YOU CAN ATTRACT TO NEST BOXES
Many of the birds that visit feeders
and baths may stay and nest in nearby trees. Most of them,
including cardinals, doves and orioles, don't nest in boxes.
You can still help them by considering their food and shelter
requirements in your landscape plans. You can also hang out a
wire cage full of nesting materials (fiber scraps, twigs,
wool, or feathers) in the spring.
More than two dozen North American
birds will nest in bird houses. The following descriptions
will help you determine which birds might visit your
If you put up a bluebird house near an
old field, orchard, park, cemetery, or golf course, you'll
have a good chance of attracting a pair of bluebirds. They
prefer nest boxes on a tree stump or wooden fence post between
three and five feet high. Bluebirds also nest in abandoned
woodpecker nest holes. The most important measurement is the
hole diameter. An inch and a half is small enough to deter
starlings. Starlings and house sparrows have been known to
kill baby bluebirds as well as adults sitting on the nest.
Bluebirds have problems with other
animals too. The easiest way to discourage predatory cats,
snakes, raccoons, and chipmunks is to mount the house on a
metal pole, or use a metal predator guard on a wood post.
Robins are our largest thrushes. They
prefer to build their nest in the crotch of a tree. If you
don't have an appropriate tree, you can offer a nesting
platform. Pick a spot six feet or higher up on a shaded tree
trunk or under the overhang of a shed or porch. Creating a
"mud puddle" nearby offers further excitement, as
robins use mud to line their nests.
Nuthatches, and Titmice
Chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches
share the same food, feeders, and habitats. If you put a
properly designed nest box in a wooded yard, at least one pair
is sure to check it out.
Put chickadee houses at eye level. Hang
them from limbs or secure them to tree trunks. The entrance
hole should be 1-1/8" to attract chickadees yet exclude
Anchor houses for hatches on tree
trunks five to six feet off the ground.
You can encourage these birds to stay
in your yard by continuing to fill your suet and peanut
feeders through the summer.
Creepers and Prothonotary Warblers
Look for brown creepers to nest behind
the curved bark of tree trunks. In heavily wooded yards, slab
bark houses will appeal to creepers. Prothonotary warblers
also prefer slab bark houses, but theirs must be placed over
Wrens don't seem to be very picky about
where they nest. Try nest boxes with a 1" x 2"
horizontal slot (1-1/2" x 2-1/2" for the larger
Carolina wrens) instead of a circle. These are easier for the
wrens to use.
Wrens are notorious for filling up any
conceivable nest cavity with twigs, regardless of whether they
use the nest. Since male house wrens build several nests for
the female to choose from, hang several nest boxes at eye
level on partly sunlit tree limbs. Wrens are sociable and will
accept nest boxes quite close to your house.
and Violet-green Swallows
Tree swallows prefer nest boxes
attached to dead trees. Space the boxes about seven feet apart
for these white-bellied birds with iridescent blue-green backs
and wings. The ideal setting for these insect-eaters is on the
edge of a field near a lake, pond, or river.
Violet-green swallows nest in forested
mountains of the west; boxes placed on large trees in a
semi-open woodland will attract them.
Swallows and Phoebes
If you have the right habitat, barn
swallows and phoebes are easy to attract. It's their nesting
behavior, not their plumage or song, that catches your
attention. These birds tend to nest where you'd rather not
have them: on a ledge right over your front door. To avoid a
mess by your door, offer the birds a nesting shelf nearby
where you'd rather have them.
Many people want martins because, it's
been said, these birds "can eat 2,000 mosquitoes a
day." While it's true that they eat flying insects, don't
expect purple martins to wipe out your mosquitoes. Martins
actually prefer dragonflies, insects which prey on mosquito
Mosquitoes are most active after
sunset. If you want to rid your yard of mosquitoes, put up a
bat roosting box. One bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes a
But don't cross martins off your
prospective tenant list because they don't live up to their
"bug zapping" reputation. If you need a reason for
attracting them, these gregarious swallows put on a show
that's better than any television soap opera.
You have the best chance of attracting
martins if you put a house on the edge of a pond or river,
surrounded by a field or lawn. Martins need a radius of about
40 feet of unobstructed flying space around their houses. A
convenient wire nearby gives them a place to perch in sociable
Martins nest in groups, so you'll need
a house with a minimum of four large rooms -- 6 or more inches
on all sides, with a 2-1/2 inch entrance hole about an inch
and a half above the floor.
Ventilation and drainage are critical
factors in martin house design. Porches, railings, porch
dividers and supplemental roof perches, like a TV antenna,
will make any house more appealing.
Gourds may also be made into houses by
making an entrance hole and providing drainage. If you use
gourds, it's not necessary to add railings and perches. Adult
martins will perch on the wire used to hang the houses.
Before you decide on a house, take the
time to think about what kind of pole you're going to put it
on. Martins will occupy a house that's between ten and twenty
feet off the ground. Some poles are less cumbersome than
Gourd houses are the easiest to set up.
You can string them:
from a wire between two poles
from a sectional aluminum pole
on pulleys mounted to cross-bar high up on a
Light-weight aluminum houses can be
mounted on telescoping poles, providing easy access for
maintenance and inspection. Because of their weight (well over
30 pounds), wood houses cannot be mounted on easy-access
telescoping poles. You'll have to use a sturdy metal or wood
pole attached to a pivot post. The problem with this
"lowering" technique is that you can't tilt the
house without damaging the nests inside. If you put your house
on a shorter, fixed pole, ten to twelve feet high, you can use
a ladder to inspect and maintain it.
The great crested flycatcher and its
western cousin, the ash-throated flycatcher, are common in
wooded suburbs. Their natural nesting sites are abandoned
These flycatchers may nest in a bird
house if it's placed about ten feet up in a tree in an orchard
or at the edge of a field or stream.
You can attract all the woodpeckers
with a suet feeder, but only the flicker and the red-bellied
are likely to use a bird house. They prefer a box with
roughened interior and a floor covered with a two-inch layer
of wood chips or coarse sawdust. Flickers are especially
attracted to nest boxes filled with sawdust, which they
"excavate" to suit themselves.
For best results, place the box high up
on a tree trunk exposed to direct sunlight.
Most owls seldom build their own nests.
Great horned and long-eared owls prefer abandoned crow and
hawk nests. Other owls (barred, barn, saw-whet, boreal and
screech) nest in tree cavities and bird houses.
Barn owls are best known for selecting
nesting sites near farms. Where trees are sparse, these birds
will nest in church steeples, silos, and barns. If you live
near a farm or a golf course, try fastening a nest box about
15 feet up on a tree trunk.
Screech owls prefer abandoned
woodpecker holes at the edge of a field or neglected orchard.
They will readily take to a boxes lined with an inch or two of
wood shavings. If you clean the box out in late spring after
the young owls have fledged, you may attract a second
tenant--a kestrel. Trees isolated from larger tracts of woods
have less chance of squirrels taking over the box.