Many backyard birders enjoy attracting nesting birds, but they also want birdhouses to be attractive garden or yard decorations even if the houses aren't active residences. Is painting birdhouses 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 birdhouse colors are best?
Designs for Painted Birdhouses
There are many beautiful painted birdhouses in every color and design imaginable. A simple solid color birdhouse is easy to paint, whether in muted tones or bold palettes, while some artistic birders create birdhouses that resemble real homes' paint jobs with coordinating colors and trim. Themed houses are also popular, and a basic birdhouse 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 Birdhouses Good for Birds?
Birds that use houses aren't always picky about their accommodations, and they will nest in painted birdhouses if the size, shape, and placement of the house meet their needs. Painting isn't always the best choice for birdhouses, however, because a poorly chosen paint job can be dangerous. 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 good for a birdhouse. While cedar and cypress houses are naturally durable and do not require painting, pine or plywood birdhouses 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 birdhouse so it can be used for more nesting seasons.
Best Birdhouse Colors
The best colors for a birdhouse 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 paints 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 a Birdhouse
To properly paint a birdhouse:
- 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, or opt for natural or organic stains rather than paints.
- Avoid painting the inside of a birdhouse 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 birdhouse 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 birdhouse 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 birdhouse can be attractive to birds. A brightly colored, highly visible house, however, may not attract tenants if more suitable nesting sites are available. By choosing paints, colors, and designs carefully, birders can enjoy attractive, decorative birdhouses that birds will be happy to take up residence in.