Bluebirds of San Diego County

Water & Food for Bluebirds

Western Bluebirds in birdbath by CM Killebrew Western Bluebirds at birdbath by CM Killebrew

Importance of Water

A water source for your bluebirds is very important here in San Diego County, California. A shallow birdbath will provide water for them to drink, as well as a place to frolic and bathe. Keep the water clean and full. To prevent algae and diseases, once a week clean with either a vinegar or bleach solution.

Bluebird Diet

Bluebirds eat lots of grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, beetles, and worms. 82% of the Western Bluebird diet is comprised of insects and spiders. The other 18% comes from plant berries, especially during the winter. Some plant berries that bluebirds are attracted to are mistletoe, juniper, toyon, elderberry, nevin's barberry, hollyleaf cherry, coffeeberry, pyracantha, laurel sumac, lemonadeberry, currant, and palm fruit.

male Western Bluebird by J. Anderson male Western Bluebird by J. Anderson

Feeding Bluebirds

Bluebirds don't need you to feed them, as they know how to find wild food. However, a handout of food may help your backyard bluebirds early in the nesting season, when there might be a stretch of unusually wet or cold weather. You can also offer food to a bird that has lost its mate, to help it with the hard work of feeding a clutch of nestlings solo. Feeding bluebirds is also fun, and it brings the birds in close.

During nesting season, you can give your bluebirds a few mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) or sunworms (black soldier fly larvae) once or twice a day. A dozen or so worms or larvae offered each morning and evening in a bowl or feeder is enough for a pair of birds. And you can raise that to 50 to 100 at each offering when there are nestlings. Put the worms in the shade and where ants won't get them. For proper bone development, a bird's diet should provide about a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorous. Fly larvae has a 1:55 calcium to phosphorous ratio. And mealworms average only 0.26:1. So go easy on the mealworms unless you dust them with calcium powder before feeding them. You put the mealworms in a plastic bag with calcium powder, and shake it gently to coat them. But remember, a variety of wild caught food is the best diet for growing nestlings, with worms or larvae only fed as a supplement.

Western Bluebirds at mealworm feeder by CM Killebrew Western Bluebird mealworm feeder by CM Killebrew

This well-made (and easy to clean) bluebird feeder was designed for Eastern Bluebirds, so the openings are a bit small for Western and Mountain Bluebirds. However, there is an easy way to widen the openings: With a pair of pliers, gently "pinch" every other opening on each row of mesh, being careful not to damage the coating on the mesh.

It is important to clean feeders and birdbaths weekly with either a vinegar or bleach solution to prevent avian diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, mold, and parasites.

Avoid Putting Out Common Birdseed

Non-native house sparrows can compete with bluebirds for nestboxes. House sparrows can ruin bluebird eggs and young, and may even peck an incubating female to death. House sparrows prefer small grain seeds, such as millet, cracked corn, and milo-- the stuff found in common birdseed mixes. If you like to feed birds, try offering nyjer (thistle) or safflower, as house sparrows, starlings and ground squirrels are not attracted to them. Place feeders away from nestboxes, and consider suspending feeding during nesting season to reduce attacks from Cooper's Hawks. Or a less expensive way to feed birds is to plant lots of seed and fruit bearing plants.

male Western Bluebirds eating mealworms by CM Killebrew female Western Bluebird eating mealworms by CM Killebrew