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Now is the time of year to make a home for Missouri's state bird

Francis Skalicky
Missouri Department of Conservation
An eastern bluebird on shrub in snow.

When it comes to nest building, early birds may not always get worms, but they can get other benefits. To find an example of this, look no farther than our state bird – the bluebird.

Talking about nesting songbirds and hatchlings now may seem out of season when you consider the wintry weather we’ve had recently. However, regardless of what the thermometer shows or how much snow may be on the ground, this is the time of year to start preparing a home for bluebirds if you enjoy seeing them on your land.

Many area residents, particularly people who live in rural areas, know Missouri’s state bird – the eastern bluebird – is a common sight in this region. However, some people may not realize that bluebirds arrive at nesting sites in February and early March in this part of the country and that brings us back to early nesting.

Yes, early nesting is a gamble and bluebirds that begin nesting in the near future may experience nesting failures due to snowfall, cold snaps and other weather conditions associated with the late winter/early spring transitional period. However, when the meteorological cards fall the right way, there are several advantages to early nesting. For one thing, early nesting can provide a bird much better opportunities to raise multiple broods. For a bird, as is the case for other wildlife species, life is about species propagation. The more young that are produced, the greater chance a species has to survive. Also nest predators may be less active – or even absent – during early spring nesting. Offspring from early broods have more time to develop foraging skills and other life-sustaining traits over the course of summer. Parents searching for nesting locations early also have more sites to choose from than later parenting birds will.

If you want to encourage bluebird nesting in your area, now is the time to consider putting up a bluebird nesting box. In the wild, bluebirds compete with starlings, house sparrows and other creatures for cavity nesting space. It’s thought this shortage of natural nesting space is one reason bluebirds readily accept appropriately placed man-made nest boxes. The abundance of bluebird boxes in this area is yet another sign of how Missourians care about conserving forests, fish and wildlife.

Bluebird boxes work best in rural locations. Most urban settings are too crowded to attract bluebirds. Nest boxes should be placed in open grassy areas that have perching sites. Meadows, pastures or big yards that are not too heavily shaded are ideal. Perching locations can be in the form of fence lines, power lines or nearby trees.

For best results, mount the box on a lone post. Posts can be fitted with a metal sleeve to discourage climbing predators. Nest boxes placed on fence posts may work, but it’s often easy for snakes and other predators to climb fence posts and enter the box during nesting attempts in later months. Tree trunks aren’t the best locations either because boxes are often too shaded and can be easily accessed by squirrels and snakes.

Bluebirds will nest at varying heights, but four to five feet off the ground is convenient for human observation. If you put up more than one box, place them approximately 300 feet apart. This allows for a bluebird’s sizeable territory.

Information about bluebirds can be found at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website, mdc.mo.gov.

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.