Backyard birding involves meeting birds’ basic survival needs for food, water and shelter, and to many backyard birders, getting started with bird houses is the most intimidating step of creating a bird sanctuary. But if you’re intimidated by the prospect of becoming a bird landlord, never fear – in five easy steps, you can offer safe, comfortable, desirable residences for many different birds that would be happy to call your yard home for their feathered families.
5 Steps for Adding Bird Houses to Your Backyard
1. Learn Your Cavity-Nesting Birds
Not all bird species prefer the comfort of enclosed shelter for brooding their eggs or raising their chicks. First, be aware of your most common backyard bird species and note which ones regularly visit your yard, and you can begin to cater your bird houses to suit those species that are already familiar with and comfortable in your yard. Chickadees, tits, nuthatches, wrens and bluebirds are some of the most common bird house residents. They will be the ones most eager to investigate any houses you add to your birdscaping, and they will be the first to take up residence if your bird houses meet their cavity-nesting needs.
2. Buy or Build Appropriate Bird Houses
While birds aren’t always discriminating about the size or style of the houses they choose for nesting, you will have better success attracting birds to your houses if you opt for styles that meet their preferences for size and space. Entrance hole sizes are especially critical, because a properly sized entrance will help ensure that only the intended birds can use each specific house and that larger birds are excluded, keeping the nesting birds safe. If you are handy, you can build a house yourself or assemble one from a bird house kit, otherwise there are many bird houses available for purchase from garden centers, bird stores or online retailers.
3. Mount Houses in the Best Spots
Bird houses should be placed in appropriate locations to give parent birds privacy and security to raise their broods, but you also want to be sure you have a decent view of the house so you can monitor the growing family and enjoy their company. If you plan to add more than one bird house to your yard, place the houses as far apart as possible to increase your chances of attracting more than one interested pair of birds at a time, but don’t be discouraged if some houses remain empty even if they are in ideal locations.
4. Provide Nesting Material
Make your bird houses even more enticing to birds looking for a place to call home by providing appropriate nesting materials. Attract birds with nesting materials by providing different types, from grasses, twigs and weeds to pine needles, mud, pebbles and string. The easier it can be for birds to build a nest, the more likely they will be to investigate available nesting sites nearby, including your bird houses. As an added bonus, the materials you provide may also encourage birds that nest in trees or shrubs – without bird houses – to also build their nests in your yard.
5. Keep Bird Houses Safe and Clean
Birds will not use a nesting site that is not safe for either their hatchlings or themselves. With regular care, it is easy to clean bird houses and maintain them in good condition for the local climate and weather, making them more attractive to backyard birds and ensuring healthy bird families with chicks that have a better opportunity to survive. A well-maintained bird house may even be home to more than one bird family in the same nesting season, but if the house is dirty or broken, few birds will give it a second glance.
Even the most attractive, most appealing bird houses will not always be home to a new family of birds in each breeding season, but a patient birder who takes good care of bird houses is more likely to become a bird landlord year after year. Keep the entire yard bird-friendly with adequate food, additional shelter, a source of fresh water and safety from feral cats and other predators, and birds are more likely to start calling your bird houses home.
Photo – Tree Swallow at Home © Don DeBold