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There’s something magical about enjoying colorful and vibrant birds as they sing and chirp in the morning. For that reason, a lot of us install bird houses in our yards in order to attract these birds and enjoy them up close.
However, making a bird house a lucrative habitat for a bird isn’t always as simple as it seems, as different birds have different requirements when it comes to housing, and that’s where this guide comes in handy!
If you want to know how to attract birds to bird houses, keep on reading this article as we provide you with helpful tips and tricks to make your yard more alluring to birds!
Before diving into the juicy details of attracting birds to your bird house, you should keep in mind that some bird species are more likely to be attracted to bird houses than others.
The reason behind that is that some bird species will prefer living and building their nests in a non-cavity shelter.
Among the most noticeable bird species that won’t be attracted to bird houses are cardinals and goldfinches (other species of finches do). These birds will instead look for vine branches, dense shrubs, and low trees while building their nest.
Ideally, there are about 85 species of birds (in North America) that are more likely to nest in cavities and man-made houses than others. The most common of these species are:
- Chickadees and Titmice: Black-capped chickadee, Tufted titmouse, Bridled Titmouse, Carolina chickadee, and Chestnut-backed Chickadee.
- Sparrows: House Sparrow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow
- Finches: House Finch and Zebra Finch
- Thrushes and Bluebirds: Eastern Bluebird, Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, American Robin, and Brown Thrasher
- Warblers: Prothonotary Warbler and Lucy’s Warbler
- Woodpeckers and Flickers: Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Pileated Woodpecker.
- Flycatchers: Great Crested Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Pied Flycatcher
- Wrens: House Wren, Carolina Wren, Bewick’s Wren, and Winter Wren
- Martins and Swallows: Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, and Violet-green Swallow
- Nuthatches: White-breasted nuthatch, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, and Brown-Headed Nuthatch
- Ducks: Wood Ducks, Hooded Merganser, and Common Goldeneye
- Kestrels: American Kestrel and Lesser kestrel
- Owls: Screech Owl (Eastern and Western),Barn Owl, Pygmy Owl, and Spotted Owl
There are plenty of bird house types out there, and some of them will be more suitable for your birds than others.
Whether you’re planning or buying or building them on your own, here’s a brief overview of different types:
These are among the most commonly used types of bird houses, as they’re perfect for sheltering highly territorial bird species that build their own nests and live inside as a family.
These boxes are characterized by their relatively small size and small entry points, which makes them ideal for various species of bluebirds. These bird houses are usually attached to trees or posts at a suitable height.
While many bird species are territorial and live as small families in their nest boxes, others will live as a community or colony where they build nests to settle as a group, such as Purple Martins.
These nest boxes are quite large and have multiple entry holes. In the Purple Martin case, they’re usually brightly colored on the outside (mostly white) while being unpainted on the inside, but that can differ from one species to another.
As the name suggests, these houses are mounted on posts or poles to keep the birds relatively high and protected from land predators.
This type is considered a great alternative to nest boxes if you don’t have trees around your backyard.
They also give you more freedom when choosing a spot for your bird house. But more about that in the following sections.
These ones are similar to single unit nest boxes but they’re attached to fences and outer walls of a house.
They’re usually mounted high with nails or hooks, which makes them pretty sturdy and protective.
You can simply hang these birdhouses from a porch roof or a tree branch. Although many birds prefer bird houses that are relatively stable, some species won’t mind a bit of swinging, especially house wrens.
Perches are not particularly bird houses but they’re spots that double as a vantage point for specific species of birds to roost and observe their surroundings. This makes them attractive to species like robins, thrushes, blackbirds, magpies, jays, etc.
The advantage of having perches is that you’ll be able to observe the birds without any obstructions.
However, the downside here is that perches typically attract relatively loud or territorial birds, so it may limit the bird variety in your backyard.
Now that you know more about the cavity nesting bird species and the different types of bird houses available on the market, here’s a complete guide that walks you through all the steps of setting up and attracting birds to your bird house:
As previously discussed, not all birds will simply find a bird house an appealing spot to nest and shelter. Some birds may also find your bird house unsafe and avoid nesting there.
For that reason, you need to find out more about the available species of birds in your region before building a bird house. This is also quite essential if you are targeting a specific species of birds.
