Bluebirds are brightly coloured songbirds, belonging to a group called thrushes. They are popular with any birdwatcher or garden enthusiast, but they can be difficult to attract to a traditional garden bird feeder. This is in part due to their varying diet, which changes between seasons. They are also quite shy in nature, so are easily startled in urban areas. Discovering what bluebirds eat is the best way to attract them to your garden.
Do Bluebirds Migrate? – Habitat
Bluebirds are found only in the Americas. There are 3 species; Western, Eastern and Mountain bluebirds. While they cover different habitat ranges, they tend to prefer similar environments.
Bluebirds are most often found in meadows, open woodland, forest edges and savanna. They are also common on farmland and parks where there are lots of open fields and hedgerows.
Western bluebirds are found along the west coast of the United States and Mexico. Most populations remain in the same region year-round, whereas some will migrate across states in October and November where the climate is warmer.
Eastern bluebirds have a much larger range. Most populations are found year-round from the East coast of the US and across the country as far as Colorado and Wyoming. Some populations of Eastern bluebirds will migrate to breeding grounds in North and South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and Maine.
Mountain bluebirds have the smallest year-round population. Most will migrate between breeding grounds and winter ranges. Breeding typically occurs along the northern west coast from Utah and Nevada, northward into Canada. Mountain bluebirds will breed as far north as Alaska.
What Do Bluebirds Eat? – Diet
All three species of bluebird are insectivores, with a small percentage of their diet including berries. A bluebird’s preference depends on the season. In Spring through until early Autumn, insects are the food of choice, including:
- Flying insects: mosquitoes, flies, moths
- Ants, spiders, beetles, crickets and grasshoppers
- Insect larvae, caterpillars, slugs and snails
As the weather gets colder, the insect availability decreases, so bluebirds will eat more fruit. Popular choices include holly, hackberries, cherries and grapes.
In warmer states, bluebirds will eat insects year-round as there is no noticeable dip in insect numbers.
How to Attract Bluebirds to Garden Bird Feeders
If you wish to attract bluebirds to your garden, conventional birdseed is not going to cut it. You will need to spend some time sourcing insects and fruits that bluebirds naturally feed on.
The best choices are mealworms and crickets, which you can buy live or dried from any pet store or at the reptile store.
If you are feeding live mealworms, it is best to use a shallow jar to prevent them from falling off the bird feeder. Dried mealworms and crickets can be scattered on the feeder as normal.
You can also add diced berries such as blueberries, hackberries and blackberries. Cherries, grapes, pear and apple are also good choices. You may also use dried fruits like raisins and cranberries, but be sure to soften them in warm water first.
Also Read: What Do Blue Jays Eat?
Most garden birds enjoy suet, which you can prepare in small chunks or shreds. You may notice that several different bird species feed on suet. You need to judge portions well so that there is enough left over for smaller species like the bluebirds to have plenty to eat.
To make your garden even more appealing, try adding a bird bath and a bird house. Birdhouses are particularly useful during winter so the bluebirds can roost safely without the risk of predation. Choose a bird house with a small hole so larger birds and cats cannot gain access. Providing protection is a great way to attract bluebirds to your garden.
What Does a Bluebird Look Like? – Appearance
Bluebirds are easy to spot at your garden bird feeder thanks to their distinctive plumage. Each of the three species has a similar body type, but slight variation in colour. Mountain bluebird males are almost entirely blue, with a few small brown feathers.
Eastern and Western bluebirds have larger patches of brown plumage on their chests. Females of all three species have only a few blue feathers, mostly on the back and tail. The blue is also more muted in females.
Bluebirds have small, slightly plump bodies, with rounded dark eyes and small feet. Their beak is small and black or dark grey, while the inside of the beak is bright yellow.
Typically, bluebirds do not grow longer than 8 inches and have a maximum wingspan of 15 inches. Eastern bluebirds are slightly smaller than Western or Mountain bluebirds and their coloration is not as bright.
Bluebirds, being small birds, have fair few predators to watch for. On the ground, animals such as snakes, cats, squirrels and raccoons are a daily hazard. Snakes and raccoons will feed on eggs and birds, while cats tend to hunt adults. Fledglings straight out of the nest or injured birds are at greatest risk of being caught.
In the sky, there are further dangers. American crows will destroy bluebird nests, smashing the eggs and killing any juveniles. This is not a feeding behaviour, but a territorial one to claim the best nesting sites.
House sparrows are a serious risk to bluebirds. They will attack and kill females in the nest and even kill the chicks. Other birds of prey will hunt bluebirds, such as kites, hawks and eagles.
The biggest threat to bluebird populations is a lack of nesting sites. This occurs due to human expansion such as logging or construction and farming which clears woodland and removes vital nesting areas.
To help boost numbers, local regions are installing bird boxes to give bluebirds suitable sites for nesting and breeding.
Many birdwatchers and even park areas are installing predator guard devices such as wire cages or bird boxes set on narrow, smooth poles to prevent climbing animals.
You can make your garden a bluebird conservation zone by ensuring you have suitable food on your bird feeder, providing a bird bath and preventing house sparrows from nesting.