What gardener doesn’t like to attract birds to their garden? Both for their beauty, their song, their fascinating movements … and their ability to control pests? Installing a nesting box (bird house) therefore seems likes a good idea. And garden centers and hardware stores sell a wide range of models! But once installed in the garden, most of these birdhouses either attract no birds, or if they do, only ubiquitous house sparrows and starlings, not the colorful local species you really want. What went wrong?
First, it’s important to understand from the start that only a small minority of birds will ever accept to live in bird house. Most species prefer to make their own nest, be it in the fork of a tree, in shrub, on the ground, on a cliff, etc., depending on the species. Essentially, the few birds that will accept an actual nesting box are species that, in nature, prefer to nest in natural tree cavities: wrens, nuthatches, some swallows, etc.
Secondly, even birds that will nest in a bird house have very clear preferences about what that house should be like: it needs a certain size (neither too small nor too big), just the right size of opening, to be at such and such a height, and an appropriate environment (open field, forest edge, deep forest, etc.). Most commercial birdhouses—with their attractive colors, small windows decorated with curtains, and a “Home Sweet Home” sign, etc.—only attract sparrows. Desirable birds generally prefer simple nest boxes, made of unpainted wood or in fairly drab brown or gray colors: in other words, something closer to a tree trunk than to a gingerbread house!
Here are a few things to remember if you want a birdhouse that will attract the right birds.
• Nest boxes fitted with a perch right under the opening are not recommended: they tend to attract house sparrows;
• Few birds will inhabit a birdhouse with multiple compartments: most are territorial and prefer independent birdhouses … and even those should be spaced well away from neighboring nesting boxes;
• One of the few birds that does nest in colonies and that will willing inhabit an appropriate multiple compartment nesting box, the purple martin (Progne subis), is mostly found in the Eastern United States, only very locally in Canada and elsewhere in the US, and not at all in Europe. In addition, it must have an abundance of flying insects nearby. So you basically have to install it in the country near a lake, river or stream where gnats, flies and mosquitoes are abundant. Because they are almost always installed in the wrong places, most purple martin houses remain unoccupied … except by starlings;
• A good bird house must be easy to open for its annual cleaning, without which it will become infested with mites, lice and other insects predators that can kill baby birds;
• To protect against predators (squirrels, raccoons, etc.) that can reach into the nesting box to grab baby birds, consider equipping it with a protective tunnel like the Bird Guardian.
For more information on nesting boxes that really will attract birds, try the following:
For North American readers:
European readers need to try a European source of information, such as the British Trust for Ornithology.
Elsewhere in the world, check with local birding associations … because you always have to choose a birdhouse to match your local species.
I have recently been thinking about getting a birdhouse for my yard and wanted to look up some tips. I really appreciated the part that said to find a birdhouse that most species prefer. I will have to keep this in mind as I search for birdhouses. http://www.bluebunnymall.com/outdoor/patio-lawn-garden/garden-decor.html
What got my attention the most was how you suggested making sure that the birdhouse that we will choose was easy to open and clean so that we can prevent it from being infested with pests that can kill baby birds. I am not aware that it is necessary to clean birdhouses, so I am grateful that I was able to read this article. I will make sure to add that to the list of things to consider when I begin searching for a birdhouse next month. Thank you for sharing.
I’ve been looking for some themed birdhouses, and I think that doing some looking is the best way to find something we like! I’m glad you talked about how few birds will choose a house with multiple compartments. I didn’t know that, and I think that being able choose a birdhouse based on that knowledge would be good for us.
I like that you talked about how you must make sure that the birdhouse that you will place in your garden is easy to open for its annual cleaning to prevent it from getting infested with insects. My mother is looking for the perfect way to attract birds to her garden. Since she plans to hang a birdhouse in her garden, it’s important for her to know the best way to ensure a good and clean birdhouse. I will make sure to share your blog with my mother so she can get some tips.