Making a Bluebird Trail

Bluebird Nest Box

Thinking about starting a Bluebird Trail? THATS GREAT! The Lafayette County Bluebird Society and its members have alot of expereience and we are eager to share what we have learned. Here's a step by step process to get you started.

1. Starting a bluebird trail? Select a good nest box, one that opens for cleaning and checking, has an opening no larger than 1 5/8″, can be installed on a metal pipe, and is made of durable wood (not fiberboard). Cedar is a good choice for wood. If you have any questions or need supplies, visit the Nature Center, or the Bluebird House Plan [PDF] is available to make your own.

2. Be sure and place nest boxes at least 100 yards apart to help eliminate competition from other bird species. The best places to veiw your bluebirds are in grassy areas away from trees and bushes.

3. Use conduit or metal pipe when you install a nest box. Nest boxes on wooden and T fence posts are more susceptible to Predators.

4. If house sparrows nest in your boxes, clean them out daily. The House Sparrow is a predator bird and needs to be taken very seriously. House Sparrows will kill Bluebirds and their young. Learn more aboutt discouraging sparrows and other predators.

5. Clean out your nest boxes in mid February. Be careful when opening the box, the common field mouse is known to use a closed nestbox in the winter. Stand back from the box, as the mouse might jump out when the door is opened. Clean a mouse nest out with care. Fecal matter from mice can contain hanti virus and, if inhaled, can be deadly. Check the box for damage and replace if it not safe for the birds.

6. Male bluebirds make early checks on last year’s nestbox beginning in March. Females arrive by March 15 and are often ready to take up housekeeping. Nest building begins early April.

7. Offer your bluebirds mealworms. They enjoy the treat and will feed them to the young in the box.


Monitoring Your Trail

1. Other birds may build a nest in boxes intended for bluebirds. To help you identify a nest refer to the nest guide on the web site of the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin
2. Check your boxes by opening them once a week and writing down what you observe. Watch out for wasps when cleaning the boxes because they like to build their paper nest inside and under the box. Record what bird species is using the box. Count the eggs and nestlings. When the bluebird young are about 14 days old do not open the box because they might fledge early. To know how old a chick is, refer to If the nestlings do exit the box, pick them up and replace them and hold your hand over the entrance hole for a few minutes. They usually stay in the box.
3. To know if the chicks fledged successfully, look for feather dust in the bottom of the box and fecal matter in the nest. If nestlings are removed by a predator at an early age, there is very little feather dust in the box. The parent birds stop removing the fecal sac when the nestlings are ready to fledge. This forces the young to soil their nest and encouraging them to fledge.
4. By Tuesday of each week, email your observations to The compiled reports are emailed to members on Wednesday during the nesting season. When you receive a trail report you will see the format that is used by most reporters.
5. At the end of the nesting season, late August or early September, clean out the nest boxes and leave the door closed. The bluebird family will come back to the box in mid-October to visit. They fly in and out of the boxes, sing a plaintive song and abruptly leave for their wintering grounds. At that time, the door on the box can be left open for the winter to discourage mice from nesting in it during winter. By mid-Septmeber, email your data to the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin. Information can be found at the BRAW website.
6. Be a part of the trail report and become a member of the Lafayette County Bluebird Society.



Do you want to read more about Eastern Bluebirds? The Lafayette County Bluebird Society has provided books to each library in the county. Look for: The Bluebird Book by Donald and Lillian Stokes (for adults) and Blue Sky Bluebird by Rick Chrustowski (for kids).

Teddy and the Bluebirds by Sue Cashman, illus. by Bonnie McDaniel 2014

Bluebirds by Steve Grooms and Dick Peterson 1991

The Bluebird Book by Donald and Lillian Stokes 1991

Bluebirds Forever by Connie Toops 1994

Bluebirds and Their Survival by Wayne H. Davis 1995

Symbol of Hope Bluebirds by Steve Grooms and Dick Peterson 1991

The Bluebird Monitor’s Guide by Jack Griggs 2001

Bluebirds in the Upper Midwest by Dorene H. Scriven 1989

Bluebirds in My House by Arnette Heidcamp 1997

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When I checked my box some of the young "jumped out". What should I do?
A: When the young are about 14 days old, it's best not to open the box because they might fledge early. If they do exit the box, pick them up and replace them; hold your hand over the entrance hole for a few minutes. Often, they settle back down and will stay in the box.

Q: My bluebird nest is wet. Is that a problem?
A: It's good to carry abandoned nest material or dried pine needles with you when you check boxes; if a nest is wet, you can remove and replace it. Keep in mind that if birds build nests after it has been raining, the only kind of nesting materials they can get is wet. So cut them some slack and leave the nest in place so that it may dry out. Make the distinction between a damp nest being built and a soaked nest. Remove and replace a soaked nest if it has eggs or chicks in it.

Q: I think I discovered some chicks that are orphaned. Can anything be done to save them?
A: Always touch your chicks to see if they are warm when they are under 12 days old. If the chicks are cold and there are no adults around, the chicks will die unless you find a home for them in another nest box. Warm up the chicks by placing them in a cloth and holding them next to your body while looking for a box to use for fostering. It is best to introduce older chicks into a box with younger chicks than vice-versa (younger fostered chicks moved into a box will be less able to compete with older chicks). When fostering, use the rule of thumb that there be no more than 6 chicks total in a box.