Homes for Birds
Birds You Can Attract to Nest Boxes
Many of the birds that visit feeders and baths
may stay and nest in nearby trees. Most of them,
including cardinals, doves and orioles, don't nest
in boxes. You can still help them by considering
their food and shelter requirements in your
More than two dozen North American birds nest
in bird houses. The following descriptions will
help you determine which birds might visit your
If you put up a bluebird house near an old field,
orchard, park, cemetery or golf course, you
might have a chance of attracting a pair of
bluebirds. They prefer nest boxes on a tree
stump or wooden fence post between three and
five feet high. Bluebirds also nest in abandoned
woodpecker nest holes.
The most important measurement is the hole
diameter. An inch and a half is small enough to
deter starlings, which, along with house
sparrows, have been known to kill bluebirds, as
well as adults sitting on the nest. Bluebirds have
problems with other animals too. Discourage
cats, snakes, raccoons and chipmunks by
mounting the house on a metal pole, or use a
metal predator guard on a wood post.
The robin is our largest thrush. They prefer to
build their nest in the crotch of a tree. If you don't
have an appropriate tree, you can offer a nesting
platform. Pick a spot six feet or higher up on a
shaded tree trunk or under the overhang of a
shed or porch. Creating a "mud puddle" nearby
offers further enticement, as robins use mud to
hold their nests together.
Chickadees, Nuthatches and Titmice
Chickadees, titmice and nuthatches share the
same food, feeders, and habitat. If you put a
properly designed nest box in a wooded yard, at
least one of these species might check it out. Put
chickadee houses at eye level. Hang them from
limbs or secure them to tree trunks. The entrance
hole should be 1 1/8 inches to attract
chickadees, yet exclude house sparrows. Anchor
houses for nuthatches on tree trunks five to six
feet off the ground.
Browm Creepers and Prothonotary Warblers
Look for brown creepers to nest behind the
curved bark of tree trunks. In heavily wooded
yards, slab bark houses appeal to creepers.
Prothonotary warblers also prefer slab bark
houses, or bluebird boxes attached to a tree
trunk, but theirs must be placed over water
(lakes, rivers or swamps) with a good canopy of
Wrens don't seem to be very picky about where
they nest. Try nest boxes with a 1 inch x 2 inch
horizontal slot (1½ inch x 2 ½ inch for the larger
Carolina wrens) instead of a circle. These are
easier for the wrens to use. However, the larger
the opening, the more likely it is house sparrows
will occupy the box.
Wrens are known for filling a nest cavity with
twigs, regardless of whether they use the nest to
raise their young. Since male house wrens build
several nests for the female to choose from,
hang several nest boxes at eye level on partly
sunlit tree limbs. Wrens are sociable and will
accept nest boxes quite close to your house.
Tree and Violet--green Swallows
Tree swallows prefer nest boxes attached to
dead trees. Space the boxes about seven feet
apart for these white-bellied birds with iridescent
blue-green backs and wings. The ideal setting for
these insect-eaters is on the edge of a large field
near a lake, pond or river.
Violet-green swallows nest in forested mountains
of the West; boxes placed on large trees in a
semi-open woodland will attract them.
Barn Swallows and Phoebes
If you have the right habitat, like an open barn or
old shed, barn swallows and phoebes are easy to
attract. It's their nesting behavior, not their
plumage or song, that catches your attention.
However, these birds tend to nest where you
would rather not have them: on a ledge right over
your front door. To avoid a mess by your door,
offer the birds a nesting shelf nearby where you'd
rather have them.
Many people want martins in their yards
because, it's been said, these birds eat 2,000
mosquitoes a day. While it's true that they eat
flying insects, don't expect purple martins to
eliminate mosquitoes in your yard completely
Martins prefer dragonflies, which prey on
mosquito larvae. If you want to help rid your yard
of mosquitoes, put up a bat roosting box. One
bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes a night.
Martins are entertaining
creatures, however, and
you'll enjoy watching their
antics in your backyard.
You have the best chance
of attracting martins if you
put a house on the edge
of a pond or river,