Birds of Fannin County: Eastern bluebird
By Jack Phillips
Jun 16, 2023
Print this page
Email this article

Editor's note: With the Jack Phillips Memorial Bluebird Festival coming up Saturday in Ravenna, we thought this would be a good time to run an article about eastern bluebirds that Mr. Phillips wrote in 2009.


photo by Allen Rich
Ravenna, Texas -- Being raised in Fannin County and living half of my life here, I was always fascinated by the many different birds we are privileged to share our lives with.  Growing up during the great depression we didn't spend any money for bird feed and only occasionally someone would build a birdhouse. 

I enjoy living on Elm St. in Ravenna on the property across the dirt road where we often tied out our milk cow.  There was one bois d'arc fence post with a natural nesting cavity used by a bluebird family every year.  It was barely big enough for a small grass nest and they only raised one batch of birds until someone told me to tear out the old nest after the young fledged and they would build another nest and raise another brood. The change in fence building using treated post, steel t-post, or welded pipe eliminated the nest cavities for the bluebirds. In addition to fence building progress there was a reduction in fruit tree orchards which created cavities with the pruning of the trees.


With the industrial advances created by World War II and the end of the depression, people started to build bluebird houses. There have been at least a dozen different designs.  The most popular design is about 10 inches high and 4 inches wide and 4 inches deep.  The entry hole is 1 1/2 inch or an opening across the top of 1 1/2 inches from the top.  The second is my preference because if a sparrow tries to hem the bluebird in the house and peck him to death there is a better chance of escape than with the hole.  The birds use one as quick as the other. Sparrows are the biggest enemy because they want to use the nest box. 


I have found many dead bluebirds in a nest that was covered with the trash and feathers of a sparrow's nest.  The next enemy is rat snakes.  They seem to be able to smell the little birds when they start to grow feathers.  Snakes can wrap themselves around a t-post and climb up the house.  I have found snakes in purple martin houses 16 ft. high. There are some guards that you can add to the post to keep snakes and other animals from the nest but they are cost prohibitive when you have a lot of houses.


I monitor about 60 houses from 121 and 898 & 274 to Ravenna and on back roads surrounding Ravenna. I recently cleaned the houses and got them ready for the 09 season. Some of the houses had 3 nests which means they raised 3 batches of little birds. I know that some didn't make it because of predators but I counted 152 distinct nests and there is a good chance 125 hatches made it.  I hope we added close to 500 new bluebirds to the population.


I have made over 1200 houses over 12 yrs. and each time I see a bluebird I like to think that is one of my kids. They are getting ready for the new season and some have already started to pick mates and houses and start another family. It is not unusual for them to pick a new mate every year.


The mating season lasts until about July.  After that it is too hot for them to stay in the boxes.  During the mating season the male takes on a cobalt blue color brighter than his fall and winter coat.  Thoreau called them the little bird with the sky on their back.


The boxes should be mounted on a post (I use a t-post) in open grassy country and spaced about 100 yds apart.


My houses are made with a hinged front so I can check on the progress of the nest.  Open them gently and many times the mother will stay on the nest.  Children really enjoy seeing the little birds.  IF YOU TOUCH THEM THE MOTHER WILL NOT ABANDON THE NEST.




About 100 feet from the house is very good, but place them in the open.


I have 12 houses in and outside the Ravenna cemetery and every house had three nests.  I have a lot in that cemetery and hope I can look forward to their presence for a long time.