About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Attracting Bluebirds in the Winter

I live between Dayton and Cincinnati, OH and was blessed with attracting, for the first time, Eastern Bluebirds. They had 3 broods in 3 separate boxes in my yard this year. total of 12 babies. I didn't see them much the end of September, but now have had 8-10 of them show up in the mornings sitting on the fence next to my boxes. They go in and out and look at them, more of them appear to be male of the bunch. I went back and got dried mealworms for them to eat. I was hoping they would go ahead and migrate since the weather in my area can be harsh and I didn't really want to buy more mealworms.

Should I take the feeder down and stop giving them mealworms so they will move on? ~ Freda

Some Eastern Bluebirds migrate south in the winter and others can remain north. There is no fixed migration route for bluebirds. Like the American Robin they can overwinter anywhere as long as there is food, water, and shelter.

Photo by Freda
It’s natural for the bluebirds to disappear after they’ve fledged. Often parents take the young on what I call a family vacation to teach them about the world. It’s usually to a place that they feel is more secluded or safe and has an abundance of food.

The bluebirds then may return to their nest cavity briefly or remain throughout the winter. There is no way to force migration. Birds either migrate or don’t. If you don’t want to feed them, you don’t have to continue. However, if you can provide natural sources, you may enjoy a variety of exciting birds year round.

Bluebirds usually gather in the woods after their nesting season is done. There they forage for fruits, nuts, and berries from shrubs, trees, and vines. Some of those include dogwood, hawthorn, mountain ash, sumac, holly, bittersweet, pokeweed, grape, and honeysuckle fruits.

Once the bluebirds have joined their winter flocks they can forage for food together and wander about exploring possible roosting sites like your bluebird houses. Flocks can be as large as 100 but typically range from 5 to 20 birds.

Photo from Tom T. at WBU So. Yarmouth, Ma.
Bluebirds are also attracted to water. Because your area, like mid-Michigan, has freezing temperatures you can provide a heated birdbath for your birds. This isn’t like a hot tub. The bath just remains free of ice and open to the birds to get drinks or clean their feathers.

Feathers are critical for flight and insulation, birds must keep them well-maintained. A good part of a bird's day is spent just cleaning and grooming its feathers by bathing, scratching, and preening. The feathers covering the body give the bird a water resistant, aerodynamic shape for efficient flight. The feathers also provide insulation by trapping body heat close to the skin.

The only time it may be hard for birds to find food in the winter is during ice storms. Freezing rains or heavy snows can cover their food and make it almost impossible to feed. Survival then may depend on you feeding mealworms, suets, chopped fruit, nuts, or berries.

I hope that helps. I'm glad you want to learn more about your birds. There are also a lot of good books about bluebirds. The one we sell the most at our Wild Birds Unlimited stores is The Complete Guide to Attracting Bluebirds by Donald and Lillian Stokes.

Thank you for the information-- very helpful. I really enjoy them and have learned so much this summer just about the mating actions and teaching the young ones. I will get this book. I frequent the Wild Birds Unlimited store in my area a lot now. Freda