Providing Homes for Nesting Birds is a Rewarding Effort
Some Simple Tips for Birdhouses Can Help Your Yard Fill With New Life
Last updated 1/28/2022 at 11:53am
Different species of birds build their nests in all sorts of different places – high in the treetops, deep in thick shrubs, even hiding in plain sight on the ground. Some birds will only build their nests within the protection of a hole. These cavity nesting species fall into two categories. Primary cavity nesters, such as woodpeckers, can excavate their own holes. Other species including bluebirds, tree swallows, screech owls and kestrels are secondary cavity nesters; they also nest in cavities but must rely on naturally occurring cavities or unused old woodpecker nests.
Nesting sites are an important and finite resource that these secondary cavity nesters need to raise their young. Cavities are most often found in decayed or dead trees with softer wood, but these trees are undesirable to people and typically removed in developed areas and some timberlands. Removing these trees means there are fewer places for birds to nest. To make matters worse, two common invasive species – European Starlings and House Sparrows – are also cavity nesters and compete for the available nesting spaces.
The good news – there is something easy (and fun!) that we as individuals can do to provide safe nest sites for these birds. Now is the time of year to put up your bird houses – also known as nest boxes. Cavity nesting species, such as bluebirds, wrens and chickadees, will soon be out scouting for places to lay their eggs and raise their young.
When buying or building a nest box, you need to keep in mind several must-haves in bird real estate. Some bird houses you see at garden stores are beautiful to us, but don't necessarily have the features that will make them appealing and safe for birds. A good box should have:
Ventilation – small holes, usually placed under the roof overhang, are important for airflow.
Drainage holes – you don't want the box to fill with rainwater.
Roof – the roof should be sloped to help keep out rain and should extend over the walls of the box for extra protection.
No perch – predators can potentially use a perch for support. Birds do not require a perch to get in and out of the box.
Predator guard – adding a baffle to the pole supporting your nest box will help deter predators including snakes and raccoons.
Hinged door – you will need to clean out your nest box at the end of the nesting season, and a hinged door makes this much simpler. It will also enable you to easily monitor nests!
Nest boxes aren't one-size-fits-all. Different species prefer different box shapes and sizes, different entrance hole sizes, and, sometimes, additions such as pine wood shavings or interior ladders.
You will need to consider your landscape carefully when trying to attract a specific species. If you have forest around your house, for example, you wouldn't want to put up a bluebird house, since these birds prefer plenty of open space. You would be better off trying to attract a wren or chickadee.
It might sound complicated to figure out what boxes are right for your yard but, luckily, there are some excellent tools to help. Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Right Bird, Right House tool will show you what birds you can potentially attract to your yard and give you detailed descriptions of species' preferred nest boxes. If you're handy, you can download the patterns and build your own boxes. FWC's Planting a Refuge for Wildlife guide is also available for order online. This 40-page guide will give you detailed, Florida-specific information on nest boxes, as well as water sources, feeders, pollinator plants and more.