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Why Bluebirds And Starlings Don’t Mix
Posted on Wednesday, March 07, 2012 by eNature

You return from vacation to find a stranger living in your home, a stranger who refuses to leave.

You go to a neighbor’s house for help, and strangers are living there, too.

Sound like a scene from the Twilight Zone?

Well, it’s what happens sometimes to native animals when new species arrive from elsewhere. Consider the trials faced by the Eastern Bluebird.

A Starling Invasion
Back in 1890 a few well-intentioned bird-lovers decided to release a hundred European Starlings in New York’s Central Park. The birds adapted easily to their surroundings and soon spread to cities across the Northeast. As a consequence, though, many native Eastern Bluebirds lost their homes.

Why Starlings Threaten Bluebirds
Both species nest in holes—tree cavities and the like—but only bluebirds migrate for the winter. So while the bluebirds were sunning themselves down south, the recently arrived starlings moved into the vacated homes.

And since bluebirds are gentle and nonconfrontational by nature, they had no choice when they returned north but to look for new holes in which to build their nests. But even when they did find suitable replacements, chances were good that the thuggish starlings would soon evict them from these, too.

Over time bluebird numbers dropped to the point where conservationists feared the birds would disappear completely. Realizing this, the same creatures responsible for the mess—humans, that is—decided to find a solution. It’s simple but effective: nest boxes with holes perfect for bluebirds but too small for starlings. And with tens of thousands of these boxes now gracing backyards in America and Canada, the Eastern Bluebird appears to be on the rebound.

We love our Bluebirds and are expecting them to arrive here very shortly.  Are you seeing any yet?


Click here to learn more about the Eastern Bluebird »

Click here for more about the Eurpean Starling »



My first 2 bluebird nests appeared in my boxes on Feb. 19.  On March 3, the first bluebird egg arrived.  Bastrop, Texas

Posted by Miriam Hall on 3/7

We had a few bluebirds checking out our nesting boxes this morning, here in Colchester CT. We hope they decide to nest here.

Posted by Charmine Dubrino on 3/7

I had a bluebird hen building a nest on March 4 here in northeastern Kansas.

Posted by Suzanne Brown on 3/7

We had Western Bluebirds nesting at Lake Tahoe every Spring. It’s been several years, but I think they showed up in April and hung around most of the Summer.
One day we were hiking in Sunol Park near Niles Canyon in Northern California, and we spotted a whole huge Oak Tree full of migrating Western Bluebirds. What a cheerful song!

Posted by Charline Jolly on 3/7

There is an animal rescue place in Nevada called “Animal Ark”  just North of Reno. They have placed boxes all around the grounds and have quite a nesting population.  Also kestrels nesting nearby.
See the Animal Ark web site.

Posted by Charline Jolly on 3/7

What size hole is right for only the bluebirds?  We have starlings who have taken up residence in our bluebird house.  Perhaps we can adjust the hole.

Posted by Betty Dishong on 3/7

We are watching Mama and Papa bluebird making frequent trips to the bluebird house with bugs to feed their little ones. So much fun to hear the nestlings peeping like crazy whenever the food arrives. Spring came early to Ocala, FL.

Posted by Sue Farrell on 3/7

Oh YEAH!?!?!  Oh YEAH!?!? 
Well here in Falmouth Maine I had a pair of Eastern Blue Birds checking out one of my home made, artificial, natural, environmentally safe, cavity nesting habitats on the 19th of February! Take THAT! I called the local Audubon Center and spoke with Bosworth Ellinghorn Schmerd the 3rd. and was patiently lectured on my ignorance as to Blue Bird migration and nesting habits. Seems the little zoot suited male and his lady friend have a habit of hanging out in southern Maine should the weather cooperate ... as it has this (lack of) winter. As for me ... I am newly enlightened and delighted in my Blue Birds with hope they were not just an itinerant pair just passing through.

Posted by Wilbur Tibbetts on 3/7

We have quite a few visiting this year. They seem to like my car, especially my mirrors. They are so beautiful.  Wish they were here all year.

Posted by Beth on 3/7

Hole sizes of 1 1/2” - 1 9/16” are the generally accepted dimension.

Posted by Barry Cole on 3/7

Here in south central PA, Bluebirds are year-round residents lately. I see them all winter eating bittersweet berries around Wildwood Lake near Harrisburg and eating winterberries at our tree farm out in the country. They sure love to perch on the top branch of the small and medium Christmas trees in our growing fields!
There are dozens of bluebird boxes placed along the road up to Boyd’s Big Tree natural area, unfortunately, most of them are taken over by tree swallows a week before the bluebirds start nesting. So here, tree swallows are the problem.

