For the Birds: Got Nest Houses?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Violet-green Swallows feeding young
Photo by John Riegsecker
By Christine Southwick

Wanted: House, 1 bedroom, with view, nearby water, food and shelter. Will remodel as needed.

Our backyard birds are looking for a place to lay their eggs and raise their young. Many birds use dead or dying trees (snags) to make their nest cavities. As these snags are cut down, there are fewer nesting sites.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee house with nearby branches
Photo by Christine Southwick
You can help by buying or building the right box for the species you want to help. Black-capped chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bewick’s Wrens, and Violet-Green Swallows readily use nest boxes; ground nesters like Dark-eyed Juncos, Spotted Towhees, and Song Sparrows do not.

A good nest box is made out of rough, unpainted wood with ventilation and drainage holes, and the right size entrance hole. The right size entrance hole will attract the birds you want, while keeping out House Sparrows and European Starlings. House Sparrows and Starlings are two non-native, non-protected species that actively eject native birds and their eggs.

Bird House with hole adapter by Craig Kerns
If you have a house with too large a hole, go to Wild Birds Unlimited and buy a hole adapter. It will also deter predators by adding depth to the entrance hole. And get rid of any ‘cute’ perches—native birds don’t use them; predators do.

Placing them in the right location is also important. Fortunately there are a number of good guides to help you. The Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife has great information.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has lots of great resources and directions.

Bird houses should be placed with a clear line of flight to the entrance. Placing them with trees or shrubs just a quick wingburst away is required by chickadees and Bewick’s Wrens. They have learned to be cautious going to the nest, and will often come from different branches and directions before entering.

After the season, clean the nest box and leave the side open. If you have wasps in your yard, lightly coat the inside of the roof with soap or wax, and you won’t have to worry about that issue.

Think of snags as Habitat Trees
Pileated Woodpeckers nesting in snag
Photo by John Riegsecker


Once you have your nest boxes up, watch for birds to start investigating. It may take a while, or not. My friend had Chestnut-backed Chickadees within the week of putting up a house, and they’ve been back every year.

Think of snags as Habitat Trees. If you don’t have any, put up a bird house. You and the birds will both be glad.


Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she is sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.

For previous For the Birds columns, click on the link under the Features section on the main webpage.



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