Design & DIY

Building bird and bat houses make for the perfect family weekend project

a-birdhouse-hanging-from-a-tree Photo by JGA/Shutterstock

Is there anything that says sultry summer day more than swallows diving and swooping over a still pond? So beautiful—and so helpful. A tree swallow or purple martin (actually a variety of swallow) can consume literally hundreds of mosquitoes in a day.

Building birdhouses is a great way to encourage nature’s bug zappers. As well, because most birdhouses are fairly simple to make, they are a great project for kids, who get put them together and then enjoy them in the outdoors—as Andrew Coughlan, head of Bird Studies Canada’s Project NestWatch says, “It’s great for families to follow the activities around a birdhouse.”

For anyone interested in building a birdhouse, there are two ways to go. If you are handy and you have the tools, you might want to get plans. Both Hinterland Who’s Who, part of the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and Bird Studies Canada offer straightforward plans for birdhouses (or “nest boxes” to use the term ornithologists prefer) along with good advice on their maintenance and location. Those who want something a little different might be interested in building a home for the flying mammals who take over insect-hunting chores from the birds at night.

Cottage Life made a bat house with downloadable plans, check out the how-to video here. Birdhouse kits are fairly simple to assemble and widely available—Canadian Tire and Home Hardware stock them, as do speciality stores such as the Urban Nature Store.

Where to put a birdhouse, says Coughlan, depends on “what species you are trying to attract. For nuthatches and screech owls, they need to be in a more wooded area. Tree swallows and purple martins need to be out in the open, normally the suggest about 30 meters from houses and trees.” He also points out that it’s important to know how to protect them from predators: “You don’t want to set up a feeding stations for cats.”

Because the birds will need their homes in the spring it’s important to have them in place before the birds begin to return. Once they’ve set up, Coughlan says, you’ll see “lots of activity going on”—the mothers carrying material to build the nest, both parents flying back and forth with food. Ultimately of course you’ll see the baby birds as they prepare to leave home. For those who are interested, Coughlan encourages them to become part of the Project NestWatch, reporting on what birds are using their bird box, when they arrive and so on. That fun family birdhouse can also provide scientists with useful information about our feathered friends. Details can be found right here. 

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