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bird house

How to Attract Birds to Your Bird House: A Backyard Guide

bird house

Are you an avid bird watcher looking to encourage more feathered friends to visit your back yard? A bird house is an excellent addition to your property, and the right one is as functional as it is beautiful.

Still, one important question remains. How can you encourage nesting birds to actually find and use your bird house? What’s the secret to making yours the most comfortable and hospitable spot on the block?

The answer lies in following a few strategic steps. 

Today, we’re sharing 10 of our top tips that can turn any bird house into a haven for a variety of bird species. So read on, take notes, and grab your binoculars!

Why Your Bird House Strategy Matters

A bird house is meant to be more than lawn decoration. These structures are designed to serve as shelter and warmth for nesting birds, providing a safe and protected spot in which they can raise their young. 

Unfortunately, it isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. Even the best-built house could fail to live up to its potential, if homeowners install it without forethought. Before moving forward, it’s smart to strategically plan your approach.

In many cases, nature will provide spaces for cavity-dwelling birds to take shelter. For instance, some may choose to set up camp inside a standing dead tree (aka snag), hollowed-out log, or tree stump. However, the reality is that these spots can often be difficult to find or access. 

Ever the enterprising type, birds have learned to adapt. This is why you’ll often find their nests in your gutters, window sills, downspouts, hanging flower pots, or even on Christmas lights! Want to help keep your property pristine while also making a difference?

When you supply a bird house, you make it much easier for birds to find a safe, secure, and appropriate form of shelter. 

As you plan your bird house project, keep in mind that not all birds will use bird houses. For instance, goldfinches and cardinals are less likely to use them, as they are not cavity nesters. Instead, these species will often seek out dense plant life for shelter and a nesting spot. 

Still, there are a number of common backyard birds that do enjoy nesting in man-made bird houses. In fact, researchers reveal that there are around 85 species of birds in North America that either nest or feed in cavities. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Bluebirds
  • Wrens
  • Nuthatches
  • Chickadees
  • Tree swallows
  • Purple martins
  • Wood ducks

Are you ready to turn your yard into their own personal oasis? If so, there are plenty of ways you can do so. Choosing and placing the right bird house is an excellent place to start. Next, let’s take a look at a few of the most important considerations to keep in mind as you move forward. 

1. Select the Right Nesting Location

It would be ideal if attracting birds to your bird house worked as easily as “Build it, and they will come”. However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of structure that will attract and work for every species.

Rather, each one has its own individual nesting needs and habitat requirements. Take a bluebird, for instance. While some birds may prefer nesting in dense, dark forests, this sky-colored stunner is an exception.

Bluebirds prefer to nest in wide open natural spaces with grassland habitats. They thrive when living near large fields, where they can enjoy easy access to the small insects they eat and feed to their young. A house such as our Bluebird Nesting Box - Cedar can mount easily to a tree, post, or pole and last for years, serving as a rotating home for the birds that call your property their own. Then, there are tree swallows, who build their nests in grassland habitats near water, so they can easily snag aquatic bugs for their babies!  Our Ultimate Bluebird House with Viewing Window is designed to attract both of these stunning species.

Smaller nuthatches will build their nests in similar boxes, although the openings tend to be smaller. You can mount our Nuthatch Nesting Box - Cedar to a backyard pole, tree, or building and enjoy these little beauties all season long in forested and open woodland habitats!

House wrens prefer habitats with woody vegetation, e.g. trees and shrubs. This species tends to flock mostly to bird houses that hang from trees in relatively open yards with nearby shrubs. Our Church House for Wrens is a sweet and sentimental way to attract them. Plus, the recycled material is easy to clean! 

Chickadees prefer darker and more shrouded environments when building their nests. For this reason, you’ll often find them holed up in deep thickets or nestled in scrub-shrub habitats in cavities in live or dead trees.  Our Chickadee/Wren Nesting Box - Cedar or colorful Wren or Chickadee House are great options for supporting both these small species. 

