Signs of Spring

By Jeanne Brown

No birdsong is more associated with the return of spring than that of the bluebirds’. You and your family can build a bluebird house in late March or early April, just in time for the bluebirds returning from their winter migration. Building a bluebird box is a great environmental, hands-on project that people of all ages can enjoy.

After your new feathered friends move into their home, you’ll have the opportunity to observe and appreciate the wonders of nature. First, you’ll watch how the bluebirds gather grass or pine needles to make their cup-shaped woven nests. About three weeks after the light blue eggs hatch, the fledgling bluebirds will be ready to fly.  

Nest boxes, as they are properly called, are an important conservation tool. Bluebird numbers have dwindled over the years both because so much land has been cleared for development and because they have a lot of competition for natural holes from other birds that chase away the more timid bluebird. Even though the bluebird population has decreased, the future can still be promising for them, especially with a little help from nature lovers who set out man-made nest boxes.

Working with the environmental education non-profit organization Newton Marasco Foundation, a group of students from Loudoun Valley High School Environmental Explorations class held a workshop to teach the kids at Hillsboro Elementary School about bluebirds and their habitats. They helped the younger children build bluebird boxes using kits high school students made in shop class. The students will soon mount their very own nest boxes in the school’s outdoor classroom to can watch and learn about the birds in the natural environment. By working on this project together, the high school students and elementary kids made a great connection with each other and with nature.

The library, the Internet, or your local North American Bluebird Society affiliate are all sources of blueprints for many types of nest boxes. Here are some general rules to consider when building and mounting your bluebird boxes:

•    A good bluebird box should be well ventilated, watertight, have drainage holes, be easy to monitor, and easy to clean.

•    Cedar and redwood are ideal, although plywood and other types of wood can be used. It is best to leave them unpainted; however, boxes can be painted or stained if a light color is used. Treated lumber should not be used because of its toxic content.

•    A bluebird box should never have a perch. The birds do not need it, and it makes it easier for other types of birds to gain entrance.

•    Boxes for Eastern and Western Bluebirds (most common in our area) should have a round entrance hole of 1 9/16″.

•    The box should have a hinged front or side wall that lets you easily remove old nests and wash out the box with water and bleach at the end of the season. Some birds will avoid a box with an old nest inside.

•    When choosing a spot for your new box, look for an area with scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover, such as a lawn.  Look for a fence line, wires, or tree branches where bluebirds may perch to search for food.  Avoid brushy and heavily wooded areas.

•    Mount your nest boxes away from easy access by predators. The best way is to mount them on a metal pole with a “baffle,” a sheet metal skirt or tube below the box on the pole. Coating the pole with grease will also help to keep predators off the box.

•    Mount nesting boxes so the entrance hole is approximately five feet above the ground. If possible, face the box away from prevailing winds and facing towards a tree or shrub within 100 feet of the box. Trees and shrubs provide a landing spot for the young bluebirds when they first leave the box. This will keep them off the ground, away from predators.

•    Don’t be discouraged if your nesting boxes are not used the first year— it may take them a few seasons to find your new box.

The beautiful bluebird can add sound and color to your backyard with its melodic song and multi-hued blue feathers. Try this activity with your family and then sit back together and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.  

Newton Marasco Foundation school and community programs foster learning, appreciation and caring for our natural environment. For more information on the Foundation, visit Jeanne Brown, national communications manager with the foundation, encourages all parents to teach their children how they can make a difference in protecting our planet.

This monthly family activity series, “Hands-on-Kids!” is brought to you by a partnership between the Children’s Science Center (CSC) and FAMILY Magazine. CSC is committed to building a place where children can grow in their love of learning that will carry them into adulthood. We invite you to visit the CSC website,, where you and your children can “Explore, Create, Inspire.”


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