Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Bird Houses Attract a Variety of Species
March 17, 2023
By Steve Grinley
Last week, I talked about putting up bird houses for bluebirds and tree swallows, but there are a number of other birds that will appreciate a man-made nesting box. Any bird that nests in a tree cavity might take to a bird house. These include woodpeckers (downy, hairy, red-bellied and flickers), as well as chickadee, titmouse, nuthatch, Carolina and house wrens and house finch.
Other birds such as great crested flycatcher, kestrels, screech and barred owls, wood ducks and hooded mergansers might occupy a larger nest box. Purple martins nest in colonies and will occupy multiple cavity houses and gourds. Of course, the invasive house sparrows and starlings may take over a bird house intended to attract one of our native birds.
Our spring robins are arriving and though they normally build a nest in trees, they sometimes nest under decks and on top of light fixtures on a house. They will sometimes nest on a nesting shelf, which had an open side for easy access in and out. Eastern phoebes are also starting to return to our area and may also take to a nesting shelf. They often nest under eaves of a shed or garage. Phoebes are early nesters and usually return to the same place each year, building a new nest right on top of the old one!
There are reports of Carolina wrens starting to nest already and they will nest in many different odd places. They have been known to nest in mail boxes, in hanging plants, in clothes pin bags, in flower pots in garages, and under upside down kayaks and canoes that have been stored for the winter. They will also nest in a bird house. House finches also commonly nest in hanging plants, but they, too, can be coaxed to a bird house.
The small house wren will arrive in May and the males will begin filling houses with sticks, only to let the female choose which house she prefers. They will take readily to a hanging house, and their entrance hole need only be about an inch in diameter. Such a small size hole will exclude most other birds. The house wren may also take over houses with larger entrances that were meant for bluebirds or chickadees. The wrens can be aggressive by tapping holes into the eggs that other birds lay in a bird house.
Chickadees, titmice and nuthatches will fit in a house with a 1 1/8-1 1/4” hole, but they, too, might occupy a larger entrance house meant for a bluebird or tree swallow. The smaller downy woodpecker can also use that size entrance. The hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers need a larger house with a larger entrance hole (which a downy woodpecker might also occupy) and the flicker needs even larger accommodations.
Purple martins are at the northeastern edge of their range and are mostly coastal in our area. Their multi-family houses are large, need to be put up twelve to fifteen feet high in open areas, and require much more maintenance than most bird houses. House sparrows and starling are a constant threat, so accessibility to the house is important to be able to control these pest birds from taking over. A ladder may be necessary or a means to lower and raise the house is required to check on the nests and to remove the unwanted intruders.
Tree swallow houses are much easier to deal with. They nest in the same house as a bluebird and only need to be mounted five to six feet high You can put multiple houses in close proximity to attract more swallows. Since they are of the same family as purple martins, they too will eat large numbers of flying insects.
The declining kestrel population in our area is a good reason to put up a kestrel box if you have the right open habitat for one. Screech owls use the same size box as a kestrel and will nest in more densely populated areas. If you have a pond or other wetland, wood ducks will also use a nest box designed for them.
Depending on the habitat you have, there are many opportunities for attracting birds with bird houses. In return, these birds may entertain you with song and many help naturally control the insects in your yard or garden!
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