The Bluebird Diet – Natural and Feeder Foods They Eat

Inside: What do bluebirds eat? Here we explore the different types of bluebird food, both naturally in the wild and feeder food, and what you should put out to attract these cheerful birds to your yard.

Who doesn’t love bluebirds? People have long considered bluebirds symbols of happiness, joy, and the first signs of spring. If you want to attract bluebirds to your yard, you’ll need to figure out the right bluebird food to get their attention.

In North America, there are three types of bluebirds: Western, Mountain, and Eastern bluebirds (which are the most common). The three bluebirds are slightly different in appearance, but all three types have a similar diet. Eastern bluebirds have the classic blue body and peach-colored chest. Western bluebirds are somewhat brighter blue but very similar. Mountain bluebirds are blue all over, with no light orange feathers. These are small birds, about the size of your hand. All three types are distinctive and easy to spot.

Male eastern bluebird
Male eastern bluebird. Photo by Mike Carmo.
Western bluebird perched on branch
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird. Photo by Arnold Joe.

So, what do bluebirds eat? Here are all the foods that these lovely little birds enjoy in nature and your very own backyard.

Foods Bluebirds Eat in Nature (and in the Wild)

When bluebirds are in nature, they enjoy many different bugs, earthworms, and mollusks. Bluebirds aren’t as interested in seeds as some bird species, but they do enjoy certain berries from time to time. Bluebirds are great birds to draw to your backyard because many of the bugs they enjoy are the ones we’d rather avoid, like mosquitoes and termites.

In the wild, bluebirds love to snack on snails, slugs, earthworms, and grubs. They are drawn to insect larvae and enjoy crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, termites, and ants. Bluebirds also eat spiders and the previously mentioned mosquito. The birds are drawn to flying insects, including moths, and enjoy eating caterpillars as well.

Occasionally, they’ve even been known to eat small amphibians and reptiles like frogs, salamanders, and lizards (although this isn’t the norm).

As far as berries go, bluebirds favor wild berries like sumac, holly, and hackberries. They enjoy dogwood and pokeweed as well. If these native plants grow in your area, watch for these blue-winged birds because they’ll likely appear nearby.

Eastern bluebird perched on a sumac
Eastern bluebird perched on sumac.Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

What do Bluebirds Eat in the Yard?

Of course, we all want to bring bluebirds to the yard to catch a glimpse of these cute, vibrant birds. If you’ve planted a bird-friendly garden, it will possibly attract some of the insects that make ideal bluebird food. 

In the yard, bluebirds will often forage around for ants, termites, and spiders. You may find them seeking out grubs and snails amongst recently watered plants. They eat flying bugs like mosquitoes and moths as well. 

When it comes to bugs, the typical bluebird diet looks something like this:

  • 32.4% larvae from butterflies and moths 
  • 30.7% beetles
  • 25.6% crickets and grasshoppers
  • 11.3% spiders

Of course, those amounts vary based on the accessibility of the foods and the availability of mollusks and annelids, berries, and other items.

If you have berry bushes in your yard, bluebirds will often enjoy some of the bounty. While they are drawn to wild berries like sumac and hackberries, they also enjoy blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, chokecherries, and elderberries.

Raspberry bush
Raspberry bush. Photo by Sneha Cecil on Unsplash

Bluebirds will eat cherries off the tree and grapes off the vine, as well as the fallen fruit. 

Bluebirds like many native trees, including mountain ash, black cherry, dogwood, red cedar, mulberry, evergreen trees, spruces, and pines. Berry-bearing shrubs like holly, mistletoe, snowberry, bayberry, and winterberry are attractive to bluebirds. 

Of course, if you want to attract bluebirds or any birds to your yard, you want to use organic gardening practices. Applying insecticides will reduce the number of bugs and pests, but it will also reduce the number of birds who eat insects and rely on spiders and bugs for food. If there’s a corner of your yard where spiders, grubs, or snails like to dwell, leave it intact so bluebirds will find food. 

What to Feed Bluebirds at the Feeder

So, what foods do bluebirds eat at the feeder?

The bluebird’s favorite food is mealworms. They seek out the extra protein, and if you put out some mealworms, the bluebirds will flock to your feeders. First, you may want to offer some live mealworms until the birds start coming to your feeder regularly. After that, you can taper over to dried mealworms, which last a little longer. 

Unlike many other backyard birds, bluebirds aren’t as likely to eat birdseed or millet. Occasionally, they will enjoy fruit, suet, peanut butter spread, or sunflower pieces, but only when the other options are limited. They eat dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries, and currants too. They’ve also been known to delight in a small bowl of grape jelly.

Bluebirds produce pretty sky-blue eggs, and attracting nesting bluebirds to your yard can be delightful to watch. Set up a bluebird-friendly nesting box, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the 3-5 hatchlings. Typically, bluebirds nest in the spring and summer months. During egg production, they need additional calcium, so mixing in some bits of eggshell with their food will give them a boost. 

Another secret to getting bluebirds to visit your feeder is to ensure they have a clean, nearby birdbath. Bluebirds need a shallow bath because they’re quite small—1/2 an inch of water is usually just enough for them. Like all birds, they prefer running water, so a fountain feature can be an appealing addition to your birdbath.