There are plenty of ways to learn about species of birds in your region, such as online articles and field guides. These will provide you with a lot of valuable information that will help you build a more suitable habitat for your target birds, such as:
- Their ideal type habitat, which helps you choose a suitable bird house
- Their favorite food, so you can provide an attractive source of nutrition
- Their available season, as some bird species are migratory and only available in specific seasons.
- Appealing environmental conditions, such as dense shrubs, water fountains, etc.
- Their predators and how to keep them protected from such species
One thing you should know here is that attracting birds isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. You might target a specific species and end up with a different one, especially if you’re a beginner.
If this is your first ever bird house, it’s highly recommended that you create an environment that can appeal to a wide range of bird species, which increases your chances of attracting them to your yard.
Now that you know more about the species of birds you’re likely to come across in your region, you’ll be able to pick a good spot to set up your bird house of choice.
The first thing you need to keep in mind here is the location of the bird house. Ideally, most birds will seek a secure spot that is rarely disturbed to build their nests.
The spot should also be limited to inquisitive house pets, especially cats, as they’re capable predators that will keep most backyard birds at bay if they’re allowed to roam freely around the house.
The conditions in the area should also be a factor when choosing a location. For instance, most birds will prefer a relatively obscure location that is relatively dark and covered with dense foliage in order to stay out of predators’ sights.
However, a few bird species will prefer a relatively open location for their habitat, such as Bluebirds.
If you’re mainly targeting them, you’ll need to place the bird house in a location with access to open spaces.
Ideally, most birds will require their bird houses to be installed relatively high to mimic their natural habitat. However, the exact height range will vary among species.
Ideally, species like bluebirds will prefer a house that is 5 to 8 feet high while smaller bird species are attracted to bird houses placed anywhere between 5 to 10 feet above the ground.
On the other hand, owls and ducks prefer bird houses placed at least 20 to 40 feet above the ground.
If you want to be able to view the bird house from your house windows, make sure to place the bird house at least 3 feet apart from the window, but a recommended distance would be around 20 to 30 feet (to prevent the birds from flying through the windows).
The size of the bird house is another essential aspect that you always need to keep in mind if you want to encourage the birds to live and nest there.
Ideally, the dimensions of a bird house should be relative to the size of the bird itself, with few exceptions here and there.
For example, tiny birds like wrens and chickadees will enjoy a relatively small bird house that is around 7 to 8 inches high with a base of around 4 x 6 inches.
As you go larger in size, such as the case with bluebirds, you’ll need a relatively larger bird box with a height of around 10 inches and a base of around 5.5 x 6.5 inches.
Ducks and birds of prey like owls will usually look for the largest bird houses with base dimensions of 10 x 10 inches and ample headroom of at least 22 to 25 inches high.
In addition to the size of the interior, you also need to optimize the size of the entrance hole. The ideal hole should be large enough to allow the birds to come in and out freely but not too large that it allows large predators and competitor nesting birds to go inside.
Ideally, the smallest of entrances should be slightly above 1 inch in diameter, which is ideal for species like wrens.
Chickadees and small woodpeckers would go for 1.25 inches in diameter, while larger species like bluebirds might prefer an entrance of around 1.5 inches in diameter.
The largest holes are those meant for owls, kestrels, and ducks. These can be as large as 4 inches. The holes should be elliptical or oval and centered above the base to make it harder for predators to enter.
If you’re targeting a specific species, find out more about its average size from a field guide and make sure that the dimensions of the hole are around 10 to 5% larger.
Various bird species will prefer different materials while building their nests inside a bird house, so the availability of the right nesting material will greatly attract birds to your bird houses.
With that said, you should know that leaving the wrong nesting material inside the bird house can drive them away from nesting there.
As a result, it’s much better to leave the nesting materials around the yard where birds are more likely to find them than to leave them inside the bird house.
The most popular nesting materials for birds are small twigs, moss, feathers, pine needles, untreated dry grass, plant fuzz, etc.
This way, the birds will be able to pick the ideal materials for them to build a healthy and safe nest. It also caters to the bird’s natural instinct to construct its own nest.
If you’re targeting a specific species and want to add a specific nesting material inside, make sure that you don’t use improper materials like lint.
While it works when it’s dry, it stays wet for long when exposed to rain, which can grow mold and harm little chicks.
