Help the Bluebirds: Build a Bluebird House

Our bluebird house is designed to give this embattled native a fighting change again habitat loss and competing avian species.

  • bluebird house - bird on house perch
    This lovely little insect-eater can't make a comeback without some human help, and that's where the bluebird house comes in.
    Photo by Samuel L. Skeen
  • bluebird house - interior view of birdhouse, mother feeding chicks
    A rare view of the mother feeding her chicks.
    Samuel L. Skeen
  • bluebird house - reverse view of bird on house perch
    Another view of our welcome visitor.
    Samuel L. Skeen
  • bluebird house - illustration of bluebird and birdhouse on fence
    A fence post is a good place to locate a bluebird house.

  • bluebird house - bird on house perch
  • bluebird house - interior view of birdhouse, mother feeding chicks
  • bluebird house - reverse view of bird on house perch
  • bluebird house - illustration of bluebird and birdhouse on fence

A scant 50 years ago, the eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) was common throughout the rural portion of eastern North America. However, as a result of such factors as habitat loss (particularly the loss of nesting sites), the competition of imported species (including the English sparrow and the starling), and pesticide poisoning, this valuable and beautiful member of the thrush family is now so rare that many country folks can't remember when they last saw one. Incidentally, the western bluebird (Sialia mexicana occidentalis) and the mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides) face similar problems — and the suggestions made in this article apply to all three species.

Fortunately, while quite serious the situation is not irreversible. People who live in "bluebird country" can counteract all of the major threats to this species' survival by not using chemical pesticides and herbicides, by building appropriate nesting boxes, and by monitoring those houses to evict any unwanted avian competitors.

A Bluebird Bungalow

It's not at all difficult to build a shelter that will attract members of the Sialia genus. However, the abode must be specifically designed to accommodate the tenant that you're seeking — and to discourage occupancy by the bird's rivals. Our Bluebird House Assembly Diagram details the construction of a suitable nesting box.

I've found that the front of such a house is the most important component of the entire structure. After the "starling proof" 1 1/2-inch-diameter hole is drilled (angle it slightly upward to prevent rain from getting in), the interior of the panel should be grooved horizontally with a chisel or saw. These "steps" will give the fledglings a means of leaving the dwelling when they're ready to try their wings.

Once the front piece is finished and the other main sections have been cut to shape, it's time to begin the actual assembly of the home. I find it easiest to attach the sides of the box to the back first, and then install the bottom; make sure that the sides and back extend a quarter inch below the base piece so that water won't run down the outer walls and collect in the center of the bottom before dripping off, possibly soaking through the floor and wetting the nest in the process. (By the way, if you use wood screws and glue instead of nails to assemble your nest box, it will likely have a longer life expectancy.)

When the base piece is secured in place, the roof can be attached. Then it’s time to add the front panel. In my design the front can be swung open on the two upper nails (they serve as hinges). So when positioning the door, you'll have to leave a gap between its top and the roof to insure that the portal won't bind when you try to pivot it up. I secure the door in its closed position simply by drilling angled holes through the lower edges of each side and into the bottom of the front section. I can then slip large-headed nails into each hole, keeping the door closed and, at the same time, giving the impression that the box is permanently fastened shut — which helps prevent human passers-by from disturbing the feathered tenants.

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