Two species of bluebirds live in Idaho: the western bluebird and the mountain bluebird, our state bird. The mountain bluebird is larger than the western and both are slightly smaller than robins.
The male mountain bluebird has a very bright back and is pale blue below. The female is mostly gray with a trace of blue on the wings and tail. The western bluebird is less brightly colored and males and females both have rust on the breast.
Bluebirds live throughout Idaho in high desert juniper and mahogany, in forest meadows, and valleys and ridges in mountainous regions. They are most common in elevations of 4,000 feet and higher. Bluebirds are ground feeders with grasshoppers a dietary favorite. While we may not view them as such they are "predators".
The bluebird's bill is not suited for creating nest cavities, so they make their nests in existing cavities excavated by woodpeckers or other animals. Nests are lined with grass, fine strips of bark and pine needles.
Bluebirds return to Idaho from their wintering grounds by late February or early March and seek tree cavities for nesting. Since many trees with suitable nesting holes have been cut for firewood, cleared to make way for development or have been occupied by non-native starlings or house sparrows, some bluebirds do not nest because they do not find suitable homes.
Man-made nest boxes help to fill the shortage of natural nest sites. Many Idahoans have already discovered the fun and satisfaction of building, placing and monitoring bluebird nest boxes.
The Panhandle Region office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) has long been involved in coordinating the construction and distribution of bluebird nest boxes. This year, Stimson Lumber has again provided a generous donation of cedar stock to build bluebird nest boxes. IDFG Reservists have built 1000 bluebird nest boxes. They are available for purchase at the Idaho Fish and Game office, 2750 Kathleen Ave. beginning Friday February 28. They will also be sold in Sandpoint at the Bonner County Wildlife Building at the Bonner County Fairgrounds only on Saturday March 1.
We are asking for a donation of $5 for each box to benefit the North Idaho Wildlife Center at the North Idaho Fairgrounds in Coeur d'Alene. A rest room and septic system will be added to the building so it can be used for evening classes when the other fair buildings are closed. In addition, a bat cave and bear den will be added as part of the addition.
A pamphlet called "Building Homes for Idaho's Bluebirds" is available free of charge at our office. This contains plans for constructing boxes and very good information about how and where to place boxes so they are likely to successfully produce bluebirds. Other advice is given on how to monitor and maintain boxes for future years.
Nest boxes have the greatest likelihood of being used the first year if placed by early April, so pick this publication up as soon as possible if you plan to build your own boxes. However, because bluebirds may move into boxes as late as mid-May, placement by then could allow boxes to still be used this year.