While a select few bird species like to live in a colony or community style bird houses, the vast majority of cavity nesting bird species prefer isolation and having their own private space, such as wrens and chickadees.
This means that having multiple bird houses that are stacked next to each other or a large bird box split into several compartments won’t work for them.
In other words, having many bird houses in the same spot will lower your chances of hosting a bird’s nest rather than increasing it.
With that said, if you still want to attract various birds and species to take shelter in your yard, you’ll need to make sure that the bird houses are spaced apart, especially when it comes to highly territorial species.
As a rule of thumb, you should leave a space of around 20 to 25 feet in any direction between bird houses.
Another method that you need to consider if you want to attract birds to your bird houses is to make them a better shelter.
Birds usually scout their habitat looking for suitable spots that can protect them when the weather turns.
For example, if you live in an area where it gets too hot in summer, you might want to paint the bird house white to reflect sun rays and keep the interior cool.
Similarly, you need to make sure that the roof of the bird house is well insulated against water and won’t be flooded in the case of heavy rain.
Fortification against the wind using nails and hooks is also necessary to protect the chicks in stormy weather.
Birds will usually prefer hanging around areas where they can find plenty of food to feed their chicks.
By providing the birds with proper access to food, you’ll encourage them to also build their nest in the nearby bird house.
Of course, the food shouldn’t be right next to the bird house, but the distance between the two should be relatively small to ensure a quick and safe journey away from predators.
With that said, the feeder should be set up so that other animals can’t access it, such as raccoons and squirrels.
In addition to eating all the available food, the birds will be discouraged from setting up their nest near a predator threat. Luckily, there are plenty of animal deterrent bird feeders that spin when squirrels and animals land on them.
Different bird species will have their unique preferences when it comes to food. For that reason, you need to make sure that the feeder has the right kind of food for your birds.
Ideally, most birds enjoy sunflower seeds, millet, and suet. Corn is also an attractive and inexpensive choice that you can use as a filler to increase the volume of food in the feeder.
You also need to provide grit, such as sand, gravel, and cracked eggshells, in the feeder because birds don’t have teeth and rely on their gizzard to digest food.
You should also avoid providing the birds with processed food remains as well as crackers and bread because they may contain ingredients that are toxic to birds and don’t have true nutritional value for them.
Keep in mind that higher quality seeds will not only increase your chances of attracting birds to your yard, but will also improve their overall health and looks.
For example, the red patches in male house finches will become much more vibrant with proper nutrition.
Make sure that you wash and clean the bird feeder occasionally to remove rotten food and prevent the formation of mold.
Similarly, remember to clean the bird house itself between seasons when the birds abandon their nests. This creates a healthy and fresh environment for the next bird to build its nest.
In addition to food, you need to provide a source of water in your yard. Besides drinking, birds also need water for bathing.
For that reason, having a clean source of water makes your yard a pretty impressive spot for settling and building a nest, which makes your bird houses more approachable and enticing to birds.
If you don’t mind the extra costs, you can also install a small water fountain in your yard because the sound of splashing water will attract many birds to your yard.
Securing the bird house to trees, posts, and walls isn’t enough to make the birds feel safe. After all, there are many animals that prey on small and medium sized birds, such as mice, snakes, and raccoons.
One of the best methods to keep the bird houses protected, and therefore more attractive, is by camouflaging the house. To do this, you’ll only need to add some shrubs, branches, and evergreen plants around the bird house.
You can also use baffle doors and tube entrances to make it much harder for these predators to get inside the bird house.
In addition to providing necessary camouflage and protection, birds are naturally attracted to areas with plenty of shrubs and plants.
If you want to make your bird house more inviting, avoid setting up the bird house in an area that lacks enough shrubs and green.
A good tip here is to plant evergreen plants and plants that produce berries because they attract most birds while foraging.
Some chemical pesticides leave toxic residue on plants that can be toxic to ingest. So, while your yard may look like an appealing spot, hanging around your garden can harm the birds and deter them from your yard.
With that said, you now have a brief guide that walks you through all the information you need to know if you want to attract birds to bird houses.
As you can see, the key here is to choose the right properties of the bird house for sheltering and make sure that the bird has access to all the necessary materials, food, and hydration to build its nest nearby.
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