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by Julie Zickefoose

1. Put up snags. An open, featureless lawn has lots of good foraging for bluebirds in the form of cutworms, caterpillars, spiders, and beetle larvae, but they may not be able to find them. Bluebirds are hunters; they sit on a perch, scan the ground, and drop to capture their prey. To do this they need lots of perches. Garden posts, powerlines, and clothesline poles help, but you can greatly increase the attractiveness of your yard by supplying other perches. Nicely sculpted fallen trees and branches litter any forest floor and can be had for free, or if you're into Bauhaus, you can nail up a T-stand that will be just as gladly accepted. Scatter these across your lawn or meadow, and you've created foraging perches that will enable bluebirds to use your backyard habitat to its fullest extent.

2. Add water. Like all thrushes, bluebirds love to bathe, and they'll make a daily habit of it if your birdbath is kept clean and filled. Make sure it's shallow--no more than two inches deep--and out in the open, away from shrubbery that could conceal lurking cats. A perch placed nearby, but not hanging over, the bath will make it more attractive to bluebirds.

3. Plant for fruit. In the fall, bluebirds shift their diet largely to fruit. A few of their favorites are dogwood, viburnums, American bittersweet, American honeysuckle, and the humble pokeweed. Stick to native plants that are hardy for your region.

4. Keep it mowed. Bluebirds find their best foraging in shorter grasses. If your boxes are in meadows that grow more than calf high during the summer, bluebirds might nest there early in the season, then desert them for shorter-grass areas where they can more easily find food. We mow large patches in the meadow near our bluebird boxes (see "The Better Bluebird Box" for bluebird-box plans and information). We put up snags or T-stands and are gratified to see the bluebirds using these areas within minutes.

5. Offer extra protein. Bluebirds love mealworms and quickly learn to come to your call when you offer them. More than just tasty treats, mealworms can help bluebirds and their broods through periods of prolonged rain, cold, or drought when insects are hard to find. For such emergency intervention, place a handful of mealworms in a shallow dish atop or just beside the box. It won't take the adults long to find them and connect the offering with your presence.

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