Bluebird Houses: The Definitive Guide (7 FREE Plans!)
So you want a bluebird house in your backyard?
Well, you have come to the right place.
In this post, I have included everything you need to know about getting started with bluebird houses: (Click the hyperlinked text below to skip to that specific section!)
- Easy DIY Videos/PDF’s you can build yourself!
- Learn the seven features that a bluebird nest box should have.
- If you’re not a talented carpenter, then buy one of these bluebird houses on Amazon and have them shipped directly to your front door!
- This section is a MUST READ for anybody that decides to put up a bluebird house!
Before we begin, I want to answer a common question:
How do bluebird nest boxes help bluebirds?
Bluebirds are considered cavity nesters, which means they will only nest inside a cavity that is fully enclosed, except for the entrance hole. You will never see a bluebird build a nest out in the open like an American Robin or Mourning Dove.
To complicate the issue, bluebirds are unable to make their own nest cavity. So in the wild, bluebirds rely on holes in trees that woodpeckers excavated in seasons past.
Around 100 years ago, bluebird populations (most notably Eastern Bluebirds) started declining because of an extreme decrease in available nesting sites, mostly due to these three reasons:
Humans typically cut down dead, rotting trees.
- If you have a dead or dying tree in your yard, you usually have it cut down. This may be great aesthetically, but remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Rotting trees are PERFECT for woodpeckers to excavate holes to build their nest cavities, which are then used by bluebirds in subsequent years.
Old fence posts have been replaced with newer, hardier posts.
- Wooden fence posts used to be excellent nesting sites for bluebirds after woodpeckers would hollow cavities. Most of these wooden posts have been replaced by metal posts, wire, or treated wood, which is harder for woodpeckers to excavate holes inside because it does not decay easily.
- House Sparrows and European Starlings were introduced from Europe!
Both of these invasive birds use the same nesting cavities that bluebirds require, except both of these foreign bully birds can outcompete bluebirds and easily drive them away from their nesting space. It’s not uncommon to find a bluebird that has been savagely killed by a House Sparrow or European Starling.
Thanks to many dedicated people building nest boxes, bluebirds have recovered!
The North American Bluebird Society has tirelessly promoted bluebird conservation to help bring public awareness to the nesting cavity issue, along with an incredible increase in knowledge about year-round requirements and behavior of all three bluebird species.
Are you ready to join bluebird fanatics all over North America and start building (or buying) nest boxes?
7 Free Bluebird House Plans.
As you can imagine, there are thousands of different plans for birdhouses available online. The problem is that most of them are not designed with bluebirds in mind.
I did my best to find birdhouses that were effective at attracting bluebirds, included clear instructions, and are relatively easy to build!
This short list is by no means all-encompassing, and there are many types of bluebird houses that work well. If you talk to 100 bluebird enthusiasts, you will probably get 100 different nest box recommendations!
- RELATED: 13 FREE Birdhouse Plans: Easy PDF/Video Instructions (For Robins, Cardinals, Purple Martins, Chickadees, Wrens, & Swallows).
A. PDF Instructions for Bluebird House Plans (5 total)
#1. Xbox Birdhouse Plan PDF (Nestboxbuilder.com)
The Xbox is a classic looking bluebird house that is simple to build and effective at housing birds.
#2. Peterson Bluebird House Plan PDF(Nestboxbuilder.com)
The Peterson has worked wonderfully to house bluebirds for many years. It does not look like your typical birdhouse, with the front and back coming closer together as you move from top to the bottom. Just a warning that the Peterson nest box can be tricky to build.
#3. Gilbertson PVC Bluebird Nest Box PDF (Nestboxbuilder.com)
The Gilbertson bluebird house is mostly made from PVC pipe! The pipe detaches from the wooden roof to monitor bluebird nests quickly and easily.
#4. F30 Nestbox Plan PDF– Ideal for Western/Mountain Bluebirds (Nestboxbuilder.com)
The F30 bluebird nestbox has a large floor space, totaling 30.25 square inches, which makes it ideal for Western & Mountain Bluebirds. These two types of bluebirds have larger clutch sizes than Eastern Bluebirds and prefer floor dimensions of 5-1/2 inches per side vs. only 4 inches/side for Eastern Bluebirds.
