Spotlight On: New York State Bluebird Society

Mr. Nicol from the New York State Blue Bird Society stopped in at Better Farm on Sunday to introduce himself and give us some literature on his group (and to give us a BEAUTIFUL new bluebird house, see photo above!).

The New York State Bluebird Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), New York's state bird. It is the group's mission to:
  1. monitor and increase production of Eastern Bluebirds and certain other cavity nesting birds through a statewide nestbox program.
  2. educate or inform people of New York on the ecology and management of Eastern Bluebirds.
  3. conduct research on bluebirds and bluebird habitat selection, including nest box preference studies.
  4. cooperate and coordinate with other organizations with purposes similar to those set forth above.
  5. the corporation is organized exclusively for charitible, educational, or scientific purposes within the meaning of Section 501(C) of the United States Internal Revenue code.
Mr. Nicol said he'd spoken with my Uncle Steve about the organization once or twice in the past, which was what inspired him to stop by—extra fitting, as Sunday was also the day after the three-year anniversary of Steve's death. After Mr. Nicol's left, I set about reading the literature he'd left behind:

Then took to hanging the bluebird house he so generously gave Better Farm:

Below is information on everything you'd ever want to know about bluebirds. If you're in New York (or not) and would like to support the valuable work of the New York State Bluebird Society, click here to become a member.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

  • The Eastern Bluebird is a member of the thrush family, as is the Robin.
  • Adult males are a dark blue color on their head, back, wings and tail. Theyare a reddish-brown color on their chin and breast. Their belly is white.
  • Adult females are a duller blueish-gray color on the head, dull brown on their backand blue on the tail and wings. They are a light reddish-bown on the chin and breast.Their belly is white.
  • The Eastern Bluebird is found throughout the eastern US and southern Canada.
  • Eastern Bluebirds in the north will remain as far north during the winter as they can as long as they can find food, water and shelter. The harder the winter, or the more scarce food, water and shelter are, the further south they will migrate till winter breaks.
  • Eastern Bluebirds generally return north to the state of New York in early to mid-March.


NestBox Location

  • Bluebirds nest in open fields or orchards. They don't generally nest in cities or suburbs.
  • Place the box in an open an area as possible, do not mount on trees or buildings. Keep away from the edge of woods as house wrens will fill them up with sticks.
  • mount the box 4 to 6 feet up a pole or board
  • put a guard on the pole to keep out raccoons, snakes and other potential predators.
  • Try to face the box opening towards a tree or bush to give thefledglings something to fledge to
  • Do not face the box opening INTO the prevailing wind direction
  • Place boxes 100 yards from each other to minimize bluebird territory overlap. This distance can be reduced if there are trees/shrubs/landscape that break up the line of sight between the boxes.
  • Consider placing boxes in pairs, either back to back or within 4-6 feet of each other to encourage tree swallows and bluebirds to both nest. They will tolerate each other but not pairs of their same species.
  • If you don't get bluebirds in some boxes (or too many house wrens) after a couple seasons, consider moving them to another location.

NestBox Dimensions

There are many styles and shapes of bluebird boxes. Some made of wood,others PVC. Some general criteria are:
  • Inside dimensions of 4x4 for the eastern bluebird, 5x5 for themountain/western bluebirds.
  • entrance hole of 1.5 inches for the eastern bluebirds, slightly largerfor the mountain/western bluebirds.
  • bottom of entrance hole should be around 6 inches above the floor
  • no perch
  • box should open from top or side to allow for monitoring
  • ventilation at top of sides, drainage holes in bottom

Average Activity Periods

Many of these periods are subject to delay or extension due to inclimate weather and availability of food.
  • Courtship - 3 to 5 days
  • Nest building - 4 to 5 days
  • Egg Laying - starts 1 or 2 days after nest is completed. One egg is laid each day until the clutch is completed. Average clutch size is 5 eggs.
  • Incubation - starts when last egg is laid, lasts on average around 14 days
  • Brooding - starts when eggs hatch, lasts on average around 18 days. Stop nest checks after 12 days to prevent premature fledging

