Many birders enjoy having birdhouses in their backyard in order to observe bird families as babies are hatched and raised. It can be devastating, however, when tragedy befalls those bird families, and hazards can come in many forms: predators, poor climate and illness can all take a toll on backyard bird populations. These dozen tips for safer birdhouses can help tip the odds in favor of birds’ survival.
Backyard predators can include pets, stray cats, raccoons, squirrels and even other bird species that may kill or injure baby birds either as food or to take over the birdhouse for their own nesting site. To make a birdhouse safe from predators:
- Remove any perches from the house. Birds do not need them to access the house, and they only provide convenient handholds for predators.
- Train any outdoor pets to keep away from birdhouses. Behavioral conditioning with a water hose is an effective method that can also be used on squirrels and other wildlife with enough patience and perseverance.
- Be sure the birdhouse opening is the right size for the species you wish to attract. If the opening is too large, predators will have easy access to the nest and other bird species may take over.
- Position the birdhouse far enough away from brush so predators cannot stage an ambush, but close enough to plants so parent birds can easily scout the area. Five to eight feet of distance is sufficient for most birdhouses. Similarly, keep birdhouses away from popular feeding areas to prevent territorial conflicts between feeding birds and nesting parents.
- Choose natural colors so the birdhouse will blend into the surroundings. Browns and dark shades of green are the most suitable choices and will be the most attractive to birds. If possible, use only natural materials that lack ornamentation to keep birdhouses concealed.
A safe birdhouse is snug and comfortable for nesting birds. To keep a house safe from the weather, follow these tips.
- Choose a birdhouse design with ventilation holes in the upper part of the walls to circulate fresh air and prevent the house from getting too hot or suffocating. If the design does not include ventilation holes, drill unobtrusive holes in the corners or sides of the house.
- Position the birdhouse so its opening does not face into direct sunlight or prevailing winds. Full or partial shade will help keep the house cooler, and a more protected location will be safer.
- Angle the birdhouse so rain cannot easily run into the opening or through ventilation holes. Some birdhouse models include an angled face to ease water runoff, and a larger roof overhang can also help keep the interior of the birdhouse dry.
- Avoid birdhouses that are constructed of metal. Metal houses will become miniature ovens in summer heat, and reflective metals are highly visible to predators.
Birdhouses can become crowded as nestlings grow, giving diseases greater opportunities to spread to the young birds. A safe birdhouse is one that takes into account the health of the birds, following tips such as:
- Do not paint the interior surfaces of the birdhouse. Furthermore, use only environmentally safe paints, stains or varnishes on the outside structure and avoid any lead-based paints that can poison birds from fumes or ingestion.
- Choose a birdhouse design with the proper interior dimensions for the desired residents. Too small of a house may cause growing birds to smother, while too large of a house will not be attractive to nesting parents.
- Clean the birdhouse seasonally or whenever a family of birds vacates the premises. Remove all nesting debris and rinse the house with a sanitizing solution of one part bleach and nine parts water. Rinse the house again with clear water, and allow it to air dry thoroughly before storing it for the winter or repositioning it for new tenants.
Photo: Male House Sparrow at Birdhouse © Denis Savard