Help bluebirds in your own backyard
Eastern bluebird, ON (Photo by Chelsea Marcantonio)
Hazel Bird was an all-around naturalist, outdoor educator and conservationist who was committed to the recovery of the eastern bluebird, which was placed on the endangered species list in 1981.
Hazel installed over 400 bluebird nest boxes that she diligently maintained and monitored with the help of volunteers for more than 40 years. Though she inspired hundreds of others with her dedication and love for nature in Northumberland County, her greatest accomplishment came in 1996 when the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) announced that the eastern bluebird was no longer considered a species at risk!
Hazel Bird at the Lawrie Lawson Outdoor Education Centre (Photo by Audrey Wilson)
With the help of Hazel’s original plans, you can now build your very own bluebird nest box at home!
Installing your nest box
In Ontario, eastern bluebirds typically nest from April to August, frequently raising two broods. Nest boxes should ideally be installed in grassland habitats before nesting season begins. Bluebirds hunt by sitting on a perch and dropping down to the ground on their insect prey; therefore, it is important that the nest box is installed in an open area.
Elizabeth Kellogg, Rice Lake Plains, ON (Photo by NCC)
- Attach the nest box to a metal pole or T-bar, 1.2 to 1.8 metres (4 to 6 feet) above the ground.
- Position the entrance hole facing southeast toward open habitat.
- Hazel Bird used to make sure the box was spaced at least 90 metres (300 feet) away from other nest boxes, but research has shown that twinning the boxes (having two boxes side by side) may help ensure one is used by eastern bluebirds. Tree swallows will often use these nest boxes. With two boxes, the swallows will use one, prevent other tree swallows from using the second box and leave it available for bluebirds.
- Apply automotive grease to the metal pole to deter predators and pests, such as racoons, snakes and ants.
- If a wooden post is used, the best predator guard is a piece of sheet metal wrapped around and secured to the post.
- Mount the nest box on a fence post. This increases vulnerability to predators.
- Place the nest box near farm buildings or in urban backyards. This may result in competition with house sparrows, a non-native species that is known to break eggs and kill chicks and adults if they decide to take over a nest box.
For more information, visit the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society.
Monitoring your nest box
Eastern bluebirds typically have more than one successful brood each year. Young raised early in the spring usually leave their parents in summer, but young raised later in the season will often live with their parents throughout the winter. Old nests should be cleaned out of the box as soon as fledglings leave so that it can be used to raise a second generation. The front panel of the nest box was designed to open upwards for ease of cleaning.
Eastern bluebird nest (Photo by Sialis.org)
A male will attract a female to his chosen nesting site by carrying nesting material in and out of the hole, perching and fluttering his wings. The female conducts all of the nest building. She will weave together a deep cup of grasses and pine needles and occasionally animal hair or feathers.
Clutch size: 2-7 eggs
Number of broods: 1-2 per year
Incubation period: 11-19 days
Nestling period: 17-21 days
Egg colour: pale blue, rarely white
Egg size: About 1.8-2.4 centimetres long
Appearance after hatching: Mostly bare, except for sparse tufts of gray down, eyes closed.
When monitoring your bluebird box, it is best not to disturb the birds. Monitor from a distance, and don’t open the box up during the season.
The eastern bluebird at a glance
Eastern bluebird (Photo by Cameron Curran/NCC staff)
Commonly seen perched on telephone wires and nest boxes, eastern bluebirds are medium-sized songbirds easily identified by royal blue feathers on their head and backs, rusty orange coloration on their chests and bright white bellies. Females are paler, featuring grey tones.
Range: Eastern North America
Length: 16-21 cm
Weight: 28-32 g
Wingspan: 25-32 cm
Habitat: Grassland, open woodland
Food: Insects, fruit
Nesting: Natural cavities, nest boxes
Conservation status: Least concern (Ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature)
In the early 20th century, eastern bluebird populations significantly declined, as invasive species such as European starlings and house sparrows took over available nesting cavities, making it difficult for bluebirds to breed. In the 1960s and 1970s, the formation of bluebird trails, as well as other nest box projects, alleviated much of this nesting competition, especially after nest boxes like Hazel Bird’s were designed to exclude the larger European starling. Eastern bluebird numbers have been recovering ever since.
For more information on Eastern bluebirds, visit the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society (OEBS). In 1996, Hazel Bird was honoured with the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society Conservation Award.