Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Friday, January 1, 2016

Feeding Bluebirds in Winter


Bluebirds typically forage for insects and berries in open country surrounded by trees, but when extreme weather conditions make this more challenging, they may be brave and visit backyard feeders, if you have the right food.

Bluebird and Northern Cardinal

While visiting my sister in North Carolina, during a period of prolonged wet weather, we enjoyed watching bluebirds up close through the kitchen window. All these photos were taken through the glass, as it was very rainy and not possible to shoot outdoors.

Bluebirds at suet feeder

At first, the bluebirds frequented the suet feeders. High energy suet that includes hulled sunflower seeds, peanut bits, raisins and cornmeal are good. Their beaks are not designed for cracking open seeds.

Bluebird at suet feeder

Sometimes, they were chased off by the larger red-bellied woodpeckers who would swoop in and command the suet feeder.

Red-bellied woodpecker at suet feeder

The bluebirds were surprisingly brave, venturing into the traffic of other song birds to visit the feeder with hulled sunflower seeds. Bluebirds don't normally eat seeds, so this is a big deal.

bluebird and goldfinch at feeder

Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Nuthatches, Carolina Chickadees, and House Finches were constant visitors to this feeder, keeping the stations continuously occupied.

song birds at feeder

Eating in the company of other birds was something I've never witnessed bluebirds do. Often, they sat at the top of the feeding station patiently waiting for an opportunity to fly down and grab a bite to eat.

bluebird

And then rush back up on their perch to devour their fare. Even this behavior was new to me as I usually find them very private, only flocking together with their own and even that is rare in our garden.

perched bluebird

In normal conditions, it is not necessary to feed bluebirds because they can find the necessary forage in their natural environment. They are very helpful to gardeners, consuming large amounts of insects in spring and summer. If you want to attract more to your garden, include native trees and shrubs that produce berries they like. Some recommendations are Flowering Dogwood, Serviceberry, Viburnum, Cedar, Hackberry, Smooth Sumac, Hawthorn, Pokeberry, Elderberry, Holly, Virginia Creeper and Mistletoe.
 
In extreme wet or cold winter weather situations or late winter/early spring,when wild berries are gone and insects are scarce, you can make some homemade suet to get them through this time (February to April is most critical). Perhaps you will enjoy watching these bright blue birds right out your backdoor.



Bluebird Dough

Ingredients
1 cup melted lard or beef suet
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups quick oats
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour

Directions
Melt lard and peanut butter together on a low burner. Take off heat, and add remaining ingredients. Spread on a cookie sheet, and allow to cool in the refrigerator until the mixture is just hard enough to cut into pieces. Store in freezer bags and use as needed.

17 comments:

  1. Nice recipe, Karin. I don't get bluebirds in my garden, but wish I did. They are not city dwellers. Many other birds visit so that is OK with me. Cute photos.

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    1. I believe they are in your area for summer breeding at which time they would be nesting and searching for insects so not visiting feeders. Perhaps if you put out mealworms they may visit. These photos were taken in the city of Durham albeit a neighborhood that has lots of trees and natural areas.

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  2. We were just talking about Bluebirds this morning on our walk. I add dried mealworms to my seed mix in hopes of getting Bluebirds closer to the windows. I like the recipe, will give it a try. Most of my berry bearing shrubs are bare now.

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    1. We have a tree that is covered with mistletoe and I wonder if they have picked it clean. It is too high up for me to see. Otherwise there seems to be very little for them to eat right now. I hope the dough helps them come in closer to you. Let me know how it works out.

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    2. I was wondering the same thing Janet. I have a container of mealworms and will add it to suet mixture.

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  3. Lovely post, Karin. Though have many visiting/dining birds, for some reason I don't see many bluebirds here in Michigan ... don't know why. I have lots of temping berries but hate to begin feeding ... too many issues in the past with wildlife like raccoons, possums, etc. dining/raising havoc ... :) Have plenty of squirrels and chipmunks that too can be very pesky. Bluebirds sure are handsome ... Happy New Year fun friend!

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    1. Michigan falls in their summer zone so you probably don't have many in winter. We have lots of squirrels and have had to squirrel proof the feeding stations so they don't eat too many. They often run off with the suet feeders and I find the cages in the woods. The chipmunks are mostly at the bottom of the feeders but have very elaborate tunneling systems throughout the garden so I understand your hesitation. Flying squirrels overwinter in our bird boxes but at least they are outside and not in our attic.

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  4. Great post. No bluebirds here, but we do have the Cardinals, Woodpeckers, and Nuthatches.

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    1. I always enjoy your bird posts Jason. You get some other really interesting birds in your garden that I don't see in Georgia.

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  5. Well, the last couple of comments have answered my question as to why I don't see them at our feeders in the winter. I'm not that great at identifying birds from a distance which doesn't help in the case of birds that prefer bugs and insects to the seed in the feeders - other than robins that is. We always have a robin extravaganza on our lawn after a good rainfall :)

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  6. It's amazing how the Robins come out of the woodwork after a good rain,isn't it. I just talked to my sister today in SW Michigan and she spotted a bluebird on her walk so they are up north in winter. I guess it's possible you may see one. They're hard to miss with their striking blue wings.

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  7. Love bluebirds, but I never see them here... Happy New Year!

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  8. I love bluebirds! So pretty to watch! I also find them to be usually shyer than many of the other birds. I always have sunflower chips out for mine, and occasionally I'll see them eating the suet. I don't usually see them at the feeders during the summer, but now that it's cold they are coming back. I have winterberry shrubs by my front door, and they love those! I was sad that I was away for Christmas when they decided to eat all the berries. It is so much fun to watch them eating.

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  9. What a pleasure to see all these birds!
    Happy New Year Karin!

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  10. What a treat to see all these birds and especially the bluebirds...they are missing now here and I fear it is because of the house sparrows taking all the nesting spots and the chemicals from the neighbors. I have suet all winter for the birds but still no bluebirds since last winter.

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  11. I need to add some suet. I know some of the other birds like it, too. We have all the other birds you mention here, but I've never seen a bluebird at this property. I have seen them at the Arboretum, however, and they are beautiful and entertaining to watch.

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  12. I love bluebirds but there are none in our area. Interesting how they adapted their diet. Sounds like these are hard times for bluebirds. Hope they make it through winter ok! By the way, if have several plain suet feeders. I find if the suet contains grain or peanuts it will be devoured by grackles, starlings, and English sparrows.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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