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Bluebird House & Feeder


Blue_Bird_House_1.jpg (26821 bytes)(Spring 2003) My wife and I are avid bird watchers and may single-handedly feed the entire bird population in our little part of the country with all of the feeders we have around. Until now, however, we've never actually provided a place for them to rest their heads, so we decided to provide a home for the bluebirds that we see frequenting the yard. Bluebird houses (nest boxes) are particularly desirous as this very attractive yet timid bird is still staging a comeback what with their near demise at the hands of the common house sparrow and starlings, birds that are more aggressive and don't mind stealing a bluebird's shelter if given half the chance. (In the photo is Suzy, my part-time shop dog. Looks to be intrigued by a weed of some sort, but only she'll ever know . . .)

Blue_Bird_House_2.jpg (13580 bytes)What's great about bluebirds, and other song birds for that matter, is their weak sense of smell, so they don't mind your monitoring their nest to check on the chicks' progress, inspecting them for parasites and other problems. There's no concern that the parents will smell 'human' and abandon their young. To monitor the nest, you need a means of access that is easy and least disruptive. You can see from this picture that one way of achieving this is through a hinged side door. Some houses have roofs or front walls that swing up instead, however I settled on this design as it appealed to me the most (as with most of the pictures on this site, just click on the image for a larger image).

Blue_Bird_House_4.jpg (27755 bytes)Blue_Bird_House_3.jpg (23763 bytes)Within three days we had a bluebird staking his claim and the beginnings of a nest. Here are two pictures; the first reflects a couple days' effort, the second a couple days even later. The nest was built quite quickly. Unfortunately, a house sparrow then took over the home and needed to be 'evicted'. (House sparrows - actually 'weaver finches' - are not native to North America and were released in Central Park back in 1850 and have taken over nearly the entire continent over the years. They kill other birds' young and are a real nuisance). I'll post new pictures as things continue to 'develop'.

5/5/2003 Update: Unfortunately, a house sparrow ran our bluebirds away as well as a pair of tree swallows that were also eyeing the nest-box. House sparrows, though cute little brown birds they are, are actually a real menace to native cavity-nesting birds. Read this article for more info. The bottom line is that if you have nesting boxes or houses you need to be actively monitoring them to prevent house sparrows from propagating otherwise they should be taken down, or at least plugged. Alternatively, you can catch and donate the sparrows to a raptor recovery center using the method described below.

TRES_1.jpg (27787 bytes)5/9/2003 Update: Fortunately, the tree swallow (TRES) pair that were chased off have returned. You can see the beginnings of their nest in this shot. Hopefully, with the house sparrow (HOSP) problem behind them we'll see a family emerge from the box in a matter of weeks. Unlike many other birds, TRES only have one brood of young per season, so it's important to draw them to your box before they find shelter elsewhere, otherwise you'll need to wait another year before you have another shot at a TRES family.

TRES_Nest.jpg (42883 bytes)6/4/2003 Update: The TRES are preparing to lay eggs as you can tell from this picture. TRES always line their nests with feathers in preparation for their young, and here you can see the mother TRES sitting in the nest, to the right. So now the waiting begins . . .

Final Update: Happy endings for both the TRES and Blues as their young flew the nest. Now we wait until next year.

Back to Completed Projects

How to Catch a House Sparrow
Sparrow_Trap_1.jpg (27953 bytes)Sparrow_Trap_2.jpg (30089 bytes)These pictures illustrate a method that I found very effective at trapping a sparrow pair, using a mesh laundry bag with a cord lock and a Van Ert sparrow trap. The mesh bag tightens around the box so there's no means of escape, and while the sparrow is fluttering around in the bag, it is very easy to confirm identity as an English House Sparrow, and then to either catch it in your hand or trap him in the bottom by simply compressing the mesh in your hand prior to removing the bag from the box. I found the Van Ert trap to be very effective after having failed 3 times with a home-made trap. From here, I take an inverted ziplock bag in my second hand, surround the bird, invert the bag and zip it up. Given the destruction that this species inflicts, a slow suffocation would seem appropriate, but instead I give them a humane, quick death. Search the Internet for the most humane methods. Or email me.

Once the blues (or tree swallows - TRES, if you're lucky to get both) have laid their first egg, it is important to put a sparrow spooker on your boxes. Search the net to build your own or buy a commercial one like I did. This will prevent your eggs, your hatchlings and the mother sitting on top of them from becoming HOSP (house sparrow) targets.

