Knowing when to put up bird houses is essential for backyard birders to attract nesting birds to their yard. For cavity-nesting birds, bird houses can provide the perfect place to build a nest, and other species may also use bird houses as temporary shelters. If the houses aren't up, however, they can't be used.
When Birds Use Bird Houses
Different birds nest at different times, and the earliest nesting birds may begin investigating potential nest sites and bird houses as part of their courtship rituals as early as January or February. Other birds may not nest until later in the season, but they may still use the available houses as shelters from predators, cold temperatures and poor weather both before and after the nesting season.
Best Time to Put Up Bird Houses
There is no bad time to put up bird houses, and the best time to put them up is as soon as you have them available. Even if it is not nesting season, birds will investigate the house, learn where it is and possibly use it as shelter. If you only want to provide houses for nesting, putting them up in late winter or very early spring will ensure they are available for even the earliest nesting species.
Birders who want to offer bird houses only to a specific type of bird can learn when the best time to put up bird houses for that species may be. If the birds have been visiting your backyard for several years, note when they first arrive each spring and put up the bird houses just a week or two before their expected appearance. This will minimize other birds taking over the houses while still providing shelter for the birds you want to see. If you haven't seen the birds in your yard before, contact local birding groups to learn when they arrive in the region so you can be ready for their arrival.
If you miss putting up bird houses as early as possible, there is still time to attract nesting birds. Many bird species lay more than one brood each year and they often investigate different nest sites each time, so a late bird house may be perfect for a second or third brood. Similarly, many birds will restart their nesting efforts if poor weather or predators destroy a first nest. A bird house that may not have been available earlier can be the perfect option for renewing a nest.
Tips for Attracting Birds to Bird Houses
No matter when you put up bird houses, there are ways to make them more attractive to birds looking for a home for their new family.
- Choose a safe bird house design that will protect the nesting birds from poor weather and predators.
- Check that the entrance hole size is appropriate for the birds you want to use the house so larger, more aggressive birds cannot take over.
- Position the bird house carefully so it is sheltered from inclement weather but not too far from food to help overworked parents.
- Clean the bird house after the nest is empty or at the end of the nesting season to keep it from harboring mice or parasites that can harm birds.
- Take steps to attract birds to your backyard, including offering nesting materials, to make the overall habitat ideal for nesting birds.
It is never too late or too early to put up bird houses, but backyard birders who know when to put up their houses will have the best success attracting the birds they want to nest nearby.
Photo – Tree Swallow Bird House © Don DeBold