Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Bird Houses Attract a Variety of Species
April 10, 2021
By Steve Grinley
Last week, I talked mainly about putting up bird houses for bluebirds and tree swallows, but there are many bird species that will appreciate a man-made nesting box. Any bird that nests in a tree cavity might accept a bird house. These include chickadee, titmouse, nuthatch, Carolina and house wrens, house finch. Of course the architects of natural tree cavities, the woodpeckers (downy, hairy, red-bellied and flickers), might also take to a pre-made nest box. Unfortunately non-native house sparrows and starlings will readily take over many a bird house. Most other songbirds, such as cardinals and goldfinch, nest in trees and shrubs and won’t be candidates for a nesting box.
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. Eastern phoebes, which are also starting to return to our area, might also take to a nesting shelf as they often nest under eaves of a shed or garage. Phoebes are early nesters as well, and once they nest, they often return to the same place and will build a new nest right on top of the old one.
We saw “our” Carolina wren carrying mealworms off the other day, presumably to feed young already. Carolina wrens 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 have multiple broods and might also nest in a bird house. House finches also commonly nest in hanging plants and on door wreaths and light fixtures, but they, too, may be coaxed to a bird house.
The smaller house wren will arrive in May and the males will begin filling houses with sticks only to let the female chose 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, but it doesn’t stop the house wren from taking over houses with larger entrances that were meant for bluebirds or chickadees. House wrens can be aggressive by tapping holes into the eggs that other birds leave in a bird house that they “claim”.
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 house. The hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers need a larger house with a larger entrance hole and the flicker needs larger accommodations still.
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 so they, too, might nest on your property, even in more urban settings. If you have a pond or other wetland, wood ducks might also use a nest box.
Purple martins nest in colonies and will take to multiple cavity houses and gourds. Their “condo” houses are large, need to be put up twelve to fifteen feet high near 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 those pest birds from taking over. Gourds for purple martins have also been successful in our area but require that same diligent monitoring. Tree swallow houses are much easier to deal with. They are individual houses that only need to be five to six feet high, and 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 consume large numbers of flying insects.
Depending on the habitat you have, there are many opportunities for attracting birds with bird houses. In return, these birds may entertain you with their song and will help to control the insects in your yard or garden.