This season a HOSP killed my male bluebird inside a second empty box. The bluebird was simply protecting his nest. This was a mindless killing of a native, protected species. Blues have no defense inside a box against the powerful beaks of HOSP. The introduction of HOSP to Central Park in the 1800s was the most irresponsible act in the history of birding, and we're all paying for it, including our native nesting box species.

If you still aren't sure why house sparrows are bad news, you'll want to read this.

Bluebird Information

Compliments of Chris of the Bluebird Forum (thanks Chris for putting this together). Also from this forum are the collection of birding photographs located here.



American Bird Conservancy: conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout America.
American Birding Association
: all things bird . . .
The Bluebird Box: a lot of great info for bluebirders.
Bluebird Cam Live: live video feed of a variety of birds in their nesting boxes. Shots are updated every minute.
Bluebird Reference Guide: anything and everything you ever wanted to know about bluebirds.
Bluebird-L Reference Guide: provides a wellspring of info to broaden your bluebird and nest-box monitoring experiences.
Bluebirding Forum: have questions? Go here for answers.
The Eagle Cam: okay, so these aren't Bluebirds, but you'll get a bird's-eye view of a Bald Eagle nest, no pun intended.
Ed from MA: a bluebirding enthusiast offering a lot of helpful information.
Huber Sparrow Trap: when they refuse to leave, you gotta take action.
Larry's Monofilament Solution: could this be the answer to the house sparrow problem?
The Nest Box
: one bird lover's dedication clearly shows with this site.
Nest Box Plans: several plans to choose from.
The North American Bluebird Society: one of the most information-rich sites out there. You'll quickly find that bluebirding is a sub-culture all its own.
Sialis: Well-laid out site that delivers a whole lot of information on bludbirding.
Terry's Bluebirds: a lot of information by another bluebirding enthusiast.
Wild Bird Centers of America: here you can buy houses, or just buy the poles and meal worms that bluebirds love so much. No doubt there's a location near you.
WildBirdSuets.com: good source for bluebird suet nuggets.


Getting Started & FAQs
NABS Fact Sheets:
     Getting Started  
     A Good Nest-box
     Good Monitoring
     Predator Control
     House Sparrow Control


Purple Martin Conservation Association
Purple Martin Society

Terry's Martins

Tree Swallow Nesting Project

BLUEBIRD BOOKS (Be sure to check the Garden Web bookstore for these books!)

Scriven, Dorene "Bluebird Trails A Guide to Success", Bluebird Recovery Committee of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis ISBN: 0-9639661-1-1 Check here for the best price I've seen: Bluebird Recovery Program

Berger, C., Kridler, K., and Griggs, J. "The Bluebird Monitor's Guide". Harper Collins ISBN: 0-06-273743-0

Stokes, Donald & Lillian, "The Bluebird Book", Little Brown & Company ISBN: 0-316-81745-7

Zickefoose, Julie, "Enjoying Bluebirds More, The Bluebird Landlord's Handbook", Bird Watcher's Digest ISBN: 1-880241-03-X

Grooms, Steve & Peterson, Dick, "Symbol of Hope - Bluebird"

(Nest Identification) Harrison, Hal H., "Eastern Birds' Nests". Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0-395-93609-8. (This is the paperback Eastern guide).

(Nest Identification) Harrison, Hal H., "Western Birds' Nests". Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0-618-16437-5. (This is the paperback Western guide).

Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye, "The Birder's Handbook A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds" A Fireside Book published by Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0-671-65989-8. (Ok, not specifically about bluebirds, but an excellent birding book!)


The two nest identification field guides mentioned above are the best. But, for a quick check this might help: Egg & Nest ID

A site with some clearer pictures of nests of the most common tenants: Nest ID


House Sparrows (actually a Weaver Finch, not a sparrow) are deadly predators on bluebirds - and other cavity nesters. House Sparrows will peck eggs, nestlings, and adult bluebirds to death. However, it is imperative that other sparrows not be confused with House Sparrows. Only House Sparrows are a threat. To learn what this predator looks like: House Sparrow ID

To learn about house sparrow behavior and some methods of control, Steve Eno gives some excellent information: House Sparrow Behavior

House Sparrow Egg

House Sparrows as sources of diseases: Sparrow Facts


Links for how to attach monofilament line to a nest-box. For set-ups showing free-swinging strings of monofilament, great caution is needed that those strings do not swing into the nest-box to tangle bird feet or get swallowed by babies.

