Selecting a Bird House
In the bird house business, there's no such
thing as "one size fits all." Decide which bird you want to
attract, then get a house for that particular bird. Look through any
book or catalog and you'll see bird houses of all sizes and shapes,
with perches and without, made of materials you might not have thought
of. recycled paper, gourds, plastic, rubber, pottery, metal and
concrete. The proper combination of quality materials and design makes
a good birdhouse.
Wood is just about the best building material
for any birdhouse. It's durable, has good insulating qualities and
breathes. Three-quarter-inch thick bald cypress and red cedar are
recommended. Pine and exterior grade plywood will do, but they are not
It makes no difference whether the wood is slab,
rough-cut or finished, as long as the inside has not been treated with
stains or preservatives. Fumes from the chemicals could harm the
There's no need to paint cypress and cedar, but
pine and plywood houses will last longer with a coat of water-based
exterior latex paint. White is the color for purple martin houses.
Tan, gray or dull green works best for the other cavity nesting
species. The dull, light colors reflect heat and are less conspicuous
to predators. Don't paint the inside of the box or the entrance hole.
Regardless of which wood you select, gluing all
the joints before you nail them will extend the life of your bird
house. Galvanized or brass shank nails, hinges and screws resist
rusting and hold boxes together more tightly as they age.
Resist the temptation to put a metal roof on
your bird house. Reflective metal makes sense for martin houses up on
a sixteen-foot pole, but when it's tacked onto the roof of a wood
chickadee house, the shiny metal is more likely to attract predators.
Natural gourds make very attractive bird houses.
They breathe, and because they sway in the wind they are less likely
to be taken over by house sparrows and starlings.
Grow your own gourds and you'll have dozens to
choose from in the years ahead. If you don't have the space to grow
them, a coat of polyurethane or exterior latex (on the outside only)
will add years to the one you have.
Properly designed pottery, aluminum (for purple
martins only), concrete and plastic houses are durable, but don't drop
Gourd houses are the easiest to set up. String
them from a wire between two poles, from a sectional aluminum pole, or
on pulleys mounted to a crossbar high up on a pole.
You can mount lightweight aluminum houses for
martins on telescoping poles, providing easy access for maintenance
and inspection. Because of their weight (more than 30 pounds), wood
houses should not be mounted on telescoping poles. You'll have to use
a sturdy metal or a wood pole attached to a pivot post. The problem
with this lowering technique is that you can't tilt the house without
damaging the nests inside. If you put your house on a shorter, fixed
pole, ten to twelve feet high, you can use a ladder to inspect and
The great crested flycatcher and its western
cousin, the ash-throated flycatcher, are common in wooded suburbs and
rural areas with woodlots. Their natural nesting sites are abandoned
woodpecker holes. Flycatchers may nest in a bird house if it is placed
about ten feet up in a tree in an orchard or at the edge of a field or
stream. This is a longshot, but well worth the effort if you are
You can attract all types of woodpeckers with a
suet feeder, but only the flicker is likely to use a bird house. They
prefer a box with roughened interior and a floor covered with a
two-inch layer of wood chips or coarse sawdust. Flickers are
especially attracted to nest boxes filled with sawdust, which they "excavate"
to suit themselves. For best results, place the box high up on a tree
trunk, exposed to direct sunlight.
Try building a birdhouse for the other species
of woodpeckers following the guidelines in this booklet. You might be
Most owls seldom build their own nests. Great
horned and long-eared owls prefer abandoned crow and hawk nests. Other
owls (barred, barn, saw-whet, boreal and screech) nest in tree
cavities and bird houses.
Barn owls are best known for selecting nesting
sites near farms. Where trees are sparse, these birds will nest in
church steeples, silos and barns. If you live near a farm or a golf
course, try fastening a nest box for owls about 15 feet up on a tree
Screech owls prefer abandoned woodpecker holes
at the edge of a field or neglected orchard. They will readily take to
boxes lined with an inch or two of wood shavings. If you clean the box
out in late spring after the young owls have fledged, you may attract
a second tenant-a kestrel. Trees isolated from larger tracts of woods
have less chance of squirrels taking over the box.
Be sure to provide ventilation, drainage, and
easy access for maintenance and monitoring. Concrete (or a mix of
concrete and sawdust) offers protection other houses cannot: squirrels
can't chew their way in.