#5. DIY Bluebird House from Birds and Blooms
A simple to build, yet proven bluebird house that is made mostly from one cedar board.
B. Video Bluebird House Tutorials (2 Total)
In the age of YouTube, I think it’s easier to follow along to video instructions. This is especially true for people like me that are not incredibly handy and generally embarrassed at their lack of carpentry skills. 🙂
#6. “How To Build An Inexpensive Eastern Bluebird House”
In this video, you can see how to build a bluebird house entirely from a 6-foot long fence post. Seriously, that’s the only wood required!
#7. “How To Build A Bluebird House.”
This friendly gentleman shows us how to build a bluebird house from a single board. I like how much detail he goes into when constructing the next box, which is especially helpful for novices like myself. I was able to find the PDF bluebird house instructions he references through the video. —> View the PDF HERE! (Missouri Conservation Committee)
C. Read These 7 Tips BEFORE Building a Bluebird House!
Tip #1 – Use the correct size entrance hole!
There is probably nothing more important than drilling the correct entrance hole to your bluebird house. If it’s too small, a bluebird won’t be able to fit inside. And if it’s too big, then European Starlings and other predatory birds can fit inside to either use the nest box or eat the nestlings!
The entrance hole size hole depends on where you live and which specific bluebird species you are trying to attract. For your information, there are THREE types of bluebirds in North America; Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, and Western Bluebird.
- For Eastern Bluebirds, use either a 1½ inch round hole, a 1⅜ x 2¼ inch vertical oval hole, or 1⅛ inch horizontal slot entrance.
- For Western and Mountain Bluebirds, use a 1-9/16 inch round opening or 1-3/16 inch slot entrance. Western Bluebirds have no problem with a 1-1/2 inch diameter hole, but Mountain Bluebirds require the larger entry of 1-9/16 inches. And since the Mountain and Western Bluebird ranges overlap in many areas, you can’t be sure which species you will attract.
Tip #2: Make sure there are drainage holes drilled in the bottom of the bluebird house.
You don’t want any water to accumulate inside. Bluebirds don’t enjoy nesting in swimming pools!
Tip #3: Include vents at the top of your bluebird house.
It can get extremely hot inside of a bluebird nest box. Your birds will appreciate some holes drilled into the top to help with airflow and cooling.
Another way to help decrease internal temperatures is to use wood that is at least 3/4 inches thick. And the lighter the color of your wood, the better. Make sure not to paint the outside of your bluebird house a dark color, such as green or black, since darker colors attract heat.
If you live in an area where temperatures are routinely above 90 degrees F, then you should consider placing your bluebird box at least partially in the shade or create larger ventilation gaps.
Tip #4: Your bluebird house must open easily.
Any responsible bluebird host MUST constantly monitor their next boxes against House Sparrows and other intruders. You will thank yourself later if your birdhouse has a side or roof that easily opens to check inside.
Tip #5: No perches!
Do not attach a perch to the front of the birdhouse. Bluebirds don’t require one, and it will only encourage other birds, such as House Sparrows and European Starlings, to use the house or give predators a place to land.
Tip #6: Make sure the roof overhangs the entrance.
The little bit of overhang will help keep out rain and provide shade.
Tip #7: Don’t drill your entrance hole too low.
The height from the bottom of the entrance hole to the floor should be between 5-7 inches.
4 Pre-made Bluebird Houses You Can Buy
If you have already given up trying to build a nest box, then buy one of these pre-made houses on Amazon and call it a day!
Made of red cedar, opens easily, and has a 1-1/2 inch opening for Eastern Bluebirds. Includes ventilation gaps at the top and drainage holes on the bottom. This house slightly resembles the Xbox bluebird house above (#1).
This bluebird house has a 1-9/16 inch entrance hole and larger floor dimensions, which makes it ideal for Western and Mountain Bluebirds. The sides easily open, and one side even has a plastic window so you can look inside without disturbing nestlings.