Eastern Bluebird in birdbath
Eastern bluebird enjoying a bath. Photo by John Holland Jr of JEHJR Photography

Foods that Bluebirds Won’t Eat

Of course, as mentioned above, there are a few foods that bluebirds won’t eat. Unlike many other backyard birds, they aren’t interested in birdseed. Occasionally they will snack on sunflower pieces, but they largely ignore millet and songbird blends. 

Foods that Bluebirds Shouldn’t Eat

Similarly, some foods are toxic to birds and should be avoided. Birds shouldn’t eat avocado—the plant contains toxic fat that can kill birds. Fruit pits present a choking hazard, and some fruit seeds, like apples, can contain toxins that can be harmful to birds as well. 

Like most animals, they shouldn’t ingest chocolate, alcohol, caffeine or regular bread. Salty, fatty foods are bad for birds. Avoid feeding birds onions or garlic. Never feed them artificially sweetened foods. Should you put out peanut butter or jelly to draw bluebirds to your feeder, check to ensure they do not contain Xylitol. This artificial sweetener hasn’t been well-studied in birds, but because they have a higher metabolism, even a small amount could cause a toxic reaction. 

Bluebird Food During Nesting Time

Like her growing babies, the mother bluebird also needs extra protein and nutrition during nesting time. Although bluebirds follow a uniform diet during the year, they may consume more insects and protein while breeding. 

When birds are nesting, they need higher levels of protein. They’re usually sharing food with their babies, and a protein-rich diet gives the babies extra sustenance, shortening the time that they’re dependent on their parents. It will also help them grow stronger and healthier. 

Eastern bluebird eggs.
Eastern bluebird eggs. Photo by D’Bee Photography by Debbie McCaleb.

During nesting, about two-thirds of the bluebird diet is from insect protein. So if you have bluebirds visiting, take care to offer them some live mealworms in the feeder. Be sure that the feeder is deep enough with high sides to keep the wiggly worms from escaping. 

What Foods do Baby Bluebirds Eat?

Baby bluebirds are delightful. Should you attract bluebirds to your yard and they decide to nest, you’ll want to provide the nesting mother with extra calcium in the form of ground eggshells (she will also eat the eggshells from the hatchlings). The quickly growing hatchlings require a lot of food, and it’s usually a two-parent job. 

Baby bluebirds eat similar food to their parents (who bring it to the nest for them). They will feed them worms, mealworms, insects, and grubs. Parents will often bring berries back to the hatchlings as well. 

Bluebird parents feed their young with a seasonal favorite – worms.

What do Bluebirds Eat in the Winter?

Winter is the non-breeding season for bluebirds. In colder parts of the US, bluebirds migrate south—some flying up to 2,000 miles to find warmer weather. Bluebirds migrate as far south as Mexico during the winter months. 

In more temperate areas of North America, bluebirds may stay in town for the winter. It’s important to recognize that bluebirds may need extra nutritional help during these colder months, so it’s a good time to provide bluebird food. If bluebirds stay in your yard during the winter, offer berries, mealworms, suet, and peanut butter. Bluebirds may also have more interest in sunflower seeds when the weather is chilly. These foods have more fat and calories to help sustain the birds through the winter.

Bluebirds dining on suet in the winter.
Bluebirds dining on suet in the winter. Great shot by Photos by Jeannette

If you have bluebirds during the winter, keep in mind that bluebirds (like all birds) need water to drink. They prefer moving water, so a pond or heated birdbath with a fountain is a great way to help them stick around and stay hydrated. 

The Best Type of Bluebird Feeder

Because bluebirds eat dried mealworms, the feeder needs to have a dish with sides to keep the worms in place—this is even more critical if you include live mealworms in your bluebird food.

Bluebirds are small, so they often avoid spots that attract bigger birds. A bluebird feeder in an open area, safe from squirrels and other birds like starlings, is preferred.

Look for feeders with a cover or roof to keep the food dry. Plexiglass feeders are an excellent choice, allowing you to watch the birds eat (and monitor when supplies get low). Box feeders with smaller holes can be a good choice to keep the little bluebirds safe while they snack. 

Where to Put Bluebird Feeders and Boxes

Hang a bluebird feeder from a tree or pole in a fairly open space. They prefer to be in the sunshine, so don’t hang the feeder or the nesting box in shaded areas or against your house. Instead, look for a spot that’s out in the yard. 

For similar reasons, don’t place bluebird houses or feeders near garages, barns, sheds, or heavily wooded areas. Bluebirds like to be close to nature, though—a spot that overlooks a grassy area or field is ideal for attracting bluebird residents. 

Bluebirds are, unfortunately, very attractive to predators, especially cats. They can also get picked on by other bully birds, squirrels, and raccoons. Keep the feeder out of reach at 4-6 feet off the ground, in a tricky spot for others to reach. 

Attract Bluebirds with the Right Food

Bluebirds are beautiful, charming, and cheerful birds—the perfect addition to any backyard. Attract these friendly songbirds with their favorite food, mealworms. You may also want to add a few berry bushes to your yard and offer them some jelly, peanut butter, suet, and sunflower bits.

Bluebirds love to snack on the pesky bugs that most of us want out of the yard, like mosquitoes, slugs, and grasshoppers. They eat crickets and termites too. If you want to keep your bug population down and your birdwatching enjoyment high, start feeding bluebirds today! 

More than 25 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her backyard. Studying the meaning & symbolism of wild birds is also a passion of hers.