful birds. Any suggestions?
How cool is that, 8 bluebirds in a bird bath! I’m envious.
To discourage visitors to your nesting box you could use galvanized pipe (the kind used to vent your dryer). I use it on my bird feeders and it keeps the critters away. If you have an opening at top cover it with hardware cloth.
Where can I find the screening to place in bottom of bluebird house to keep out blowfish larvae. Any ideas?
We purchased a bluebird nesting box from someone we know who custom builds them. It’s been hanging on our fence since last year and we have yet to get a nesting pair. It isn’t for lack of bluebirds, there are several in the area. My neighbor has nesting boxes also, and I encourage them with meal worms, etc. I’m thinking the guy who built the box put a finish on it the birds don’t like. Supposedly he builds them all the time and I assumed he would know about something as basic as that. Are these birds really picky about the finish? I’m not sure what he used, but NO birds have done a thing in there.
Your advice above is spot on. I placed a new birdhouse on a pole with a squirrel baffle to keep predators away and within a week I have a nesting pair of bluebirds. I had never even seen a bluebird here prior to putting up the nest box. Very gratifying. Thanks!
My bluebird house is up but I don’t know where to put food. I also do not know what to feed them.
Thank you for your help.
Second try! Babies are 17days old. Monotered through a Bird Cam Box. Had weeks of enjoyment. Hoping the babies will hang around after they fledge. Will keep the feeder full of dryed mealworms
On Thanks giving day we had a flock of the most beautiful bluebirds, they were all over the yard ( we live on a branch of the Elizabeth River in Va Beach Va, and have a large area of wet lands too) they loved our very large terrace flower boxes and magnolia tree, which each are full of seeds and they had a ball in the bird bath. They stayed for several hours. Now we are re-installing our nesting box and would like to know how to place our feeder. We have one on the other side of the yard about 200′ away. We have lots of birds and activity in our yard and would love to add bluebirds to our list. They were interacting with Cardinals, Bluejays, Wrens, it was such a wonderful treat. Any help will be great thanks.
We have had several bluebirds eating the berries in our holly bushes. I would love to keep them in the area. Any suggestions would help. Should I put up a small meal-worm feeding tray near the holly, which is close to the house. We are having very bitter cold weather here in Northeast Ohio.
I love to garden and I’ve been wanting to add a birdhouse or two in our backyard to invite the birds to come enjoy our garden space! I would never have thought to face the birdhouse away from prevailing winds and I didn’t even think about the afternoon sun! This is great advice. I’m excited for my birdhouses!
We put up a nesting box for an Eastern Bluebird male and his female mate. The nesting box is located on the side of our backyard shed away from prevailing winds. Is the shed a good location? We have a pine tree and a Mealworm feeder near by.
We have had our first brood leave the nest in our new blue bird box! I see in this article that it should be cleaned in between broods, but my mama bluebird is still going in and out. Should I dismantle her nest now?
I do like that you talked about how you should choose a birdhouse that’s built of rot-resistant woods and well ventilated. My husband and I are planning to shop for decorative birdhouses for our garden. We’d like to make sure that the birdhouses that we will buy can last for a long time and won’t easily get damaged. Thanks for sharing this.
I live in NC and placing a bluebird box out in the open isn’t a good idea due to extreme heat June thru Aug. Can I place the box under the outer branches of a cherry tree? It will be about 10 feet away from the side of my house, place in a southeast direction
Good point! For questions like these, we turn to the experts.
Here’s great information from the National Audubon Society: https://www.audubon.org/news/how-build-bluebird-nest-box
We are replacing a deck, construction starts Monday. We currently have an occupied bluebird house on the existing railing. It has to be moved before the deck is toned down. These bluebirds have been nesting in this location for more than 5 years. Please advise us on how to move and hopefully not disturb too much, also what to do to ensure they find the new location.
It sounds like an exciting time at your home with the new deck construction!
We have forwarded your question to the Today’s Homeowner Radio Show’s producer.
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We are just now seeing two Bluebirds in our yard. Is it too late to put up a house for them?
It’s best to have bluebird boxes in place by early spring, when bluebirds nest.
But people often set them up later in the season, too — totally up to you!
Either way, if you set it up now, you won’t have to worry about it later.
Good luck, and happy birding! 🙂
How close to the house can i put a bluebird box. I have an acre of trees and lawn and fairly large deck. Would lime it some where i can see easily
A rule of thumb is to place bluebird boxes in open areas; some nearby trees are OK.
Place the bluebird box on a pole, not in a tree where predators can reach our feathered friends.
Of course, every area is different, so test a placement, keep a daily or weekly log of performance, and make adjustments as necessary.
Thanks for the useful post. Do you have any suggestions about the Bluebird feeders?
Hi, Juliet! Temperatures are starting to dip, so now is the perfect time to consider making suet feeders.
Suet feeders attract many types of birds, including finches, bluebirds, wrens, sparrows, robins, woodpeckers, cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches.
Here’s more information: https://todayshomeowner.com/how-to-make-a-suet-bird-feeder/
Thanks for your advice, its very useful. I will make a suet bird feeder.