Birdhouse Basics

CC-BY-SA 2007- by See-ming Lee

CC-BY-SA 2007- by See-ming Lee

Birdhouses are designed to attract cavity nesting birds to areas where humans can enjoy them or to provide homes for endangered birds suffering from habitat loss. Many birds use standing dead trees, aka “snags,” and leaving the lower part of a dead tree, is a great gift to nearby wildlife. If you want to craft a bird house for yourself, here are a some tips. Be aware that different species, have different needs. Birdhouse size and placement vary greatly by the type of bird. Based on the birds native to the area, your birdhouse will need to be built to accommodate the bird you want to attract. IFAS provides good information on the nesting birds of Florida and the requirements for their birdhouses. Following these requirements will encourage the desired species, but are somewhat flexible to the bird’s own preferences. As you can see in the picture below, you may find a bird occupying a non-standard home in a preferable location, or vice versa. Apparently the birds don’t read the birdhouse handbook! Colonial Williamsburg still sells “Bird Bottles,” which were a common sight in the early American town.

You can search for free plans online and you’ll find printable plans on the club’s Publications Page. Birdhouses are a great way to reclaim and use up scrap lumber. Your new bird neighbors make for great garden friends!

Eastern Screech Owls nest in house made of recycled material.

Eastern Screech Owls nest in house made of recycled material.

Without maintenance, your birdhouse may be taken over by other animals or become undesirable. If you allow for a side to be hinged, it makes for easier maintenance and debris removal. An annual cleaning aids in preventing bird pests and diseases. Leaving this door open after nesting season also discourages other inhabitants from setting up camp. Hardware such as fasteners and hinges, should always be exterior grade and screws are better, as nails tend to loosen from weather fluctuations and moisture. Roofs need to be angled to shed water. To also prevent rain from leaking into the floor, raise the floorboard a 1/2″ above the bottom of the walls. Caulking the wood joints will prevent leaks and drafts, making a better home. The roof should have a front overhang of a minimum of 2 inches, which helps protect the interior from driving rain, and helps to keep cats from preying on the birds. Raccoons are another predator to be aware of and can usually open latches. Securely fastening a hinged door may be prudent and ties or snaps can be used. Pole mounts and sheet metal guards around trees may deter predators. Results vary and you may wish to look around your neighborhood to see if others find them necessary or see how the houses do without them. Perches aren’t necessary and attract invasive house sparrows and starlings.

To make a safe home, wood is usually best and always use untreated lumber. Cedar is naturally weather proof and bug resistant. If you use plywood, make sure it is exterior grade. Do not paint the inside of house. If painting the outside, use water based latex paint. Gray, tan or dull green is appropriate for most species and white for purple martins.

Baby birds will need good footing, so a rough interior surface is best. Providing additional gouges or grooves up the entrance wall, can help them when it’s time to investigate the outside world. Do not make a house or roof of metal, which can quickly become lethal on warm sunny days.

Use care when creating entrance holes. Holes that are too large may invite sparrows and starlings, however undersized holes may rub away feathers and cause significant harm.Ventilation holes are also important, especially in Florida. Two 1/4″ holes at the top of the side walls are a good start, though you may wish to add a few more. The floor needs drainage too, so drill a few holes in the floorboard at the same time.

Many birds are territorial, so depending on species and yard size, you may be limited in quantity of birdhouses. Find a place where you may enjoy the birds, yet still offers some concealment, with a clear flight path to the box. This will encourage new residents and help protect them from predators. Shady locations, which are protected from predators are highly prized. The height you place them, is dependent on the habits of the bird you are attracting. Some birds need more distance from active zones and it’s preferable to have the back of the box face into the prevailing wind. Be sure the house is securely supported. Posts and buildings offer firm attachments, however trees grow and may destroy a birdhouse attached to them. Using lag bolts on a tree mount will allow you to back out the screw as needed and prevent damage to the growing tree.

Birds don’t always flock to a new home and you may have to have patience. Things that you can do to make your home more bird friendly are:

  • Have trees, shrubs plants and flowers that provide habitat and natural food (both fruit and insects varieties). Butterfly host plants can also serve as bird buffets.
  • Avoid pesticides and use less toxic ones when needed. Both nesting and migratory birds consume large quantities of bugs, worms, caterpillars and grubs. No bugs, no birds!
  • Have a clean supply of accessible fresh water. If you are providing a basin, it must be cleaned periodically and have a landing that allows the birds to use it.
  • Leave nesting material available. Twigs, leaves, grass cuttings, hair, Spanish Moss, and hay make good birdhouse furnishings. Don’t leave your yard barren of nesting material.

Foraging birds, fledglings and other wildlife, love having brush piles, which make for great refuges. Read this post about starting a brush pile.
Lastly – If you want something more than a typical birdhouse, how about one with a Green Roof. Living roofs are known as part of environmentally friendly human home construction, but can there be a more suitable place for such a roof than on top of a birdhouse!


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