More than 30 species of birds are known to use birdhouses, and at least some of them are visitors to your yard. You can encourage them to spend more time there by placing a birdhouse in a well-chosen spot. Observing nesting birds is not only enjoyable for people but beneficial for birds, too. Their natural nesting places, especially in cities, are in short supply.
Building a birdhouse is easy. And, if you’re a parent, it’s a fun project to do with your kids. Here’s a simple plan, along with some tips for building and hanging a birdhouse.
Birdhouses appeal to birds that are cavity-dwellers. From a bird’s view, a birdhouse mimics a hollow tree limb or trunk, a crevice, a cave, or other place offering protection from the elements and some safety from predators.
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 beautiful, intricately designed birdhouses on the market. And, there’s not a thing wrong with that; it just isn’t necessary — the birds don’t care.
The plan below shows how to cut and assemble a basic birdhouse. Adjust the stated dimensions to suit the local bird species you want to attract to it. ( For reference, this page lists most of the birds that commonly use birdhouses and their natural habitats, as well as the optimal placement of their houses. And this page lists the birdhouse dimensions favored by each bird species.
It’s best to use cedar or redwood 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. Use only untreated wood.
Metal isn’t recommended. It can build up a lot of heat, and too much will kill birds. If you do use it, then use white aluminum, which helps to reflect the sun and keep the interior a little cooler. (If you’re thinking about building a Purple Martin house at some time, wood and gourds are equally successful. Paint them white.)
Don’t paint or stain the inside of a birdhouse. The outside can be left natural, especially if it’s made of cedar. If you paint the outside, use an exterior non-VOC latex. Birds seem to prefer an earth tone — brown, tan, gray, green — that will help blend their birdhouse into the surroundings.
Use the right configuration and entry hole size for the bird 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.
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 on one 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 grab.
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 placed on the side of a building. 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. So, place birdhouses 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, which will ready 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.
Good luck with your project. A well-built and well-placed birdhouse(s) will deliver years of pleasure to you while providing a sorely needed nesting place for birds. Thousands upon thousands of acres of bird habitat is destroyed each year by human development.
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