Now, this is a fancy bluebird house! First, it’s made from durable recycled plastic so it will last a LONG time. The house also includes a built-in predator guard, raised mesh flooring to protect the nestlings, and ventilation and drainage holes. Lastly, the front lifts open easily to clean or check on the babies.
So if you like the design of the Peterson Bluebird House in the above section but are not skilled enough (like me!) to build one, then you might as well go ahead and buy this house. The only complaint with this house is that the hole is made too big to keep out starlings, but it’s an easy fix by purchasing a 1.5-inch plate (for Eastern Bluebirds) or predator guard to put over the hole.
9 Helpful Tips For Success With Bluebird Houses
Before making or buying a bunch of bluebird houses, you NEED to read this section. I wish it were as easy as hanging some nest boxes in your backyard, then sitting back and waiting for bluebirds to start having babies, but it’s not.
Housing bluebirds can be quite a commitment, as you will learn below. For many of you, I am going to recommend against trying to attract bluebirds to your backyard, solely based upon where you live, and this includes myself!
Tip #1: You Must Account For House Sparrows.
I may have bad news for you.
If you live in an urban or suburban area that is infested with House Sparrows, it may not be worth the effort to try and attract bluebirds and may even be dangerous for them!
Here’s a brief history of the relationship between bluebirds and the invasive, non-native House Sparrow:
House Sparrows are from Europe and were introduced to the United States in 1850. Since then, these highly adaptable birds have expanded their range across the entire continent, and they are now found in almost every corner of the world. House Sparrows enjoy being near people, as they are usually the bird that’s trying to steal your popcorn and bread at amusement parks!
But House Sparrows are bad news for bluebirds!
That’s because House Sparrows use the same nesting cavities as bluebirds. They may not look the part, but House Sparrows are EXTREMELY aggressive, and they almost ALWAYS outcompete bluebirds for available nesting sites and birdhouses.
House Sparrows even commonly KILL bluebirds inside nestboxes to wipe away their competition.
So if you live in an urban area that already has lots of House Sparrows, putting up a birdhouse for bluebirds is only going to encourage House Sparrows to nest inside. And if you are lucky enough to house a bluebird, you run the risk of having a House Sparrow attack or injure it.
Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood suburb just outside of Akron, Ohio. We have House Sparrows everywhere! When I try to hang bluebird houses in my backyard, they are almost immediately taken over by these invasive, bully birds. There is no way I am ever going to be able to SAFELY house bluebirds in my backyard. 🙁
Tip #2: You Must Constantly Monitor Your Bluebird Boxes.
The BEST way to make sure that House Sparrows don’t take over your bluebird boxes is to CONSTANTLY monitor them at least ONCE per week. By checking the boxes so often, you can identify and rectify any problems quickly.
When you walk up to a nest box, you want to do it quickly and quietly. Talk softly as you approach and then tap the side of the house lightly to give adult birds a chance to fly out. It’s not uncommon for a female laying on her eggs to stay inside even once you open the box.
The only time you don’t want to open up a nest box is when the nestlings are about 12-14 days old.
At this point, they are getting prepared to leave the nest but are not quite ready. Opening up the box may scare the juveniles prematurely out into the world! Make sure to keep accurate records of when the bluebirds hatched so you know this critical time frame.
Don’t worry about making bluebirds abandon their nest as they are tolerant of humans. It’s also an old wives tale that touching a birds nest will make the adults leave. Birds can barely smell anything!
So what if House Sparrows are found inside of a bluebird house?
House Sparrows CAN’T be allowed to stay inside of a nest box (at least if you want to attract bluebirds!). As said before, these invasive species outcompete and commonly kill bluebirds.
Remove any House Sparrow nests immediately! While it’s possible to recognize a House Sparrow nest vs. a bluebird nest, the best way to confirm is to observe the next box to see which species are inside.
- *For help identifying nests and eggs that may appear inside your bluebird house, check out the second page of this guide created by the North American Bluebird Society.*
The only nests you are allowed to remove are House Sparrows and European Starlings because Federal Law does not protect these two birds since they are considered invasive species.
If you find a chickadee, titmouse, wren, or swallow nest inside your bluebird box, DO NOT REMOVE! These are native birds, and it’s illegal to mess with them, even if you want too.
