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The Bird with the Sky on Its Back

Feb 27, 2017

Poet Henry David Thoreau must have delighted in seeing a bluebird. He wrote, “It carries the sky on its back.” The first warm days of February and March send Thoreau’s bits of sky looking for a place to nest. Eastern bluebirds once made their homes in tree cavities. But, with the scarcity of good nest spots these days, bluebirds have come to rely on nest boxes specially designed for them. A designer bluebird box has an entrance hole of precisely one and one-half inches in diameter--large enough for bluebirds but too small for most competitors and predators. A bluebird box placed by March can raise as many as three broods by summer’s end. In fourteen days, the eggs hatch and in another couple of weeks the young are ready to fly from the box.

Bluebirds are rural birds, seen in open grasslands with scattered trees or fences. Urban residents seldom see bluebirds and sometimes become concerned that they are rare.Actually, they are more abundant today, thanks partly to people who have put up bluebird nest boxes.
Next time you travel one of our country roads--keep an eye out for Missouri's state bird that carries the “sky on its back.”

The Bluebird's in the House!

Make your backyard the talk of all of the neighborhood bluebirds with your own bluebird house. Build it with a 1-by-6-inch, 5-foot-long board. Then, you're ready for the next steps:


  • Mount the top on a hinge, or a 1/2-inch dowel may be substituted for the hold-down strip for the roof. If the beveled corners on the bottom are omitted, drill four 1/4-inch holes for drainage. (Note: The front edges of the sides are 1/2 inches shorter than the nest box front.) The resulting crack provides ventilation.
  • The 1-1/2-inch hole size is important since it keeps out starlings and cowbirds. If woodpeckers or squirrels enlarge the hole, replace the front panel or patch it with a piece of wood with a 1 1/2-inch hole.
  • Painting is not necessary, but if you do paint, light gray or tan is preferred.


  • Mount your box four to six feet high on a post and face the entrance towards the nearest large tree or shrub. If you put up more than one box, space them at least 100 yards apart; bluebirds are territorial.
  • Clean out the box as soon as the young have left, and the chances are good that the adults will use the box again for a second or even third brood. Clean and repair your boxes every February.
  • Bluebirds like open or lightly wooded country. Pastures with wooded draws or scattered trees are ideal. New sub-divisions, cemeteries, golf courses, farmsteads and road rights-of-way are all good areas on which to erect nest boxes.

Helping bluebirds with a place to raise their family can be a fun activity for your family. Learn more about bluebird house building.

MO DOC-2017-DNN March Week 1-Bluebirds Return-MDOC1703-LF01.mp3

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Listen to the Discover Nature Notes Radio spot on Bluebirds.

Bluebirds - Discover Nature (KRCG)

Learn about Missouri's state bird, the bluebird.
Learn about Missouri's state bird, the bluebird.

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