Birdhouses and Boxes

The most effective way to help birds is to provide habitat as habitat loss is probably the most important factor in the decline of our songbirds (50% over the last 50 years). But we can’t all do something so substantial, but we can easily and simply provide some of our birds with food or housing. Here we will talk about housing; for feeding go to this page.

Not all birds use birdhouses, but there are dozens of species that do. While some birds build nests on tree branches, shrubs, porches, and gutters, others seek an enclosure of sorts. These “cavity nesters” look for or, in the case of woodpeckers, create holes in wood to build nests and lay eggs. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough holes to go around. That’s where birdhouses (or nest boxes) come in. They provide valuable homes for many species of birds.

Besides loss of habitat, the removal of dead trees and the building of fence posts of materials other than wood have greatly reduced the cavities birds need.

Birds That Use Birdhouses

Among the birds that like a roof over their heads are bluebirds, chickadees, woodpeckers, eastern screech and barred owls, wrens, and nuthatches. Different birds prefer different sizes of the hole (or opening) as well as how high that hole is from the birdhouse floor.If you live in the city or a populated suburb, you’ll most likely want a hole no bigger than 1 1/4”, which is big enough for chickadees and wrens but too small for house sparrows. House sparrows are an invasive, non-native species that can be detrimental to bluebirds, chickadees, and the like. But remember, before people started building birdhouses, birds used all kinds of cavities, so it’s not necessary to be too fussy about the shape of the hole. (Of course, owls prefer bigger holes than Tree Swallows.)

Birdhouse Appearance and Style

Search online and you can find birdhouses in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and made of all sorts of materials.

Birdhouses should be made of wood because it is porous enough to allow moisture and heat to escape during the summer, which keeps the young birds from getting too hot inside.

Resist the urge to get creative. Birds avoid bright, unnatural colors (too obvious to predators). Instead, use natural, unpainted wood and stain the outside with a natural wood preservative such as linseed oil.

Lastly, stay away from any birdhouse with a perch. Birds don’t need them and they only make it easier for predators or unwanted birds to get in.

The best time to put up a new birdhouse is in the fall or winter so that birds will have plenty of time to locate them before the breeding season. What type of bird you want to attract will determine where you place a birdhouse.

For example, bluebirds will use houses in open fields; chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches all like the open woods and edges; woodpeckers like forest openings and edges, and so on.

The type of bird may also determine whether you place your birdhouse on a pole or up in a tree. Nuthatches and woodpeckers prefer the latter. Regardless, always mount the house with the entrance hole facing slightly downward to keep wind and rain from entering. And make sure it’s secured so that it does not swing or move.

Before you put up birdhouses all over your backyard, keep in mind that a general rule is to place no more than two houses per species per acre of property.

Thanks to Massachusetts Audubon for the above information. For a birdhouse and nesting chart, click here.

Other Links
A Guide to Birdhouses 
Barn Owl Nest box – videostreaming
Birdhouse Information from Audubon
Birdhouses for Alaska
Birdhouse Dimensions
Birdhouses 101

Building Birdhouses
Birdhouse Plans
Free Birdhouse Plans
Kestrel Nest Box Plans
Nestboxes and Birdhouses for Common Birds

basic birdhouse

3 thoughts on “Birdhouses and Boxes”

  1. nice article. I appreciate the straight forward info. I would like to point out that the bird house plans have several aspects that are in contradiction to the facts in the article. The article says to not include a perch, and that the hole should not exceed 1.25″. I just thought you might like to update this with better plans. The photo at the top has the same problem, with painted bright colors and perches.

    Thanks, Jesse

    1. I appreciate your point but there are so many different versions of birdhouse plans, I just discussed one. Birds have been nesting in holes in trees for eons. Actually, they are not particularly fussy about where they nest. I’ve used gourds, boxes of cement, wood, and cardboard, with and without perches. The birds did just fine.

  2. Pingback: Chickadee Birdhouse Plans – Woodworking Ideas

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