Wondering why no one has moved into that quirky birdhouse you bought at a craft fair last spring? Here are the top mistakes people make when building or buying a home for our feathered friends.
Investing in the wrong size of house
Before you even set out to build or buy a birdhouse, first research what species of cavity-nesting birds actually reside in your region. From there, you can determine what type you hope to attract to your backyard and ultimately, the size of house that you’ll need. The most important measurement is that of the entry hole. Standard bluebird nesting boxes, for example, have doorways that are about 1.5 inches in diameter, making them a viable home for a variety of songbirds, including swallows, flycatchers, and even the occasional woodpecker. Any bigger opening and birds may become vulnerable to predators—however, any opening smaller than 1.25 inches and it’s going to be a tight squeeze for birds larger than a house wren.
Choosing the wrong type of house
Unfortunately, pre-fabricated homes aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’d like to attract larger birds such as owls, kestrels, or ducks, speciality boxes are available. Purple martins, on the other hand, nest in colonies of two to 200 pairs, so be prepared to set up a bird “apartment,” or hang plastic gourds in clusters. For this reason, you may also want to consider having several different house options in your yard—but keep in mind that a crowded neighbourhood may also be a deterrent to would-be nesters.
It’s all about location, location, location
Much like their human counterparts, momma birds look for safe and secure locations to raise their chicks. While it may be tempting to place your birdhouse in a high-visibility area, you may have better luck putting it in the quietest corner of your yard. Again, consider the habits of your desired species when choosing a location. Bluebirds like open fields, nuthatches prefer wooded areas, while tree swallows like to be close to water. Height is also a factor; for example, chickadees are most likely to nest four to eight feet off the ground, while house wrens prefer to be between six and 10 feet above the ground.
Using shoddy construction materials
Birdhouses should be constructed of high-quality materials that are built to last through the seasons. Insect and rot-resistant woods, such as cedar, will stand the test of time. Paint should be non-toxic and should only be applied to the exterior of the house, otherwise it may cause harm to the new family within.
Not including ventilation or drainage
Nesting boxes are constantly exposed to the elements—and so are their inhabitants. A good birdhouse should have drainage holes in the floor, which will allow rainwater to escape and encourage ventilation. Since boxes can get quite hot, look for a house with ventilation shafts, such as gaps under the peak of the roof.
Including a perch
Perches may be cute and traditional, but they can also be dangerous. Placed directly under the entrance to the hole, they provide predators (such as squirrels or larger birds) with easy access to the inside. If you choose to mount the box on a pole, you’ll also want to use guards or baffles to prevent pests from climbing up.
If you’ve had luck with nesting birds in the past, but no return visitors, it may be time to clean house. Old nests should be removed after the flock has flown for the season, as they may be tainted with mites and other parasites. For this reason, select a birdhouse that can be easily opened.