Knowing when to put out birdhouses is essential for birders to attract nesting birds to their yard or garden. For cavity-nesting birds, houses can provide the perfect place to build a nest and nurture baby birds, and other species may also use birdhouses as temporary shelters during cold snaps or poor weather. If the houses aren't up, however, they can't be used. So when is the bird nesting season, and when should birdhouses be ready to host new feathered families?
When Birds Use Birdhouses
Different species nest at different times. The earliest nesting birds may begin investigating potential nest sites and birdhouses as part of claiming territory or their courtship rituals as early as January or February (July or August in the Southern Hemisphere). Other birds may not nest until later in the season, but they may still use available houses as shelters from predators, cold temperatures, and poor weather both before and after the nesting season. Birds that raise multiple broods each season often nest earlier, though if a house is not up when these birds are ready to lay their first eggs, they may still investigate it as a nesting site later in the season.
Best Time to Put Up Birdhouses
There is no bad time to put out birdhouses, and the best time to put them up is as soon as you have them available. Even if it is not nesting season, birds may investigate the house, learn where it is, and possibly use it as shelter. If you only want to provide houses for nesting, putting them up in late winter or very early spring will ensure they are available for even the earliest nesting species.
Birders who want to offer birdhouses only to a specific type of bird, such as bluebirds or purple martins, can learn when the best time to put up houses for that species may be. If the birds have been visiting your yard for several years, note when they first arrive each spring and put up the birdhouses just a week or two before their expected appearance. This will minimize the risk of other birds taking over the houses while still providing shelter for the birds you want to see. If you haven't seen the birds in your yard before, contact local birding groups to learn when those birds generally arrive in the region so you can be ready for their nesting needs.
If you miss putting up birdhouses as early as possible, there is still time to attract nesting birds. Many bird species lay more than one brood each year and they often investigate different nest sites each time, so a late birdhouse may be perfect for a second or even a third brood. Similarly, many birds will restart their nesting efforts if poor weather, predators, or brood parasites destroy a first nest. A birdhouse that may not have been available earlier can be the perfect option for renewing a nest.
Tips for Attracting Birds to Birdhouses
No matter when you put up birdhouses, there are ways to make them more attractive to birds looking for a home for their new family.
- Choose a safe birdhouse design that will protect the nesting birds from poor weather and predators, but will be comfortable for both adults and chicks.
- Check that the entrance hole size is appropriate for the birds you want to use the house so larger, more aggressive birds cannot take over and invaders cannot reach inside.
- Consider painting the birdhouse in an attractive color to provide camouflage or help with temperature control to keep it safe and comfortable.
- Position the birdhouse carefully so it is sheltered from inclement weather but not too far from food to help overworked parents.
- Mount the house firmly so it does not sway, wiggle, or move as birds enter and exit, which can discourage wary or overprotective parents.
- If a family does move in, monitor them properly if desired, but do so discreetly to keep from frightening or stressing parent birds and delicate chicks.
- Clean the birdhouse after the nest is empty or at the end of the nesting season to keep it from harboring mice, insects, or parasites that can harm birds.
- Take steps to attract birds to your yard, including offering nesting materials, to make the overall habitat ideal for nesting birds.
It is never too late or too early to put up birdhouses, but birders who know when to put up their houses will have the best success attracting the birds they want to nest nearby.