Down the Garden Path: House hunting is for the birds

As spring approaches, many people’s thoughts turn toward spring cleaning or moving into a new home. The latter also is true in the animal world, particularly with birds.

Among birds that migrate, usually the male birds arrive first. They begin scouting out territories and nesting sites, calling to declare a particular territory their own, and then singing to announce their fine territory and value as a superior mate to the newly arriving female birds.

Providing a welcoming neighborhood

Birds require the same things we all do – water, food, shelter, space, and places to raise their young. Water is fairly simple to provide. A bird bath is a very welcome addition to one’s yard, porch, or balcony. It should be placed near a tree or dense shrubs about 4 to 5 feet away, to give the birds a place to scout out the bath, to rest, and dry following their baths, and to escape any predators nearby. A fountain or dripping water is wildly appealing to birds, but not necessary. A birdbath requires water change at least every day or two and a weekly scrubbing using a mild solution – one-part white vinegar to nine parts water – followed by a thorough rinsing. Avoid placing nearby tall grasses and shrubs where cats and other predators can hide.

Food is best provided by having a variety of plants in your yard, such as oak, maple, or birch trees; serviceberry, cherry, or dogwood trees/shrubs; native sunflowers, coneflowers, goldenrods, and asters; and plants for nectar, such as native columbine, penstemon, coral bells, and salvia. Even a pot of native flowers on your porch is beneficial to the birds.

Selecting a birdhouse

Not all birdhouses are welcoming to all birds. Each species has particular needs. The size, depth, and appropriate placement of the birdhouses are essential, as is the size of the hole, to safeguard the birds.

It is important to use rough, untreated, unpainted wood such as cedar, pine, or cypress, and galvanized screws to hold it together. Choose the appropriate thickness of the wood, with no perch to prevent access for predators. It is helpful to have a hinged door for cleaning.

Building a birdhouse is easy with some basic woodworking skills. Plans are available from sites such as from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Nest Box Plans.

Of course, you can buy a birdhouse too, but it is important to know what species of bird you want to attract, and to know the particulars of what they need in a house. The websites and books of the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have plans and tips for building your own birdhouses.

Flipping the property

At the end of the season, you can clean out the birdhouse, removing the nest and scrubbing the birdhouse with a solution of one-part bleach to 10 parts water. Many birds raise 2 to 3 broods over the spring and summer, so make sure the birds are done before you clean it out. You can leave your birdhouse up in winter to provide shelter for overwintering birds. Sometimes, a dozen or more birds will snuggle together and sleep in there.

Learn more about birds at Enjoy your bird adventures!

B. Tryon is a certified Master Naturalist volunteer with University of Illinois Extension serving DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties.