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Houses for our feathered friends

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A guide to birdhouses

Spring is in the air. Birds are singing, flowers are popping up everywhere and our feathered friends are shopping for nesting sites to rear their young. This is the perfect time to install a birdhouse in your backyard.

Not every type of bird enjoys nesting in a bird house, but if you build (or buy) the type that suits them,  many cavity nesting birds like chickadees, titmice, wrens, woodpeckers and purple martins will enhance your chances of attracting the right tenants. And, once nesting birds find your bird house, chances are they’ll return the next year.

Some important features to keep in mind when shopping (or building) a birdhouse:

  • Walls should be constructed of untreated wood.
  • Holes for ventilations and drainage.
  • A sloped roof that extends out to keep off the rain.
  • A baffle to… well, to baffle predators like raccoons and house cats that steal eggs and baby birds.

Location, location, location

Different birds have different nesting site requirements. Wrens like their houses to hang from a small tree in an open yard. Chickadees prefer theirs situated amongst trees or shrubs. Purple martins enjoy a community, so if you’re looking to attract them, an apartment set of bird houses painted white to reflect the heat and set on a tall pole in the middle of a lawn will work well. Tree swallows will dive bomb large ponds in search of aquatic insects to eat and feed their young, so make sure their birdhouse is in sight of a large water feature.

Fit, size and height

Once you’ve decided on the type of songbird your want to nest in your backyard you must choose a birdhouse that suits. One size does not fit all birds. Small birds like chickadees and wrens prefer small 8-inch tall houses while bluebirds need more room. Entrance holes are also important. Wrens require the smallest opening – just one and one-eighth inch so that competing nesters cannot fit through. Chickadees and titmice are comfortable with a slightly larger one and one quarter inch opening.

Hanging the birdhouse at the correct height is another important element. Purple martin apartments should be at least 15 to 20 feet above the ground, while wrens and chickadees prefer their houses five to eight feet above the grass.

Cleaning and maintenance

Birds often raise more than one brood in a year. If you have been lucky enough to attract the bird of your choice to your backyard birdhouse you have a small window of opportunity to clean the nesting box.

Birds take a two week break between the time their babies fledge the nest and before they lay another clutch of eggs. That is the ideal time to sweep out accumulated detritus and rinse out the birdhouse with a sharp jet of water or diluted bleach. This will discourage parasites and keep the birds healthy.

Backyard benefits

Enjoying the beauty of the birds who nest in your garden is of course undeniable. But, there’s more, much more.

  • Pest control: Say goodbye to aphids, mosquitoes and other bugs when birds congregate in your yard. Boost your bug population with spring-flowering trees like crab apples and let the birds enjoy a feast. No need for toxic insecticides to keep the bug population at bay.
  • Weed control: Finches, towhees and sparrows consume immense quantities of weed seeds, making them effective at controlling unwanted plants. Plant native species like purple coneflower, asters and goldenrod to provide the birds with a natural food source to enjoy and to forestall constant feeder refills. 
  • Environmental conservation: Setting up birdhouses in your backyard and growing native species of flowers, shrubs and trees helps to protect the natural habitat of our feathered friends and provides them with a safe haven from predators.
  • Stress relief and pleasure: Watching the birds, listening to them singing and taking care of their young as well as just being outdoors will help relieve stress and promote well-being. Working outdoors will also provide backyard birders with a proper amount of vitamin D – essential to our health and well-being.

 This spring, take the time to help our feathered friends by buying or building a birdhouse. Then sit back, and enjoy the rewards.

By Beverley Burgess Bell

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