How to Help Bluebirds in Winter
Most bluebirds move out of the northernmost areas of their range in winter. Even ones that may linger eventually move on once their berry sources are depleted or ice-covered. For bluebirds and many other species, there is a trade-off of staying more north in order to be first to claim prime breeding territories, yet risking survival due to bad weather. These tips may help them survive, and you will feel that you’re helping them:
Bluebirds can roost together in birdhouses to keep warm. Insulate your bird houses by closing off all cracks and drainage holes with some sort of insulating material so fewer drafts and cold get into the birdhouse. Just leave the entrance hole open. Face birdhouses away from prevailing winter winds.
Bluebirds mainly eat fruit and berries in winter. Plant your property with an abundance of crabapples and native berry-producing shrubs such as viburnums and hollies (like winterberry holly). Place these berry plantings in sunny, protected areas blocked from winter winds. The bluebirds will have a warm place to eat and use less precious energy.
Some bluebirds will come to food such as hulled sunflower seeds, suet, dried mealworms and some of the many “bluebird meal mixtures” or nuggets. Generally, most bluebirds do not learn to do this. You can certainly try putting out these foods, but your best bet is to have lots of berries planted in your yard.
Bluebirds like water (this may help with processing the berries) and will visit bird baths. Some people think it is a risk for birds to bathe when it is severely cold. Holding off on water or placing sticks over the bird bath to only allow birds to drink but not bathe may be a good idea in this situation. Many birds will eat snow in winter to get water.
For more information on bluebirds, see the Stokes Bluebird Book. For the latest identification information and range maps on all three species of North American Bluebirds, see the best-selling book The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.
© Don & Lillian Stokes, 2017