Posted by Deb Rudy on 3/8

I live in northern Maryland, we have a lot of blue birds on the farm. We have put a lot of bluebird boxes up, but even before we put them up it seemed like the numbers were late summer it’s great to see family groups together. Great song,picks me up on a down day. Real treasures.the question regarding the size of the entry hole to the boxes - google the subject, I’m sure there is info on the right specs.

Posted by Liz collard on 3/8

Any hints for getting rid of the starlings?  They have invaded our place on the Yellowstone River in MT in the last few years and we see very few bluebirds since their arrival.

Posted by Caryl Bigenho on 3/8

I placed 9 bluebird boxes around the field across the street from our house in Norwalk CT.  Over the years the houses have been used by a few bluebird pairs but many more tree swallows, English sparrows and house wrens. These birds can fit in the same sized hole as bluebirds and are more aggressive about defending their nest sites.  Still, at least 1 pair of bluebirds shows up every year.

Posted by Bill Wrenn on 3/8

Lucky enough to have the bluebirds, but they are having problems with sparrows.  The sparrows start to build in the bluebird boxes, before the bluebirds get a chance.  I have removed the sparrow nests, but they just start again. Kinda sad, the bluebirds sit atop the box, and go in and out, as if they are deciding if they like the locations, and just as they start to claim their home- a very rude sparrow takes over!  I’m going to hang signs up that say NO SPARROWS ALLOWED!

Posted by Michele- N. Maryland on 3/8

I saw 6 bluebirds sitting on a powerline 2 weeks ago. We don’t usually see them in my pat of Michigan until mid-march or early April.

Posted by Sheri on 3/8

We have had such an early Spring here in California. All the fruit trees are in bloom now. No wonder the birds are a little early this year.

Posted by Charline Jolly on 3/8

We have pine squirrels doing the job of the starlings.  I have to roust them out so we can enjoy the bluebirds.

Posted by Jeff Clausen on 3/8

In the first week of February I spotted several male Eastern Bluebirds in my lilac tree, soon to be followed by the appearance of a female. It appears that a male and female have taken up residence in the nesting box we put out last year. I had never seen a Bluebird before so I was thrilled when I discovered them.

Posted by Margie Gordon on 3/8

I see bluebirds pretty much all year in this southern Ohio area but I don’t see lots of them.

Posted by Linda Beckman on 3/8

In my 50 years in Mesa, Arizona I recall seeing NO Bluebirds…...AND what a Joy reading all these comments.  Keep it up Birdlovers, and maybe I need to move back north to Onio???.

Posted by SALLY NAVE on 3/8

Had bluebirds looking last week, March 2.  But, also a starling who couldn’t get in.  First starling I’ve seen in may years.  East central Ohio.

Posted by Doug on 3/8

No Blues to northern PA yet.
@ Charline:  Kestrels? I wonder if sparrow hawks eat bluebirds . . .?

Posted by Sue on 3/8

The morning after the recent tornados in the south, I saw a bluebird at the feeder that I put seed with fruit in. I was surprised to see this. I had only seen a bluebird at my feeder once before and it was in a similar crisis situation. But I was pleased as punch to see it.

Posted by Judith W. on 3/8

I should have mentioned I live in central Georgia.

Posted by Judith W. on 3/8

I have been hearing several bluebirds in my neighbor’s yard for weeks. Last week I saw one checking out my bluebird house every morning. I hope they decide to use it. Last year, they did the same thing but a swallow ended up taking it. In my other bluebird houses, we had house wrens and sparrows nesting last year. I hope I finally get bluebirds. I am in Orange County, NY

Posted by Sue D. on 3/8

I live in Jacksonville, Florida and have had a bluebird house for the past five years.  Typically I have two broods.  Sometimes we’ll have three in a season.
The nest is built in the house and I anticipate eggs any day now.

Posted by Bev A on 3/8

I have seen two pair in my yard. They are checking out the house and the Martin house. Had tree swallows in the Martin house last year, the gourd type.

Posted by Mary on 3/8

here in southern WV, we’ve had bluebirds for slightly over 3 weeks and they’ve been checking out the boxes but this morning the swallows arrived and they have, in the past, pushed out the bluebirds.  How can you prevent that?

