The first half in March contains, among many other things, World Wildlife Day. And for many people, especially those living in urban and populated suburbs, the closest you might get to wildlife is bird watching.
We love attracting, feeding, and sheltering our fine feathered friends. And if you’re a new homeowner — or plan to be one soon — you might very likely come to find how even casual birdwatching can make your new home a brighter, more magical place to live and bring up a family.
Tips for picking the perfect birdhouse for your new home
A great thing about birdhouses is that you can have one built as a replica of your own home — a neighborhood showstopper approach that really amps up your curb appeal. If that’s a little too matchy-matchy for you, consider buying one in a similar style. If your home is Victorian, pay homage with a Victorian birdhouse. If it’s more modern, you’ll find boatloads of modern birdhouses to match.
Just remember, you’ll be choosing an actual dwelling for a bird family, so there’s lots to consider besides what it looks like from the outside. Keep reading to learn how to determine the best home for some of the birds you may want to attract.
BLUEBIRDS are picky about where they live and want to be near good takeout! To help out, place bluebird houses on a post facing (or very near) open, grassy fields perfect for capturing yummy insects. If it’s out in the open and in direct sun, look for a design with cross-ventilation so it’ll stay cool on hot summer days. As cavity-nesting birds, their feet have adapted to cling to wood, so they don’t need perches below the entrance. In fact, perches can attract other birds and deter bluebirds. Here’s one we like.
CHICKADEES prefer living in dense stands of trees or tall shrubs. If you can, place your chickadee birdhouse on a post in —or near — a thicket. Scatter some wood shavings or sawdust inside the house to encourage a nesting pair to move in. And offer nesting materials such as pet fur or small bits of string nearby. Leaving dead trees and branches upright and intact will improve your chances of getting some new chickadee neighbors. Simple, but it works.
OWLS are nocturnal, so you may not see many, but they’re around, even in populated suburbs. They look for homes — in wooded areas not far from a pond or lake — for springtime nesting and winter roosting. And they’ll return year after year if the home is not moved. Mount your owl house on a tree trunk, and ensure no branches obscure the entrance hole. Like chickadees, owls appreciate several inches of wood chips in the bottom of the box. And stop mowing your lawn so much: taller grass makes for better hunting. We’re digging this one.
PURPLE MARTINS are “colony nesting” birds who, like city dwellers, find safety in numbers. They seldom, if ever, live in solitude. Look for a birdhouse with multiple units (like a condo) and private entrances to accommodate several families. Place it high up a tree or on a pole (12 feet or higher) facing your yard and away from the main house. This allows martins to see predators coming from a reasonable distance. The more protected they feel, the more likely they’ll move in. Bonus points if you live near a field or body of water. This looks perfect!
ROBINS, the early birds that catch the worm, are found all over the country. You sometimes see their nests on ledges and downspouts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tempt them with the perfectly placed home. Robins will tolerate an enclosed birdhouse, but they’d prefer a three-sided shelf with a bit of protection from the elements, like under the roofline. Mount it near a bird feeder to attract a breeding pair. Once their eggs hatch, they’ll leave. But keep the feeder filled. Unlike other birds, robins tend to stay nearby year-round. We like this one a lot.
TREE SWALLOWS do well in areas with high, unmowed grass, preferably near ponds and lakes, as they like to hunt insects above open water. Nesting pairs prefer boxy, wooden homes with a roomy compartment, especially if placed on poles — rather than trees — to keep predators out. Staple burlap inside to help the young climb out of the box when the time comes. Tree swallows only raise one brood each year, so remember to remove the nest once the young leave. This makes the house available for other birds, like bluebirds. Here’s a smart solution.
WRENS are like curious first-time homebuyers who need to see every property up for sale. They prefer homes to hang from a branch along the border of an open yard, but they can also be near a porch or patio as they tolerate humans. Just ensure it’s somewhere sunny with enough clearing to fly freely to and fro. Interestingly, the male wren may build “mock nests” to fool other birds into thinking that the neighborhood is already too crowded. He’ll even destroy their eggs or kill the babies if others move in. Not exactly the best neighbor! Try this one.
4 more tips for welcoming birds to your property
Try not to place your birdhouse too close to a birdfeeder, which may attract all sorts of critters. Many birds won’t nest near where other birds or backyard animals like raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels show up. If a mating pair senses danger, they’ll look elsewhere.
Birds will also pass on your property if they don’t feel there’s enough water nearby. They love birdbaths, but they don’t want to be right on top of all the action, so place your birdhouse a quick dart away. Water evaporates, so refresh your birdbath throughout the day, and know that moving water catches a bird’s attention better than sitting water, so consider installing a fountain.
Try not to place your birdhouse’s opening in the direct sun, as this will cause it to get too hot by mid-day. If your bird friends are comfortable and dry, without overheating, they’ll spend more time there and may return each season.
Keeping birdhouses tidy attracts future inhabitants and protects against diseases caused by bird droppings. Plan to clean out your birdhouses in early spring. Pro tip: wear gloves and a face mask. Over time the birdhouse may need screws tightened or a fresh coat of paint, but a little maintenance makes it even more exciting when new lovebirds move in.
Birds of a feather flock together
Just as you had a list of things you wanted to see in a new home, birds are also very fussy when selecting a place to raise a family. Every bird species has unique nesting requirements, including interior space, whether or not it has a perch, the size of the entrance, and most importantly, the location.
Before settling on a birdhouse, research which bird species are common in your neighborhood and which type you want to attract. Then, choose a birdhouse with those specific requirements in mind.
With a bit of luck, you’ll soon have great neighbors flying in from all over!