Bluebirds are some of the most desired backyard birds, but it can be difficult to get these colorful birds to visit feeders without correctly answering the question, what do bluebirds eat? Because bluebirds stay in parts of their range year-round, the answer changes depending on the time of year and how the birds' nutritional needs vary each season.
Natural Foods for Bluebirds
Bluebirds are thrushes, the same types of birds as American robins, hermit thrushes, veeries and fieldfares, and they share the same type of diet. Depending on the season, habitat, activity level and general food availability, bluebirds eat:
- Snails, grubs, caterpillars and other mollusks and insect larvae
- Grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, ants, spiders and other insects
- Flying insects such as moths, termites and mosquitoes
- Berries such as sumac, holly, dogwood, pokeweed and hackberries
- Small tree and vine fruits including grapes and cherries
In general, bluebirds are insectivorous, and eat primarily insects throughout the spring, summer and early fall. As cold temperatures kill insect populations in late fall and winter, the birds will consume more fruits when they can't find enough insects. Southern populations of birds will eat more insects year-round, but will switch to fruit-based diets during cold periods.
Feeding Bluebirds in the Yard
Bluebirds eat the same types of foods in the yard as they eat in any other habitat, and planting bird-friendly landscaping that includes berry bushes and fruit trees for birds is best to feed bluebirds. At the same time, all insecticide and pesticide use should be minimized or eliminated so bluebirds can find plenty of insects to eat. Similarly, cobwebs should be left intact to encourage spider populations, and bluebirds will eat the spiders while other birds use the web material for nesting.
There are a variety of foods that can be added to bird feeders to tempt hungry bluebirds. To supplement bluebirds' diet at the feeders, consider offering:
- Mealworms–either live, dried, canned or roasted
- Small chunks of fruits, such as apples or pears
- Whole or diced berries, including raspberries and blackberries
- Softened dried fruits, especially raisins, blueberries, cranberries and currants
- Suet, preferably diced into small chunks, nuggets or shredded
- Chopped peanut hearts (no shells) or peanut butter suet or bird dough
- Sunflower hearts or small chips
- Eggshells, broken into small chips, as supplemental calcium during the nesting season
These foods should be offered in broad, open feeders that will help these thrushes feel comfortable and secure. Trays and dishes are best, as bluebirds will not typically perch on narrow ledges or short perches, but providing a cover over the feeding area will help keep the food protected from rain or snow. Live mealworms, especially, should be offered in small glass or plastic dishes with smooth sides to prevent the worms from crawling out of the feeder before they are eaten. Winter bluebirds may also visit a bird feeder garland that includes cranberries or other fruits, though they will not be interested in popcorn or cereal strings.
Because many of bluebirds' favorite backyard foods are very rich, it is best to offer them only in small quantities that the birds can consume in just one or two days. This will prevent bully birds from usurping all the food and chasing bluebirds away – these colorful thrushes are not usually aggressive at bird feeders and will often yield to larger or more energetic birds.
What Bluebirds Won't Eat
It is important to note that bluebirds won't usually eat the most common foods offered to backyard birds – whole sunflower seeds, millet and mixed birdseed. While bluebirds will sample sunflower chips when they are easily available and no other foods are abundant, these birds don't typically eat seed. They also don't sip hummingbird nectar, stay away from whole peanuts and aren't big fans of cracked corn. Avoiding these less desirable foods at a feeder buffet or separating feeding stations to provide a bluebirds-only section can help attract bluebirds to the feeders.
Attracting Bluebirds Beyond Foods and Feeding
It can be tricky to feed bluebirds, and understanding what bluebirds eat is the first step to successfully attracting these birds to the yard. Along with food, adding a clean bird bath and a suitable bluebird house can entice bluebirds to visit. Heated bird baths are especially critical for winter bluebirds, and roosting boxes are also useful in the colder months. While it is important to be patient while waiting for bluebirds to discover different foods in the yard, adding these extra attractions can make any yard bluebird-friendly.