Get Started With Backyard Birdhouses

5 Easy Steps to Become a Bird Landlord

Simple Pastel Birdhouses
Olga Filonenko/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

Backyard birding involves meeting birds’ basic survival needs for food, water, and shelter. For many birders, however, getting started with birdhouses is the most intimidating step of creating a bird sanctuary. In five easy steps you can offer safe, comfortable, desirable residences for many different birds that would be happy to call your yard home for their feathered families.

5 Steps for Adding Birdhouses to Your Yard

1. Learn Your Cavity-Nesting Birds

Not all bird species prefer the comfort of enclosed shelter for brooding their eggs or raising their chicks. First, be aware of your most common backyard bird species and note which ones regularly visit your yard. With that information, you can begin to cater your birdhouses to suit those species that are already familiar with and comfortable in your yard. Chickadees, tits, nuthatches, wrens, and bluebirds are some of the most common birdhouse residents. They will be the ones most eager to investigate any houses you add to your birdscaping, and they will be the first to take up residence if your birdhouses meet their cavity-nesting needs.

2. Buy or Build Appropriate Birdhouses

Birds aren’t always discriminating about the size or style of houses they choose for nesting, but you will have better success attracting nesting birds if you opt for styles that meet their preferences for size and space. Entrance hole sizes are especially critical, because a properly sized entrance will help ensure that only the intended birds can use each specific house. Larger, more aggressive birds will not be able to enter the house, keeping the nesting birds and young chicks safe. Other birdhouse dimensions also matter, and the interior size of the house needs to be appropriate for the birds. If you are handy, you can build a house yourself from free birdhouse plans, or assemble one from a birdhouse kit. If you prefer a ready-made house, there are many birdhouses available for purchase from garden centers, bird stores, or online retailers.

3. Mount Houses in the Best Spots

Birdhouses should be placed in appropriate locations to give parent birds privacy and security to raise their broods. You also want to be sure you have a decent view of the house so you can monitor the growing family and enjoy their company. If you plan to add more than one birdhouse to your yard, place the houses as far apart as possible to increase your chances of attracting more than one interested pair of birds at a time. Don’t be discouraged, however, if some houses remain empty even if they are in ideal locations. If one house is already occupied, other nesting pairs may look for houses further away instead.

4. Provide Nesting Material

Make your birdhouses even more enticing to birds looking for a place to call home by providing appropriate nesting materials. Attract birds with nesting materials by providing different options, from grasses, twigs, and weeds to pine needles, mud, pebbles, and short bits of natural fibers. The easier it is for birds to build a nest, the more likely they will be to investigate available nesting sites nearby, including your birdhouses. As an added bonus, the materials you provide may also encourage birds that nest in trees or shrubs, without houses, to also build their nests in your yard. Be careful, however, not to add excessive material to birdhouses yourself, since most birds prefer to make their own nests and may not use a house that already seems to have a nest inside it.

5. Keep Birdhouses Clean and Safe

Birds will not use a nesting site that is not safe for either their hatchlings or themselves. With regular care, it is easy to clean birdhouses and maintain them in good condition for the local climate and weather. At the same time, take steps to protect birdhouses from predators to keep vulnerable bird families safe. Regular maintenance will make birdhouses more attractive to backyard birds and helps ensure healthy families with chicks that have a better opportunity to survive. A well-maintained house may even be home to more than one family in the same nesting season, but if the house is dirty, unsafe, or broken, few birds will give it a second glance.

Even the most attractive, most appealing birdhouses will not always be home to birds in each breeding season, but a patient birder who takes good care of birdhouses is more likely to become a bird landlord year after year. Keep the entire yard bird-friendly with adequate food, additional shelter, a source of fresh water, and safety from feral cats and other predators, and birds are more likely to start calling your birdhouses home.