Flashes of Blue

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

roads usually reveals bluebirds perched along utility wires and fenceposts.

Determination may well be the bluebird's middle name. When the pair of bluebirds selected the nest box in my backyard, I began to fully understand their struggle to carry on their species. The male arrived first. After surveying the area he began to sing. His crooning soon attracted a female, who began building a nest.

The next afternoon another bluebird pair decided this nesting box was a perfect site for them to raise their young. The first pair stoutly defended their territory. I later learned that bluebirds only fight other bluebirds of the same sex. The four bluebirds were soon on the ground in two clouds of dust.

The fight went on for only a few seconds, and the second pair flew off in a hasty retreat. Although victorious, the first female had injured her leg and was unable to stand. For a month her mate closely guarded her and fed her insects. I frequently found them perching side by side on the same branch, the male warbling softly. When she was able to stand, they built their nest and successfully raised the five young I saw take their first flight.

This early success helped motivate me to search for other opportunities to place nesting boxes. I was given permission to place approximately 30 nesting boxes at a large park near my home. Because bluebird boxes left unattended may cause more harm by attracting undesirable birds, such as starlings or house sparrows, I monitored these boxes carefully.

I am proud to report that the 1997 nesting season was a success. Eighty three bluebird young fledged and successfully left the nest. Of 96 bluebird eggs, two were lost to snakes, six failed to hatch and a few were destroyed by house wrens. Unfortunately, two nestlings perished due to hypothermia. In addition to the nestlings and eggs, two adult bluebirds defending their nest boxes were killed by house sparrows and one adult bluebird was killed by a house wren.

Come next spring you'll find me checking and repairing bluebird boxes once again. I'm hoping to break my record of 83 bluebird fledglings. Like the adult bluebirds, I am determined and committed to help them raise their young. Will I break my record in 1998? The odds are in my favor . . . But I'll have to let you know. triangle

The Successful Bluebird Nestbox

Materials List:

  • one 1'' x 6'' board, 5 feet long
  • drywall screws or nails-1 1/2''
  • hinge (with small screws)
  • paint (light grey or tan preferred)


Cut board into pieces indicated below. Note, floor has notched corners for drainage. The opening hole is 1 1/2'' wide and centered 2 1/4" down from top of front panel. Drill small pilot holes for screws to avoid splitting the wood. Assemble box, build side with hinge first, then building off back panel, attach floor to back and add sides, using one screw centered to secure to floor and two screws to back. Match bottom edge of front to sides. Use one screw for floor and two on each side. (The top edges of the sides and the front do not match, allowing for ventilation.) Position roof over box, using two screws to secure it to the front panel. The back rests on the top of the box against the back panel. Attach hold-down strip tightly above roof to back panel using two screws.

February through March

  • Place nest boxes facing east or away from prevailing winds.
  • Mount new nest boxes 4 to 5 feet above ground, facing a tree or shrub within 75 to 100 feet.
  • Repair any existing nest box and remove any nesting material remaining from the previous nesting season.

 April through August

  •  Monitor nesting boxes once or twice a week. More often could disturb the young birds.
  • Avoid startling the nesting female by tapping lightly on the box before inspecting it to alert her to your presence.
  • Never open the nesting box after the nestlings are 12 days old, for this may cause them to leave the nest early.
  • Remove used nesting material, which may contain parasites.


  •  Clean and repair nest boxes
  • Leave boxes up for winter. On all but the coldest nights, nest boxes offer adequate protection for many roosting birds.

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