Posted by Trudy on 3/8

Here in Caton, NY I usualy see the first Blubirds in late February. This year I have seen them all year long albeit infrequently. I heard one singing at my home in mid February and have seen them near different boxes along my nest box trail between my home and work in Erwin,NY.

Posted by Mahlon on 3/8

We have bluebirds and starlings apparently living happily together and enjoy them both, the colorful display of the bluebirds and the plaintiff whistle of the starling. The size hole in the nest boxes is certainly the key.

Posted by robert campbell on 3/8

We’ve had bluebird nest boxes on fence lines when living in Md and NY. Starling weren’t the problem (due to small hole in box) but house sparrows are the worst. Totally horrible birds which actually go into the box and peck to death the bluebird sitting on the nest as well as take it over at any and all times. One can’t shoot/trap enough of these parasites as they are countless. Sparrows even do the same thing to tree & cliff swallows, both wonderful birds especially since we have horses who really appreciate the bug eating birds. The barn swallows are the only birds who can successfully take on the sparrows.

Posted by peggy on 3/8

We saw our first bluebird pair of the season, around the first of March, here in eastern Nebraska.  Hope they take don’t let the sparrows take over the bluebird house again.

Posted by Lori on 3/8

Our bluebirds have returned! We live in Catonsville, Md.  My husband had the first siting this morning in our field. The male was perched on top of the houses we provided. They’ve come back every spring for the last 4 years, and always looking for the mealworms we put out for them. They love them! The sparrows in our area and wrens often try to compete for the homes we’ve put up for the bluebirds….but the bluebirds always take the one in the middle of the field, and leave the 3 other houses for other birds. They don’t seem to mind sharing the field with them. But we’ve never seen any starlings trying to compete.

Posted by Jwheeler on 3/8

Wills Point, TX is the official “Bluebird Capital of Texas” and we are entertained by them all year.  On the outskirts of our town you will see nest boxes attached to fence posts and trees.  We have an annual Blue Bird Festival in April to celebrate these beauties.  I have learned that they are very private and prefer the quiet side of my yard.

Posted by Jeannie on 3/8

Starlings are considered an invasive species.The following link give the legal status and exclusion techniques.

Starlings are not a federally protected bird, are vectors for many diseases and are responsible for much crop damage.

This link has the same info about House Sparrows.

I try to create a hospitable environment for native birds, I support the Cornell Ornithology Lab and wish I could give them more money. But I have a strong dislike for invasive species of any sort. I realize it is not usually the species intention to “invade” but it is our responsibility to try to rectify the situation.

Posted by Patty on 3/8

I have seen some in the Wetlands Section of the james River Park in Richmond, VA.

Posted by James on 3/8

See a few bluebirds all winter.  They poke around the houses like they are window shopping.
The house wrens are the worst.  If I see them competing for a house, I put a mouse trap inside.  Works well but, you have to monitor them because, if the bluebirds want in more, you must remove the trap.

Posted by Doug on 3/8

Of the four birdhouses, they have only nested in one this year so far.  I’m concerned with all the starlings and cowbirds that have suddenly appeared this year that we have not had before.  How often should I check the nests?

Posted by claudia on 3/8

I can see a couple boxes from the house daily.  Ones I cannot see, I check weekly.  I have observed, if houses are placed close together(20 yards) bluebirds take one, and an other species may take another.  Keep the others cleaned out.

Posted by doug on 3/8

Here in the Hegins valley in central Pennsylvania, our bluebirds never leave.  They are here all winter long.  I’m not sure how they manage to survive, but they do!  Bluebirds are thriving and plentiful here in Schuylkill county! Last fall, I counted a group of 15 in my front yard.

Posted by sharon on 3/8

Blue birds do not migrate.  They are here all winter long. 
If a proper blue bird house with a proper size entrance hole, starlings will not be a problem. 
Blue bird houses should not be placed too close to each other, and out in the open, not in trees, or on buildings.

We have three houses, all have been occupied during nesting season.  I also feed with a special feeder, meal worms, all winter long.  The bluebird visit every day in all seasons.


Posted by Roy Pancost on 3/8

They arrived in Idyllwild, CA about 2 weeks ago.

Posted by Barbara on 3/9

Blue birds stay all year long in middle TN.  Unfortunately since I gained a resident Mockingbird, I see very few Bluebirds in my yard.  I used to have at least one family a season.  They used the “See Rock City” bird house I bought from Cracker Barrel 3 years in a row.  And once used a cavity in a dead tree.  Now…nothing.