NestBox Monitoring

  • Try to monitor at least once a week
  • Stop monitoring 12 days after the eggs hatch. The young *may* prematurely fledge at this time
  • Minimize your time at the nest, especially in wet/cold weather
  • Tapping on side of box may help flush out brooding parent
  • Take note of eggs and nestlings and dates when laid, hatched and fledged
  • Remove nest after nestlings fledge to promote a subsequent nesting. Bluebirds will nest up to 3 times a season.
  • Join your state bluebird society or the North America Bluebird Society. The society will provide valuable information and birders with similair interests. Your data will help to understand the bluebird's breeding success.

Competing Species

Tree Swallows, Chickadees, Wrens and House Sparrows my attempt to nest in your box. The first three are tolerable. House Sparrows ARE NOT. Please do not "settle" for house sparrows. If you let them breed, you are actually working AGAINST bluebirds and other native cavity nesting birds.
  • Tree Swallows: mount a 2nd box on the same pole or on a pole 4-6 feet away. Tree swallows will nest in one, bluebirds in the other.
  • Wrens: move the box out in the open, away from the edge of the woods
  • Sparrows: keep removing their nests to deter them. They are a non-native unprotected species so you can deal with them as you see fit. We have in-house trap plans if you areso inclined.

Predator Deterrance

  • Put a pole guard on the pole to keep climbing predators out
  • some people grease the poles as well
  • Have the roof of the box overhang the front around 4 inches tomake it harder for predators to reach the entrance hole
  • If birds of prey attack your bluebirds, move the boxes away fromtrees where the prey birds may be launching their attacks
  • keep grass/weeds trimmed near box to remove predator hiding spots
  • deter feral/stray cats. They prey on many bird species.

Food Supply

Bluebirds eat mainly insects that they capture on the ground. They do noteat bird seed. They will eat berries, currants, raisins and mealworms when insects are not readily available.
  • keep some areas mowed to provide ground insects more readily
  • supply some of the materials listed above in bad weather (early spring,late fall, during winter) to supplement insect food.
  • place materials on a covered, open sided tray
  • plant berry-bearing shrubs/trees (holly, olive, mulberry, cherry, honeysuckle)

The NYS DEC sells berry producing seedlings each spring. Check out their link in our links section.

Here's a list of native trees/shrubs bluebirds are known to utilize for food:
Summer or Fall Fruits Winter Fruits
Flowering dogwood
red mulberry
black gum
pin cherry
black cherry
choke cherry
winterberry holly
American holly
eastern red-cedar
American Mt. Ash
Shrubs & Herbs:Shrubs:
Hercules club
red-osier dogwood
American Elderberry
red chokeberry
wax myrtle
dwarf sumac
staghorn sumac
smooth sumac
blackhaw viburnum
wild grape
american bittersweet
Virgina creeper
poison ivy
coral honeysuckle

Wintering Over

Bluebirds will winter over if the weather does not get too harsh and they have (1) shelter,(2) food and (3) water.

For shelter, bluebirds will roost in empty nestboxes. You can add clean dried grass in thefall if you wish for bedding material. You can also plug up air vent holes to help prevent heat loss. You can also build roosting boxes.
For food, you can plant berry bearing trees and shrubs so the bluebirds will have fresh food available. The also eat raisins and currents.

Martha Sargent suet recipe:
  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 cup lard
  • 2 cups quick-cook oats
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup regular (white) flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
Melt the lard and peanut butter together in the microwave or on the stove top. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour (actually its more like “plop”) the mixtureinto square freezer containers that will fit your suet basket. Or cool it in the fridge and crumble for a feeding platform. Store it in the freezer or refrigerator (depending on how much you use daily) until you are ready to use it. This recipe makes about six cakes. Only use the peanut butter in a mixture, not alone, as it may stick to the birds' crop.
For water, you can put fresh water out daily if there is not running water available. There are also products available to heat or vibrate the water to help prevent freezing.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.