Homes for Birds
Birds You Can Attract to Nest Boxes
Many of the birds that visit feeders and baths
may stay and nest in nearby trees. Most of them, including cardinals,
doves and orioles, don't nest in boxes. You can still help them by
considering their food and shelter requirements in your landscape
More than two dozen North American birds nest in
bird houses. The following descriptions will help you determine which
birds might visit your neighborhood.
If you put up a bluebird house near an old
field, orchard, park, cemetery or golf course, you might have a chance
of attracting a pair of bluebirds. They prefer nest boxes on a tree
stump or wooden fence post between three and five feet high. Bluebirds
also nest in abandoned woodpecker nest holes.
The most important measurement is the hole
diameter. An inch and a half is small enough to deter starlings,
which, along with house sparrows, have been known to kill bluebirds,
as well as adults sitting on the nest. Bluebirds have problems with
other animals too. Discourage cats, snakes, raccoons and chipmunks by
mounting the house on a metal pole, or use a metal predator guard on a
The robin is our largest thrush. They prefer to
build their nest in the crotch of a tree. If you don't have an
appropriate tree, you can offer a nesting platform. Pick a spot six
feet or higher up on a shaded tree trunk or under the overhang of a
shed or porch. Creating a "mud puddle" nearby offers further
enticement, as robins use mud to hold their nests together.
Chickadees, Nuthatches and Titmice
Chickadees, titmice and nuthatches share the
same food, feeders, and habitat. If you put a properly designed nest
box in a wooded yard, at least one of these species might check it
out. Put chickadee houses at eye level. Hang them from limbs or secure
them to tree trunks. The entrance hole should be 1 1/8 inches to
attract chickadees, yet exclude house sparrows. Anchor houses for
nuthatches on tree trunks five to six feet off the ground.
Browm Creepers and Prothonotary Warblers
Look for brown creepers to nest behind the
curved bark of tree trunks. In heavily wooded yards, slab bark houses
appeal to creepers. Prothonotary warblers also prefer slab bark
houses, or bluebird boxes attached to a tree trunk, but theirs must be
placed over water (lakes, rivers or swamps) with a good canopy of
Wrens don't seem to be very picky about where
they nest. Try nest boxes with a 1 inch x 2 inch horizontal slot (1½
inch x 2 ½ inch for the larger Carolina wrens) instead of a
circle. These are easier for the wrens to use. However, the larger the
opening, the more likely it is house sparrows will occupy the box.
Wrens are known for filling a nest cavity with
twigs, regardless of whether they use the nest to raise their young.
Since male house wrens build several nests for the female to choose
from, hang several nest boxes at eye level on partly sunlit tree
limbs. Wrens are sociable and will accept nest boxes quite close to
Tree and Violet--green Swallows
Tree swallows prefer nest boxes attached to dead
trees. Space the boxes about seven feet apart for these white-bellied
birds with iridescent blue-green backs and wings. The ideal setting
for these insect-eaters is on the edge of a large field near a lake,
pond or river.
Violet-green swallows nest in forested mountains
of the West; boxes placed on large trees in a semi-open woodland will
Barn Swallows and Phoebes
If you have the right habitat, like an open barn
or old shed, barn swallows and phoebes are easy to attract. It's their
nesting behavior, not their plumage or song, that catches your
attention. However, these birds tend to nest where you would rather
not have them: on a ledge right over your front door. To avoid a mess
by your door, offer the birds a nesting shelf nearby where you'd
rather have them.
Many people want martins in their yards because,
it's been said, these birds eat 2,000 mosquitoes a day. While it's
true that they eat flying insects, don't expect purple martins to
eliminate mosquitoes in your yard completely Martins prefer
dragonflies, which prey on mosquito larvae. If you want to help rid
your yard of mosquitoes, put up a bat roosting box. One bat can eat
thousands of mosquitoes a night.
Martins are entertaining creatures, however, and
you'll enjoy watching their antics in your backyard. You have the best
chance of attracting martins if you put a house on the edge of a pond
or river, surrounded by a field or lawn. Martins need a radius of
about 40 feet of unobstructed flying space around their houses. A
telephone wire nearby gives them a place to perch in sociable groups.
Martins nest in groups, so you'll need a house
with a minimum of four large rooms-6 or more inches on all sides, with
a 2 1/2 inch entrance hole about 1 1/2 inches above the floor.
Ventilation and drainage are critical factors in martin house design.
Porches, railings, porch dividers and supplemental roof perches, like
a TV antenna, make any house more appealing.
You can also make houses from gourds by
fashioning an entrance hole and small holes in the bottom for
drainage. If you use gourds, it's not necessary to add railings and
perches. Adult martins will perch on the wire used to hang the houses.
Before you select a house, think about what kind of pole you're going
to put it on. Martins occupy a house ten to twenty feet off the
ground. Some poles are less cumbersome than others.