September 08. 2017 10:52PM

Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Bluebirds can be city slickers if given proper incentives


Stratham reader Roberta Roberts shared this photo of bluebirds visiting her deck. (Courtesy)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on June 1, 2002, and was requested by longtime Nature Talks reader Roberta Roberts of Stratham.

ONE MIGHT THINK of bluebirds as being the “Country Squires” of the bird world. So they are, but that doesn’t prohibit them from becoming “City Dudes” when conditions are favorable. Bluebirds are, indeed, more readily adaptable to open country. However, they do find their way into cities if conditions are suitable.

A Manchester reader wrote recently asking what conditions, food, type of feeder were necessary to attract bluebirds into her yard. All birds need a few basics: easily available food, water for drinking and bathing, escape areas from predators and adequate places to nest. In the case of bluebirds, these requirements are more readily accessible in country settings where they find open fields and scattered dead trees with old woodpecker holes in which to nest.

The diet of the eastern bluebird has been estimated to be 68 percent insects and they take them wherever they can find them. Their usual hunting style is somewhat hawk-like in that they will quietly sit on a fence-post, tree limb or other location carefully observing an open area.

When a cricket, grasshopper, beetle, spider or other choice morsel is spotted, they leave their perch, swoop down and grasp it in their beak. In city dwelling, an expanse of lawn takes the place of an open field for the bluebird: bird baths replace stream sides for drinking and bathing, and birdhouses substitute for dead trees.

When bluebirds do arrive in the city and find favorable conditions, they may be tempted to stay. They will not, however, be attracted to the usual feeding station fare that offers sunflower seeds or a mixture of seeds. A suet feeder might entice them, but a tray of mealworms would be most appreciated.

Several years ago, Doug and Maria Quinn of Ashburnham, Mass., wrote in part: “Enclosed is a photo of our bluebird feeding tray that is very simple to make. About eight inches square and two inches high. The bottom is open with wire screening attached to let rain flow through. The sides are lined on the inside with 1/8-inch plastic sheet to discourage mealworms from climbing out.

“I feed mealworms that can be purchased at pet supply stores. This particular worm (mealworm) is a wonderful substitute for insects for the birds. In particular, when young birds are in the nest and cold or rainy weather cuts down on the insect supply, I placed a glass plate over the feeder one day to stop larger birds from eating the worms. The corners were open to the bluebirds. This particular feeder is about 50 feet from my sun porch. It is easy to check on and it saved the lives of the young birds when the storms arrives. Also the adults birds got to know me. They became quite tame and would come to my whistle whenever I went outside to refill the feeder.”

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In recent years, hand feeding mealworms to bluebirds has been practiced by several of our readers. Last year, one of our longtime Stratham readers was successful doing so. This year on May 9, a “bluebird update” was received that read in part: “My husband and I returned from Florida on April 30 to find that the bluebirds had arrived before us and the female was incubating five eggs. I think that is the same pair as last year as they approach the deck using the same flight pattern as before. On May 7, all five eggs hatched and the parents are busy with their feeding duties.

“I have decided not to hand feed the female this year. Although I thought it was a rewarding experience, I found that it was also very time consuming. We have set up a feeding station for them on the deck and both birds seemed to be satisfied with that arrangement. I do have to admit that I did allow her to take one mealworm from my hand.

“Bluebirding is a very satisfying hobby and since it is so early in the season, I hope they will attempt a second nesting in our back yard.”

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at