Birdhouse Primer

The housing market is nearing peak with “No Vacancy” signs rapidly replacing “For Rent” signs—at least in the avian world.

PictureAlready, Eastern Bluebirds have laid claim to preferred homes in the best neighborhoods. Within weeks, in spite of wintery remains, other birds will follow suit. Unfortunately, however, some may go homeless.

While only certain birds nest in cavities, demand for natural hollows far surpasses supply. Dead and dying trees, sites for most nest holes, fall victim to chainsaws. Wooden fence posts, their knotholes housing chickadees and bluebirds, long since gave way to steel.

While cavity supplies decline, demands increase. House Sparrows and European Starlings, introduced from Europe, nest in cavities. Their skyrocketing numbers further rob native birds of the few natural hollows remaining.

Too few houses for too many birds means some, left homeless, cannot breed. But you can help.

Some cavity nesters accept birdhouses that we build or buy. While offering homes for the homeless, we also gain the pleasure of birds’ presence as they built nests, lay eggs, and raise young in habitat from humanity.


But bird houses for birds differ dramatically from bird houses for people. Decorative and functional don’t usually equate, at least not from a bird’s eye view.

So while there’s more to providing birdhouses than “build it and they will come,” simple guidelines help you help birds: Build (or choose) a house that’s the right shape and right size, then mount it the right way in the right location and regularly maintain it. Here’s how

First, don’t build or buy a “catchall” birdhouse. Instead, choose to host a specific species. Each demands a certain size interior and, more importantly, a certain size entrance hole. And purple martin nest boxes must accommodate a colony of birds, not just a pair, and be mounted in clusters.Second, make choices for durability. Build with three-quarter inch cedar, redwood, or cypress, never treated lumber. Use rust-proof hinges and screws, preferable to nails that wiggle loose. A hinged side is essential for monitoring, cleaning, and maintenance.Third, ventilate with three-quarter inch holes, two on each side near the top. Ensure dry interior with quarter-inch holes, four in the bottom, and a roof overhanging the entrance hole to shelter against driving rain.  Never use perches. Never paint boxes.


Next, to mount the box, choose the right habitat for your chosen species, shade or sun, trees or meadow. Mount boxes solidly, on a wall, post, or tree. But never mount bluebird boxes on trees. And only wrens accept a hanging birdhouse.

Then, add a predator guard. Otherwise the nest box becomes a raccoon or snake lunchbox.

Finally, maintain the box. Check at least weekly. Expel House Sparrows and European Starlings, wasps and ants. After babies fledge, discard the nest. Some birds raise a second or third brood, often in the same (cleaned) box. Without maintenance, birdhouses become slums, death traps, or useless yard features—a waste of time, money, and effort

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