For anyone who enjoys the numerous species of birds inhabiting their gardens, this is the time of year to start adding the amenities into your landscape to attract them into the neighborhood. Putting up a variety of birdhouses is one of the first things that will bring them into the yard. Although only about two to three dozen selections in our area will actually use a birdhouse, it will create a wonderful start.
Many birds prefer nesting in tree cavities or on platforms. Others like the comforts of home with the look and feel of a residence, and some even enjoy apartment complexes. Depending on the bird you are trying to attract, a little research is necessary.
One of the most common birds that arrives in the spring season is the Robin. This bird prefers to build a nest in the open on a platform with some sort of overhead protection from the rain. Often we will see them build their nest within a tree where the canopies of the leaves protect them from the elements above. Other times we will see their nests in porches where there are upper ledges that allow for easy access or on top of drain spouts beneath the roof's eave. Most like to build where there is not a great deal of human activity so they have a safe environment.
If looking to put up a birdhouse, oftentimes the size of the birdhouse will dictate the size of the bird that will live there. Some have unique requirements in order for them to want to inhabit a house. Birds watch out for things such as prey and want to make sure they are high enough off the ground to stay out of reach of predators, but also close enough to the habitats where they acquire their food.
Two common birds that I have that nest in the yard are Chipping Sparrows and Wrens. They are both small birds but require different habitats. Chipping Sparrows prefer to build their small nests in dense vegetation out of the elements, such as in evergreen trees and bushes and large shrubs. They can easily hide in these dense areas from most animals that prey upon them.
Wrens have a different requirement as they enjoy the confines of home. They like small homes that have an opening no larger than 1 1/8 inch to 1 ¼ inch in diameter. This allows the birds to enter and leave at their leisure but does not allow larger birds access to enter the home. Usually a home of 4x6 inches as a base and up to 8 inches as a height is ideal for them. Black-capped Chickadees also enjoy this similar size but need a minimum of 1 ¼ inches to 1 ½ inches diameter hole to enter.
Bluebirds are common in our area where there is an open field so they can acquire the insects they need for food. Their house needs to be just an inch larger in size with a 1 ½ inches opening to attract them. Typically, this opening should be facing the field or prairie where they feel free to feed without the confines of thick vegetation. It seems the more open the space, the safer they feel.
Other birds such as Purple Martins prefer to live in apartment complexes as they nest in colonies. Often their homes are either round or square-shaped with a peaked roof for protection from the elements. Usually multi-leveled, these homes will harbor dozens of birds depending on the space available. They do not like to be within close proximity to trees and buildings and prefer to be anywhere from 10 to 20 feet in the air. These houses are typically perched on top of an adjustable pole or post.
Larger birds such as Screech Owls and Wood Ducks prefer to be near trees or a water source that provides them with the food they need to survive. Of course, the Wood Duck enjoys being by the water so when the young are ready to leave the nest, they can drop out and land safely in the water below. We will see these types of homes dotted along the James River here in town. They are usually 2 feet high by about 10 inches around for the body of the home. The openings are about 3 inches high by about 4 inches wide to allow the bird to enter. Screech Owls have a similar nesting house but are typically placed near trees. Since the owl is nocturnal, they often go unseen, however, if you are out at dusk their sounds will be quite apparent.
Birds such as the Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker and the Flicker prefer large holes within old or rotting trees. They create the opening that is right for their size and then hollow out the home within the trunk. Some will inhabit birdhouses also but they are a little more particular.
Typical requirements for birdhouses to be successful are quite simple. They prefer to be made out of untreated wood, have ventilation holes for air and drainage, and have a sloped roof with eaves to keep the rain out of the home. Oftentimes they are hung or mounted no lower than 6 to 8 feet high to as high as 20 to 24 feet depending on the bird species one is trying to attract.
Whatever bird you are trying to lure into your natural environment, use some basic research to see what home is right for your spot. Bringing birds into the garden is not only a smart idea for birdwatchers but they also keep the insect population down during the summer when they seem to be so prevalent. Add the right balance of nature into your garden this year and start early, as they will soon be nesting and laying their eggs for the season.
Speaking of nesting and raising a family, happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there who do the hard work of raising a family!