Tip #3: You can’t install just ONE bluebird house!
Two types of swallows (Tree & Violet-Green) will also use your bluebird houses and actively compete with bluebirds for the right to nest inside. Bluebirds and swallows are equal competitors, and it’s a toss-up who will win the prized real estate. Unfortunately, nestlings can die in the fighting.
An easy way to ease some of the tension is to put up TWO nest boxes about 5-15 feet apart. Interestingly, both species will actively defend the nest box they are using from ALL species of birds, but they will only protect the other house that they are not using from their own species. So by putting up two boxes, bluebirds and swallows can nest next to each other peacefully.
Putting up pairs of boxes works incredibly well, and you will hopefully get to observe two different types of native birds nesting!
Tip #4: Give appropriate spacing between pairs of nest boxes.
If you plan setting up multiple pairs of bluebird houses, then you need to provide adequate space in between each set.
Bluebirds are territorial, and each male has about 2-3 acres in his specific territory. To avoid confrontation and fights between bluebirds, space each pair of bluebird houses at least 100 feet away from each other.
Tip #5: Place your bluebird house in the appropriate habitat.
In general, bluebirds like open spaces and are not typically found in forests.
Here is a brief description of the habitat that each bluebird species prefer:
Eastern Bluebird: Can be found in meadows and open spaces surrounded by trees. Look for them on the sides of roads, golf courses, and fields. I always see Eastern Bluebirds at a local Christmas tree farm.
Western Bluebird: These birds enjoy open woodlands, both coniferous and deciduous. You can also see them in backyards and farmland, and they live from sea level up into the mountains.
Mountain Bluebird: As the name suggests, these birds are common to see at medium to higher elevations. Look for them in native habitats such as prairie, sagebrush steppe, and even alpine tundra; anywhere with an open country that includes at least a few trees that can provide nest cavities.
So the best location to place your bluebird house is in an open field, preferably with a bit of shade during parts of the day but that is not necessary.
Since bluebirds primarily eat insects, they require hunting perches. They readily use shrubs, smaller trees, lower branches of large trees, and fence posts. You can also add stakes to the habitat that bluebirds will readily use for hunting and resting!
Sparse or low vegetation is a perfect habitat for bluebirds.
Just think about these following areas, which are all GREAT areas and locations to view bluebirds: Cemeteries, orchids, Christmas tree farms, golf courses, open highways, pastures, public parks, and large lawns that are kept mowed.
For your information, there are quite a few other birds that are secondary cavity nesters and will use bluebird houses. The list includes:
- Swallows (Tree, Violet-green)
- House Sparrows
- *Chickadees (Black-capped, Carolina, Mountain)
- *Titmice (Tufted, Oak, Juniper, Black-crested)
- *Wrens (Bewick’s, Carolina, House)
- European Starlings (Only if the entrance hole is larger than 1-1/2 inches.)
*These species typically won’t nest inside of a bluebird box if it’s positioned in a field or meadow. These species prefer their nesting boxes placed in the woods. To avoid competition from these birds (especially wrens), try to put the bluebird box at least 100 feet from wooded areas.*
Tip #6: Correctly mount your bluebird houses.
Now that you have your birdhouses and know WHERE to place them, you must correctly mount them. Here are the most common things to use:
- These metal posts are great for attaching bluebird houses, as they are lightweight, durable, inexpensive, and found at almost any garden center. Birdhouses are attached with bolts or wire.
- Make sure to place the box outside any areas where livestock could knock it down.
- These are incredibly durable, but a bit harder to attach a box too. Here is a video showing how it can be easily done:
- I would avoid attaching bluebird boxes to trees if possible. The reason is that it’s hard to protect nest boxes in trees from predators. And House Wrens will more readily compete for a house that’s located in a tree.
- You can also buy a specially made pole that was designed for mounting bluebird houses. The set even includes an auger on the bottom to help place securely in the ground. This pole set is a great option for people like me who are not great at DIY projects!
Lastly, here are a few tips when mounting your nest box:
- The ideal height of a bluebird house is 4-5 feet above the ground, but birds will use boxes that are as low as 3 feet and as high as 15 feet in the air.
