Bird House Colors and Painting Bird Houses

Tips for Safe Painted Bird Houses

Paint Cans
Natural paints in neutral colors can be good for bird houses. Photo © United Soybean Board/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Many backyard birders enjoy attracting nesting birds, but they also want bird houses to be attractive garden decorations even if they aren't active avian residences. Is painting bird houses safe, or will it make the houses less attractive or even dangerous for the birds that use them? And if you want to paint, which bird house colors are best?

Designs for Painted Bird Houses

There are many beautiful painted bird houses in every color and design imaginable.

A simple solid color bird house is easy to paint, whether in muted tones or bold palettes, while some artistic borders create birdhouses that resemble real homes' paint jobs with coordinating colors and trim. Themed houses are also popular, and a basic bird house can be transformed into a patriotic palace, country tea cottage or whimsical ornament with different paint schemes. School or sports team colors, rainbows or even bird-themed paint jobs are also popular. Not all of these paint schemes are best for the birds, however.

Is Painting Bird Houses Good for Birds?

Birds that use houses aren't always picky about their accommodations, and they will nest in painted bird houses if the size, shape, and placement of the house meet their needs. Painting isn't always the best choice for bird houses, however, because a poorly chosen paint job can be dangerous to the birds. Bright colors can draw unwanted attention that will attract predators, while toxic paints can be poisonous to both adult birds and fledglings.

Dark colors in sunny areas can also overheat the house, making it smothering for young birds or fostering toxic levels of bacteria growth in a contaminated house.

There are times, however, when a carefully chosen paint job can be beneficial for a bird house. While cedar and cypress houses are naturally durable and do not require painting, pine or plywood bird houses can be made more weatherproof and long-lasting with a good coat of quality paint.

Paint can help seal small cracks that would otherwise widen in the summer heat and destroy the house's integrity, and a good paint job can revitalize an older bird house.

Best Bird House Colors

The best colors for a bird house depend on the house type and where it will be situated. In general, natural camouflaged colors such as gray, dull green, brown or tan help the house blend into its environment and keep nesting birds safe from predators. If the house will be mounted in a colorful flower garden, choose more colorful or bold prints that coordinate with nearby floral hues. White paint is recommended for purple martin houses to help reflect heat away from these open area houses, and any house in a sunny area can benefit from that heat reflection on hot summer days. Florescent, metallic or iridescent paints should generally be avoided because of their overly dramatic brightness and other additives in the paint that could be harmful to wildlife.

Tips for Painting Bird Houses

To properly paint a bird house...

  • Use water-based latex paint, and always avoid lead-based or creosote paints that may be toxic to birds. Consider trying alternative, eco-friendly or naturally-derived paints as well, or opt for natural or organic stains rather than paints.
  • Avoid painting the inside of a bird house or around the lip of the entrance hole. Growing birds may peck at surfaces and could ingest paint chips, or small chips of paint could get into hatchlings' delicate eyes.
  • When painting, take care that the paint does not block or seal small ventilation holes or drainage holes in the house. These holes are necessary for a safe bird house and should be kept open and useful at all times.
  • Allow the paint to dry thoroughly for several days before mounting the house for birds to use. This will allow potentially toxic odors to disperse before birds investigate the house, and will keep those odors from attracting nearby predators.
  • When cleaning the bird house at the end of each breeding season, check for peeling paint, chips or fading. Repaint or reseal the house as necessary to keep the paint job in good, safe condition.

Painted appropriately with safe, neutral colors and non-toxic paints, a painted bird house can be attractive to birds. A brightly colored, highly visible house, however, may not attract tenets if more suitable nesting sites are available. By choosing paints, colors and designs carefully, backyard birders can enjoy attractive, decorative bird houses that birds will be happy to take up residence in.

Want other options for attractive bird houses? Try natural decorations for bird houses instead!