When I was growing up, we always used to have birdhouses in the back yard. Sometimes
we were very successful in attracting birds, but some years we were lucky if a bird even
landed on the roof. Now, I have a bird feeder in our yard that brings a lot of birds around.
But, as soon as they are done feeding, they are off again. We sure would like it if they
stayed. Do you have any suggestions for building attractive (for the birds) birdhouses?
Gary, Modjeska Canyon
You live in a great area for bird watching and you are also very close to the wonderful bird sanctuary called the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary that I wrote about not too long ago. It is located at 29322 Modjeska Canyon Road in Modjeska Canyon.. You’ll find many other enthusiastic bird watchers there who can give you advice and tips .There is a small gift shop on the premises, and if my memory serves, there may be ready-built birdhouses for sale.
However, if you want to build a birdhouse yourself, you should first find out about the birds that are visiting your feeder. Not all birds are going to use nesting boxes. Many prefer making their homes in trees and shrubs. You can actually landscape your yard to be a safe haven for many bird species, but it will take a little research on your local birds to figure out which plants and trees are best.
If most of your visitors don’t use nesting boxes, it might be just as enjoyable for you to hang out a wire cage full of nesting materials like fiber scraps, twigs, wool, or feathers and watch them collect and build on their own. This year, it is probably a little too late for that since most have already built their nests, but next spring, you might keep this in mind.
There are about 24 species of North American birds that use nesting boxes. Some species will uses boxes attached directly to your own home, while others require more privacy. A tree mounted nesting box is better for the more secretive birds. Again, knowledge about the specific birds that visit your home will help you determine the most successful location for placing your birdhouse.
Nesting boxes do not need to be elaborate. That’s not to say that you can’t build a house with several “rooms”. In fact, some birds prefer to nest in groups. Nevertheless, fancy architecture may be more of a deterrent than an attractant. To keep things simple, you can even fashion a birdhouse out of a hollow gourd that has been dried and cleaned. If you use wood to construct a nesting box, do not use stains or preservatives, as these may be harmful to birds.
If you select woods of cypress or cedar, you will not need to paint the completed house. But if pine or plywood are used, apply a coat of water based exterior latex paint. White, tan, gray, or dull green work best for reflecting heat. They are also less obvious to predators. Don't paint the inside of the box or the entrance hole.
When you begin assembling your box, your should pre-glue all the joints before you nail them. This will add greater longevity to your birdhouse. Galvanized or brass shank nails, hinges, and screws tend not to rust and keep walls together as the structure ages. Be sure to drill 1/4" ventilation holes in the walls just below the roof and allow for water drainage in your design. You can accomplish the latter by attaching the roof at a slant, AND cutting away the corners of the box floor or drilling 1/4 inch holes in the box floor.
The ideal dimensions of your birdhouse will vary according to the species you have in your area. However, if you construct a house that is about six to eight inches square, you will have an attractive structure for many of the local songbirds. The entrance/exit hole should be drilled on the front panel near the roof. A rough surface around the entry hole on both the inside and out facilitates the entry and exit of birds. If your birdhouse will be made of finished wood, place grooves on the outside below the hole. The inside of the front wall should also have grooves or wire mesh. Perches by the entry hole are not recommended because it offers predatory birds a place to wait for their next meal!
If you need more in depth advice on actual design planning and step by step instructions for building a bird house, surf the internet for an hour or so. There are many sites that cover the subject in great depth, which I am sure you will find very helpful.