- There is no perfect direction to face the entrance holes. But if you live in a hot climate, it may be best to point the front of the house North or East to avoid the midday sun.
- If possible, face the box toward a tree, shrub, or something else that a baby bird could land upon within 100 feet. When a baby bluebird leaves the nest for the first time, they will appreciate not having to fly far to their first landing spot.
Tip #7: Prepare for predators.
While we know that predation is part of nature, and there is no way to ever have a 100% success rate with your bluebird chicks, it is still incredibly sad and shocking to lose baby birds.
While you can’t guarantee the safety of your bluebirds, a few strategies can be used to help deter, repel, and keep away some of their most common predators!
PVC Pipe or Baffles on the Mounting Pole:
A common way for predators to reach a bluebird nest is by climbing up the pole that the nest box is mounted upon. The most common culprits are cats, raccoons, and snakes, but don’t be surprised if you have problems with opossums, squirrels, and mice!
Luckily, climbing up the pole is easy to stop by placing a guard directly onto the pole. Here are a few options:
- 4-inch diameter PVC pipe placed over the entire mounting pole, from the bottom of the box to the ground. From there, you should grease the pole with vaseline or another non-toxic lubricant.
- If your bluebird box is mounted on a tree or large fence post, then it becomes harder to predator-proof. One idea is to take wide strips of galvanized metal and try to wrap the tree or post so it is so smooth that nothing can climb up.
Entrance Hole Guards or Extensions:
Another way that predators can hurt your bluebird families is by reaching directly into the entrance. The easiest way to fix this problem is to add a guard or extend the hole to make it harder for hawks, cats, and other predators to reach inside.
Noel Predator Guard:
The Noel guard is made of wire mesh that is folded and stapled to the front of your bluebird house. It’s suitable for stopping raccoons, cats, and hawks from reaching inside of the nest box to eat the nestlings.
Nest Hole Extensions:
An extension for the entrance hole to your bluebird house makes it more difficult for predators to reach down into the nest. Entrance hole guards don’t work well for raccoons but are sufficient for most other predators.
I like the one pictured above because it includes copper around the entrance hole, which makes it impossible for any mammal to chew to enlarge the hole.
The Kettle Moraine predator guard extends the entrance hole an additional 7/8 inches. If you observe that is not enough distance, then you may need to add a second one or make your own with a block of wood.
Tip #8: When should you put up a bluebird house?
The best time to put up a nest box is yesterday!
Bluebirds start looking for nesting cavities as early as February each year, and they will use them through August for breeding. During the winter, bluebirds will often use nesting boxes for roosting.
So don’t wait when it comes to your birdhouses. Get them up as soon as possible to give bluebirds plenty of time to find them in their habitat.
Tip #9: Use Other Methods To Attract Bluebirds.
For bluebirds to find your nest boxes, you may need to deploy a few proven techniques to attract them initially.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for attracting bluebirds to your yard.
Hang bird feeders that are filled with delicious mealworms.
Set up a birdbath with fresh water.
Plant NATIVE trees, flowers, and shrubs.
For much more information about each of the above strategies, check out my following post:
I hope you have enjoyed my definitive guide to bluebird houses! At over 4,000 words, it’s one of the longest posts you will find on Bird Watching HQ.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot more you can learn about maintaining bluebirds, specifically if you want to set up your own bluebird trail.
If you are looking for more information and need additional resources, here are some great places to start:
- North American Bluebird Society
- Many educational materials regarding bluebirds!
- Search for a local affiliate near you HERE.
- The Bluebird Book: The Complete Guide To Attracting Bluebirds
- A lot of the information that I have learned about bluebirds came from this book.
- This website is full of incredible information about bluebirds! It is probably the most thorough and detailed resource anywhere. The only drawback is that the site design looks a bit dated. Be patient and sift through the content anyways, it’s worth it!
Thanks for reading! Before you go, I’d love to hear from you.
What bluebird house plans have you had the most success using?
Are there any bluebird tips you have that I didn’t include?
In case you need to skip back up to an earlier section, here are the links: