The key to attracting bluebirds and butterflies

The bluebird population declined drastically, as much as 90 percent, from 1920 to 1970. The decrease was primarily due to two things, the loss of nesting habitats, including tree holes, rotted fence posts and old orchards and competing for nesting spots with other bird populations, like the starling and house sparrow. Luckily, today, bluebirds are easy to attract to your yard.
The first thing to understand when luring bluebirds is they prefer open areas, if the yard is heavily wooded other nesting birds will be attracted but not bluebirds. Probably the easiest way to attract bluebirds is to provide houses or nesting boxes along with food and water.

  • Food
    Bluebirds love insects and fruit. The bluebird’s diet is made up of insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, spiders and caterpillars.
    They don’t like birdseed. Native plants, such as the American Bittersweet, Flowering Dogwood, Eastern red cedar, holly and pokeweed, provide fruit. These plants can provide food and shelter for other species as well.
    Bluebirds also are very fond of mealworms. Mealworms won’t attract bluebirds to the yard but have 54.9 percent protein and are an excellent nutrition source for bluebirds, especially when the birds are nesting. A bluebird feeder is an economical way to feed mealworms, although a cup or pan will work too. The feeder has a hole that mainly bluebirds can fit through. Place the feeder in an open area near the nesting box.
  • Reproducing
    The female bluebird will lay four to five light-blue eggs that will hatch in 13 to 15 days. The male will supply most of food for the mother and the babies during the first few days of feeding. Males have been described as tiny hawks, as they sit in a slumped attack position and wait patiently for an insect or beetle to appear. The male will pounce on the unsuspecting prey and bring it back to the nest.
    In 15 to 20 days the young bluebirds will fledge, or develop feathers and muscles for flying, while the parents keep feeding them. A fledgling will be able to find its own food in about two weeks.
    Once the fledglings have left the nest, it should be cleaned out, and the pair will start over again. It’s important to sit back, watch and not intrude on the nesting process.
    With just a little planning and some family time, bluebirds will be flying to your yard in no time.
  • Nesting
    A variety of nesting boxes and prices are available online. You could also build one. Many different plans are available on the Internet, but one of the simplest is the Kentucky Bluebird Box. This simple six-board box has an entrance space at the top of the front board. The spacing for the entrance is critical to keeping other birds from using the house. Nesting boxes should be 5 feet off the ground and 125 to150 yards apart from other nesting boxes.
    Predator guards are a good idea to keep snakes and even raccoons from getting into the nest. These can be a cone-shaped piece of metal attached to a pole close to the nest or a larger pipe that covers the post and rattles when moved.

Watching these delicate bits of color float from one flower to another can be a continual source of pleasure throughout the summer and early fall. Attracting butterflies takes some thought but is very doable.
Butterflies are specific to the types of plants they eat. In other words, not all butterflies will use the same plant for nourishment.
Caterpillars don’t travel very much, so they spend their life devouring the plant where they hatch. For instance, if you have a dill plant and notice it decreasing in size, chances are a black swallowtail caterpillar is eating its way to pupate stage.
Once the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it will move from food source to food source, but different species of Lepidoptera — the insect group that contains butterflies and moths — prefer different plants for nectar. The anatomy of the butterfly determines its food source. The length of this tube and the legs determine which plants they can actually use for food. There are butterflies that don’t like nectar and feed on rotting fruit, tree sap or decomposing matter.
A general list of plants for butterflies includes:

  • Butterfly Bush
  • Phlox
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Aster
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Salvia
  • Lantana
  • Passionflower
  • Mexican Sunflower
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Fennel
  • Dill
  • Coreopsis

Planting these plants in “groups” of similar plants increases their attraction for butterflies.
Provide a water source, a shaded wet spot or puddle to serve as a cooling spot. Adding salt, manure, rotting fruit and even stale beer can enrich these spots, which provide male butterflies with minerals that are necessary for successful reproduction.

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