As a more or less novice birder, you already understand why you should have bird feeders in your yard. But you may wonder what’s the point of birdhouses? To many people, birdhouses just seem like cute little decorative Knick-knacks hanging from a tree.
A key to understanding the importance of birdhouses is when you start calling them by their birder name: nest boxes.
The most important reason to have birdhouses or nest boxes in your yard is to help protect the bird population. With our cities and towns continually encroaching on the rural environments we used to call “the countryside,” there’s less natural vegetation for cavity-nesting birds to nest.
Putting up nest boxes is a vital step in recreating suitable nesting areas for native bird species.
Nest boxes give birds a safe place to build their nest and raise their young. During migration, bird houses give transiting birds a safe, temporary habitation to rest. And in the winter, birds can huddle together in birdhouses for warmth.
Nest boxes in your yard give you more than resident birds to watch and listen to outside your window every day. Birds help the environment. They pollinate flowers, as well as control weeds and insect pests. Birds also eat seeds and spread the seeds to different areas, which in turn promotes plant growth.
Not all bird species will choose an enclosed structure to raise their families, but there are hundreds of species throughout the world that will. Knowing which birds will likely become tenants will help you be a better bird landlord.
Bird Species That Will Use Nest Boxes
Chickadees and Tits —
Black-capped chickadee /Blue tit / Carolina chickadee / Chestnut-backed chickadee Coal tit / Great tit / Marsh tit / Tufted titmouse
Common goldeneye / Hooded merganser / Wood duck
Finches and Sparrows —
House finch / House sparrow / Zebra finch
Flycatchers and Warblers —
Ash-throated flycatcher / Black redstart / Great crested flycatcher / Lucy’s warbler Pied flycatcher / Prothonotary warbler
Nuthatches and Creepers —
Brown creeper / Brown-headed nuthatch / Red-breasted nuthatch / White-breasted nuthatch
Swifts and Swallows —
Purple martin / Tree swallow / Violet-green swallow
Eastern bluebird / European robin / Western bluebird / Mountain bluebird
Downy woodpecker / Hairy woodpecker / Northern flicker / Pileated woodpecker Red-bellied woodpecker / Red-headed woodpecker
House wren / Carolina wren
Birds of Prey —
American kestrel / Barn owl / Eastern screech owl / Lesser kestrel / Tawny owl Western screech owl
Attracting birds to your nest box
Putting up a birdhouse is only the first step. Birds seek an environment that takes care of their needs.
Food: To your feeders, make sure there are also natural foods available to make sure nesting birds have ample nutrition for their chicks.
Water: Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing. Bird baths are a necessity and the splashing sound of a fountain can attract birds.
Shelter: Nesting birds are attracted to native plants because they use twigs and bits of leaves for nesting material. Bird friendly shrubs will shelter than from inclement weather and predators.
Selecting your nest box
Different bird species prefer birdhouses with different structural elements. You’ll need to choose the right nest box for the species you’re hoping to attract. Here are the two main things you need to consider:
The right size entrance hole.
Too large a hole will let more aggressive birds take over the house, while too small a hole will keep your desired species out.
The right size overall.
. . . both floor space and ceiling height. A too large house won’t have enough insulation to keep the chicks warm and too small will smother them.
Other things you’ll need to address: proper ventilation and drainage. And protection from predators; raccoons, snakes, and mice can attack your tenants. Adding baffles and removing house perches can keep the predators away.
You can build your own nest box out of untreated wood like cedar, pine and fir . . . or find well-constructed birdhouses available at specialty retailers.