Posted by Judy McBrien on 3/9

Just read an interesting idea for bluebird boxes; at the roof of the box, make a hole on the back-end,( 3 inches), cover with tight strong mesh wire.  This will allow rain in, apparently bluebirds don’t mind, but the sparrows hate.  Worth a try to one or two boxes, see how it goes…  I will try this, and update this site.

Posted by Michele- N. Maryland on 3/9

Read somewhere (?) maybe on this site that Starlings don’t like the smell of grape flavoring so won’t build a nest. Not sure if it offends the bluebirds as haven’t tried it out yet.

Posted by Carla on 3/9

I’m a transplanted Ohioan here in N.E. Florida and unfortunately only am blessed to see approximately one per Spring. I’m an avid birder, but in a suburb with homes on top of homes. Nowhere for a home for them! I’ll try to make a small one and keep an eye out for them. Keep the binoculars out!

Posted by Jeannie on 3/9

We have had bluebirds all year long when we lived in NJ. We fed them chopped up raisins during the winter and mealworms the rest of the year. We had two nest boxes set up about 10 yards apart. Tree swallows would use one and the bluebirds would use the other. They would always tolerate each other. We now live in FL and again have bluebirds all year long. We still feed them mealworms. The female is sitting on eggs right now. We usually get 3 nestings a year. They certainly have been bluebirds of happiness for us.

Posted by John Laffey on 3/9

We’ve had multiple nestings with up to 5 eggs in Central, La for the last few years. We now have a pair in DuPont, La., now with at least one egg. Very exciting. We put up two boxes, which seems to make them visit the empty one every day - it looks like they want to ensure nobody else moves in the neighborhood…? Never have multiple pairs, even though the boxes are 100 yds apart & separated by structures.

Posted by Steve Webb on 3/10

Walking through Will Rogers State Park (Pacific Palisades) I have seen this beautiful bird recently..Always a delight.

Posted by sandy lindberg on 3/10

In North East PA,I have had Bluebirds for the past 11 yrs. all Winter long! Beautiful site in the dreary Winter!The beginning of March,Sweet-Ums started to build her nest as Poser(Male)keeps watch….This is about 2 1/2 weeks earlier than last year.With the mild Winter and now Spring like weather its no wonder she’s building.Alas, so are the House Sparrows…..

Posted by Mary Ann Hanzok on 3/11

Bluebirds started a nest in my box 3 days ago, they added material (Mostly Pine Needles)the last 3 days !! They started 3 weeks earlier than last year.  Around here in Western KY…. Bluebirds tend to stay around all winter long, unless it is an unusually cold and snowy winter !!!!  I LOVE MY BLUEBIRDS!!!  And I don’t let anything mess with them !!!

Posted by AL Downs on 3/11

Bluebird boxes keep the starlings out, but not the house sparrows.  My son is a ranger at an Army Corps of Engineers facility and checks the boxes regularly.  The sparrows often move in, throwing out eggs and/or baby bluebirds.  Then they build their messy nests over the bluebird nest.  My son cleans out the box and gets rid of the sparrows to give the bluebirds can start over again.

Posted by Kathie on 3/11

Saw Bluebirds in Northern IL first week in March. Not sure if they are nesting nearby..haven’t seen many for years, but have seen more in the last two years than all years before that. They do not stay around here all winter. I would like to encourage nesting, but do not want to attract house sparrows as we have a very limited population of those (we seem to have more song sparrows and savanah sparrows in my particular corner of the world).

Posted by Amy on 3/12

Havent seen any western bluebirds yet, but i do expect them, I see one pair every year,, we have starlings too, but not in big numbers, and yes they are very aggresive and try to chase my dog away from its food bowl so they can eat out of it.

Posted by Steve from Hemet ca on 3/12

I love bluebirds

Posted by eNatureAdmin on 3/23

i have bluebirds nesting in my bluebird house here in dayton tn. they come every year.

Posted by jean on 3/24

My husband put up 3 bluebird houses this month. Right away the house sparrows moved into all three houses. A pair of starlings fought with the sparrows but realized they couldn’t fit through the hole and gave up. It’s been a few years since we actually had bluebird babies. We’re in Streamwood, Illinois.

Posted by Carol on 3/24

I live in northern Ma and many of my Bluebirds never leave, which always makes me nervous.  Freezing no food how do they make it?

Posted by Kathleen on 4/18
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