Larry Zapotocky Monofilament

This one isn't monofilament, but another option: Sparrow Spooker


Andrew Troyer's: The Bird's Paradise
20835 Morris Road
Conneautville, PA 16406
1 800 872 0103

Ahlgren Construction Company
12989 Otchipwe Ave. N.
Stillwater , MN 55082
(651) or (612) ???? 430-0031

Bluebird Love, Inc.
Bluebird Love

Cedar Valley Live traps
Zell Olsen
8128 Blaisdell Ave. So.
Bloomington, MN 55420

For Gilbertson Boxes and traps:

Steve Gilbertson
35900 Dove Street
Aitkin, MN 56431

The PMCA also sells house sparrow and starling traps.

Van Ert Traps

Big Red Nature Store


Wild Birds Unlimited

Real Bird Homes


Huber Trap

Bolt Trap

Gruenke 10 Minute Trap This really is a great idea for an emergency trap!

Bauldry Trap

Peterson Trap

Gilbertson Trap


Peterson Style Nest-box

All The Other Nest-boxes


A protected species, the House Wren, is also a predator on bluebird eggs and hatchlings. It is important to understand, that of all wrens only the House Wren is a danger to other cavity nesting passerines. House wrens generally build nests made of twigs - sometimes even on top of a clutch of a different bird's eggs that it poked to kill.

House Wren ID and Song

The Great Wren Debate

House Wren Egg

The first step in protecting against House Wrens in bluebird nest-boxes is to site the boxes out in the open at least 100 feet away from wooded areas. However, as wrens over-populate their preferred nesting habitats they are known to move out to those open areas and attack bluebird and tree swallow habitats. ... and, nest-boxes in areas with trees are the usually preferred of chickadees who are also at risk of house wren attacks. In such instances, maybe - just maybe - a wren guard will be helpful. Information about the guard developed by the late Mr. Robert Orthwein can be found here:     Wren Guard


The larvae of the blowfly is a parasite on hatchlings and nestlings. A major infestation of blowfly larvae may require nest replacement. Check Blowfly Information and Research to learn about this parasite and the Bird Nest Research project. This research project needs nests from which baby birds have fledged and is for the main purpose of examination of the nests to determine the occurrence of parasites such as blowfly larvae, mites, etc.


Hanta Virus is a serious, sometimes lethal, disease contracted - by human - from the droppings of certain mice. Since mice often nest inside bluebird nest-boxes, it is important to know how to properly deal with cleaning a box in which a potentially infectious mouse nested. CDC Hanta Virus


West Nile disease is killing birds. Believed to be spread by bites of infected mosquitoes and bird-to-bird contact this virus and its disease are of concern to the birding world everywhere. Keep up to date on the spread and what can be done. CDC West Nile Virus


Nasty buggers that seem to love building their nests in nest-boxes, baffles, and feeders. European Paper Wasp

More European Paper Wasp


There are probably more state societies ... check out the NABS site above ... for the moment, these are the quick resource ...


New York





In the event you find an ill or injured bird (or other critter) it is crucial to the animal's survival that it be given to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It is not legal to keep and care for the animal except by licensed rehabilitators. Find your closest rehabber now - before the emergency occurs. Being prepared is especially important ... there are now rehabbers included in these lists that have actually had to close down due to lack of funding. So checking things out before the panic is crucial.

Locate Wildlife Rehabilitator at Wildlife Rehabilitator's Resources
Locate Wildlife Rehabilitators

Wildlife and Rehabilitation Laws

Center for Rehabilitation of Wildlife


Tips for interim baby bird care information, provided only as a temporary resource for care until the bird can be delivered to - or picked up by - a trained, licensed wildlife rehabilitator.) These links are in addition to the wonderful "Emergency Bird Care and FAQs" link at the top of the forum's opening page.

Baby Bird Emergency Care


It is usually not "necessary" to offer mealworms to bluebirds. However, in times of cold and/or prolonged-wet weather snaps with a nest full of babies or if one of the adult birds is lost during nesting, mealworms can make the difference in the survival of the babies. Mostly ... it's a warm-fuzzy!

1 800 222 3563 GRUBCO
1 800 500 2473 Jenna Bird
1 800 634 1558 NABS
1 800 777 9676 Rainbow Mealworms
1 800 322 1100 Sunshine Mealworms


While bluebirds prefer insects, after much patience (like a couple of years) they sometimes sample peanut butter mixtures. In the meantime, these recipes will be adored by woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, juncos, cardinals, etc.

