It's time to put up bird houses

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Last Updated: 
April 2, 2007

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Winter days are growing longer and resident birds are singing mating songs, getting ready to mate and nest. Late winter to early spring is the perfect time of year to put up a birdhouse or nest shelf.

"Dozens of species of birds will use artificial nest boxes or shelves and may be enticed to set up residence in your yard," said Nancy Allen, wildlife biologist with the Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Birdhouses or nest shelves can be made of simple materials or purchased at local retailers. First, you need to decide what kind of birds you want to attract. Then make or buy a birdhouse suited for that species. Birds you might see on your property require a wide range of nesting habitat.

For example: Robins and phoebes will not nest in enclosed next boxes. They prefer a sheltered platform or shelf.

Wrens, bluebirds and tree swallows are most commonly attracted to single unit, enclosed birdhouses. Wrens prefer nest boxes close to shrub cover, whereas bluebirds and tree swallows choose fairly open areas with scattered trees and shrubs and fence posts.

No matter how simple or elaborate, the most important features are safety, the location of the house and the dimensions and shape of the house and entrance hole.

A good birdhouse has ventilation holes in the top and drainage holes in the bottom. It doesn't have a perch by the entrance; perches encourage predators such as cats and house sparrows. And it is easy to clean. Birdhouses should be thoroughly cleaned once a year to remove last year's nest materials and to prevent nest parasites.

Choose the position and location for each birdhouse carefully. Face the entrance hole to the north or east to prevent the birds from overheating if the summers are hot in your area. Put no more than one house per tree for the same species of bird. Don't put birdhouses near bird feeders.

Mount birdhouses on metal poles rather than nailing them to trees or hanging them from limbs. Houses on metal poles are less vulnerable to predators.

Allen and her students wrote a guide to building nest boxes for birds, "The Wildlife Garden: Build Nest Boxes for Wild Birds," (EC 1556) is available on the web:

Printed copies are also available by mail for $1.50 per copy plus $3 shipping and handling. To order a copy of EC 1556 send your request with a check or money order payable to OSU to: Publication Orders, Extension and Station Communications, OSU, 422 Kerr Administration, Corvallis, OR 97331-2119.

Check for books on bird houses at the local public library, contact your local Audubon group or the Master Gardener desk at your local county office of the OSU Extension Service for more information.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Nancy Allen