Springtime is House-hunting Season

Springtime is House-hunting Season

So you already have feeders and a source of water. What else can you do to welcome spring backyard birds? Shelter and habitat are high on the list at this time of year. A few well placed bird houses can make a big difference in how attractive your yard is to birds.

Many favorite backyard birds will nest in bird houses (also called nest boxes). Those that do, like chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, tree swallows, bluebirds, woodpeckers, and owls are called cavity nesters. In the wild, they nest in cavities in standing dead trees . Since people usually don’t leave dead timber standing in their yards, it is becoming increasingly difficult for cavity nesters to find suitable places to raise their young. As a result, adding one or more birdhouses can be important to the nesting success of backyard birds.

There are a number of practical considerations in birdhouse design: The entrance hole must be big enough for the desired bird to get into the nest box, but not so large that a predator can raid the nest. Perches are unnecessary; in fact, they just make it easier for predators. Drainage, ventilation, durability and ease of cleaning are other important design elements. It is best to choose birdhouses built to Audubon specifications.

Most nesting birds are territorial, so your yard will likely accommodate only one family of a particular bird species. If possible, mount nest boxes at least 30 feet apart to minimize disputes. Partly concealed, shady locations are best, with a clear flight path to the house.

To discourage non-native English Sparrows and European Starlings, try mounting nest boxes at the low end of the height range for the desired species. Both of these non-native species do not like to nest close to the ground. Another tactic is to keep the entrance hole “tight” – an unnecessarily wide entrance hole invites both of these non-native species.

Another way to discourage predation is to install a birdhouse predator guard over the entry hole. The tunnel-like predator guard elongates the entrance, making it more difficult for a predator to reach into the birdhouse to access nestlings.

Consider setting out nesting material for cavity- and non-cavity nesters to line their nests. Consider hanging a Birds Choice nesting ball. You can also hang a mesh produce bag or unused suet cage supplied with short lengths of yarn or string, or clothes dryer lint (without fabric softener), or pet fur.