Brenda's super mix:

1 5 pound can of Crisco
1 large jar crunchy peanut butter
Melt over low heat and remove pot from stove.
Stir in 5 pounds of corn meal.
Add 3 pounds of white flour.
Stir until mixture is a flaky consistency. You can add or subtract flour as desired.

"I store this concoction in a large Tupperware holder on my counter. I also freeze it. I mold this mixture into a standard basket-type suet hanging feeder also." ... Brenda

And another yummy recipe:

1 cup Lard
1 cup Crunchy Peanut Butter
1 cup Cornmeal
3 cups Oats ("Quaker" cereal type)
1 cup Sugar (less is ok, but the full cup is great for a winter calorie boost in cold climates)

Melt lard and peanut butter together (microwave works fine). Stir until blended.

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients, except for the oatmeal.

Then, pour-in the melted lard & PB.

Next, start adding the oatmeal 3 or so cups at a time. The "suet" should be thick. You may add extra oats if it is not thick enough. Pour the mixture into a greased pan (or glass pans - no extra greasing needed), cool in refrigerator and cut or spoon into the proper shape for your feeder. If you don't use it up quickly it can be frozen until needed.

I also add extra chopped peanuts, chopped raisins, chopped sunflower hearts, and powdered sterilized eggshells.


Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter


Cowbirds are nest-site parasitic birds - they do not build their own nests. Rather, they deposit their eggs in the nests of other birds. Often, the cowbird will toss an egg of the nest owner before depositing its egg. A cowbird egg in a bluebird nest is rare, but does occur. Maybe this information will help identify if a mystery egg in a bluebird nest came from a cowbird. Cowbird Eggs

Pretty much ... the history on cowbirds ... they used to roam the great planes of the "wild west" with massive herds of buffalo ... picking bugs and parasites off of those exquisite creatures. Because of this nomadic life, cowbirds weren't in one spot long enough to nest. So they deposited their eggs in the nests of other birds and then moved on. When the massive herds of buffalo died off ... cowbirds were stuck with their 'roaming' nature, but with nowhere to which to roam. Now ... they still often grace herds of cows with their bug & parasite picking nature ... but ... they've become a "nuisance". Sort of sad; sort of a pain in the butt. Cowbirds usually toss one egg of the host clutch and lay their egg in its place. Sometimes cowbirds will parasitize the same nest twice. Some host birds will abandon their nests when a cowbird egg shows up in their nest. Many birds will raise the cowbird as their own. Sometimes this 'adopted' baby is so big, compared to the others in the host nest, that the other chicks die of starvation as the adults try to feed the ravenous appetite of the cowbird chick.

Some reports say a single cowbird female lays between 60-80 eggs each year.


Tree Swallow Egg


Interesting 'stuff' with tangential relationship to bluebirds!

Report finding a Banded Bird
All about Bird Eggs

James Reserve Bluebird Trail

Wildlife Refuges

North American Snake Identification

Natural Insect Control


The purpose of putting leg-bands on birds is for research ... things such as migration patterns, nest site fidelity, survival length, etc. are just some examples of research. Banding migratory birds is legal only with a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The specific part of the site that covers information on how to apply for a federal permit is found here: Bird Banding Permits.


"Bluebirds in the Suburbs"
4497 Woodstream Drive
Columbus, OH 43230-5128
(614) 478 5004

Boz Metzdorf, videographer.
Birdseye View Productions
1761 co. rd. H
Deer Park, Wisconsin 54007
(715) 248-7459


Just a few for birds that are interested in nest-boxes:

EABL = Eastern Bluebird
MOBL = Mountain Bluebird
WEBL = Western Bluebird
AMKE = American Kestrel
ATFL = Ash-throated Flycatcher
BCCH = Black-capped Chickadee
BHNU = Brown-headed Nuthatch
CACH = Carolina Chickadee
CAWR = Carolina Wren
CBCH = Chestnut-backed Chickadee
EASO = Eastern Screech Owl
EUST = European Starling
GCFL = Great Crested Flycatcher
HOSP = House Sparrow
HOWR = House Wren
HOME = Hooded Merganser
NOFL = Northern Flicker
MOCH = Mountain Chickadee
PROW = Prothonotary Warbler
PUMA = Purple Martin
RBNU = Red-breasted Nuthatch
TRES = Tree Swallow
TUTI = Tufted Titmouse
VGSW = Violet-Green Swallow
WBNU = White-breasted Nuthatch
WODU = Wood Duck