More than 70 species of birds are known to use birdhouses. At least some of them visit your yard. It’s easy to build a birdhouse. If you’re a parent, it’s a fun project to do with your kids. (It’s also beneficial to birds, since their natural nesting places, especially in cities, are in short supply.) Here’s a simple plan and some tips about building and hanging a birdhouse.
Birdhouses (also called nest boxes) appeal to birds that are cavity-dwellers. From a bird’s view, a birdhouse mimics a hollow tree limb or trunk, a crevice or cave, or other place offering protection from the elements and some safety.
Unless you’re a skilled woodworker, keep it simple to avoid frustration. It isn’t necessary to create a work of art. There are thousands of intricately designed, beautiful birdhouses on the market, but many go ignored by birds, because they don’t look or feel natural to them. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t hang a beautiful birdhouse, but it isn’t necessary. “Natural” is what they look for first, a nesting place that blends into its surroundings.
Build the house to dimensions you know will be used by birds in your area. For example, positioning a nest shelf for Barn Swallows will give discouraging results if swallows don’t inhabit your environment. (This page lists the birds who most commonly use birdhouses and their natural habitats. And this page lists the birdhouse dimensions favored by each bird species,)
It’s best to use wood, especially cedar, because it will be long lasting. It isn’t imperative, but wood with some bark left on it is especially appealing to birds. You can also glue or nail strips of bark to the outside.
It’s best not to use metal. If you do, use white aluminum. Aluminum doesn’t build up as much heat as other metals and the white color helps to reflect the sun. Otherwise, inside temperatures can rise to dangerous levels for birds. Purple Martin houses are often made of white aluminum.
Don’t paint or stain the inside. The outside can be left natural, especially if it’s made of cedar. If you paint the outside, use an exterior latex. Birds seem to prefer earth tones — brown, tan, gray, green — that help it blend in with the natural surroundings.
Use the right configuration and entry hole size for the birds you hope to attract. The roof needs to have enough pitch for water to run off. It’s easy to do this by cutting the side panels to slope toward the front. Add 2 or 3 inches of overhang above the entrance and at the back
Drill several 1/4-inch or larger holes near the top of the box on the left and right sides for cross ventilation.
Drill several holes in the bottom for drainage in case water gets inside.
Use screws or hinges instead of nails on the roof or a side so it’s easy to access the inside for cleaning.
Don’t put a perch on a birdhouse. It’s unnecessary and gives predators a convenient rod to hold onto.
Place birdhouses in protected locations. A house placed on a pole with a metal guard below it (at least two feet above the ground) will help keep birds safe from squirrels, cats and snakes. Or, suspend houses on wires beyond the jumping/crawling range of these animals. Birdhouses also can be mounted on trees, of course, and some birds will use a house mounted on the side of a house. Whenever possible, add safeguards.
Ideally a birdhouse should be placed so it’s partially shaded, at least most of the day, and the opening is away from prevailing winds.
Don’t hang birdhouses too close together. Some species of birds are territorial, especially during spring and summer. Place houses on different sides of your house or in different corners of the yard.
It’s a good idea to put sawdust or wood chips in the bottom of woodpecker houses to keep them from pecking at the inside of the house to produce nesting material. Otherwise, don’t add nesting materials.
If sparrows or starlings take over a birdhouse, you’ll only get rid of them by removing every nest they try to build until they finally give up.
Clean and disinfect birdhouses every fall. This readies them for winter roosting or for storing away. If you leave them out over the winter for use as a roost, clean and disinfect again in early spring.
Sources: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Okla. City, Okla. and Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center online.
*Top image: Stephanie Sicore / Flickr; cc by 2.0