Songbirds especially enjoy living under the protection of natural limbs. You can attract them to your yard by installing a comfortable and shielded home, such as our Large Hanging Grass Twine House With Roof. A beautiful spot for them to nest, it also provides perfect shelter from sun, snow, rain, and cold temperatures. This is particularly important to non-migrating songbirds that need such refuge during the harsh winter months!  You can also leave your other nest boxes up year-round to serve as winter roosting shelters.

In general, it’s best to place nest boxes away from bird feeders and bird baths.  These food and water resources get a lot of feathered and furry traffic from your backyard wildlife, and young bird families often feel safer in quieter places away from the commotion.  Place bird houses at least 20 feet from bird feeders, bird baths, and places with significant human traffic.

Of course, all of this can be a little overwhelming for even the most advanced bird enthusiast. Instead of trying to install a variety of different bird houses to attract every different species, begin by deciding which ones you want to start with. From there, you can add to your collection until your yard is filled with new inhabitants!  Just be mindful of species’ territories, competition for nest sites, and tolerance of nesting pairs of other species.  Learn more about species-specific nest box placement tips here.

2. Choose the Right Type of House

While the location you place your bird house in matters, the type of house you select is of equal importance. 

One of the chief considerations? It helps to understand the nesting habits of the birds you want to attract. For instance, some species are communal dwellers, while others prefer to set up their homes in solitude, away from others. 

An example of one bird species that happens to prefer the social aspect of community living? Purple martins. These birds enjoy nesting in apartment-style bird houses, where many feathery families can live together. They’re also attracted to gourd-style houses, and you’ll often find these suspended from poles or racks in large groups of a dozen or more!

Chickadees, bluebirds, and wrens, however, need their own personal space. These houses should be big enough to only accommodate one family and should be installed away from other similar structures. Mount our Chickadee/Wren Nest Box - Cedar in your back yard, and you’ll encourage like-minded species to nest there, too. 

Looking for more advice as you search for the best bird house? Our Right Bird, Right House guide is the perfect companion to your new adventure. This guide includes all the information you need to set up the ideal nesting structure every time. 

3. Know the Best Bird House Materials

Sure, you might have made a bird house from cardboard or other household materials as a child. Yet, the best ones are composed of untreated wood or recycled plastic (polywood) materials that can hold up to the elements over the years.  Polywood houses are more sanitary and less likely to harbor bacteria and parasites from year to year.  Don’t use pressure-treated wood, as it can be extremely toxic.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Cornell Lab of Ornithology offer recommendations on different material options and construction.  If you want to build your own nest boxes, we highly recommend these resources and the Original Birdhouse Book.

Many of the ones you’ll find in our online shop are made of sturdy, beautiful cedar, such as our Wood Duck Nest Box. Not only is this box made of the finest materials, but it also features a strategic design specially adapted for this particular species. For instance, you’ll find side openings that allow for viewing, cleaning, and both waterfront and land mounting of the box, as well as an interior ladder feature to aid ducklings’ departure. 

As you peruse your options, look for houses that offer adequate ventilation at the top. They should also include proper drainage holes, as required. It also helps to choose one that is made of natural wood, as this most closely resembles the cavities the birds naturally use, or polywood or painted/stained wood in a natural-looking earth tone like tan, light grey, and dull green.  

Why does color matter?

It’s no secret that bird houses can draw the attention of many different kinds of backyard predators, including squirrels! A bird house should blend in as much as possible with its surroundings to remain inconspicuous.  Otherwise, be sure to use pole-mount or hanging baffles and other types of predator guards.  

A great example of a camouflaging bird house is our Hanging Grass Roosting Pocket Teardrop model. Made of decay-resistant reed grass, it helps keep non-migrating songbirds warm, safe and dry when temperatures start to dip. In addition, reed grass makes an excellent building material, as its rough surface makes entering and exiting the house as easy as possible. 

The only real exceptions to the rule of using natural-toned materials for your birdhouse are the bright structures used to attract purple martins. These bird houses are usually made from gourds or aluminum, and are usually painted white to help reflect the hot summer sun!

To paint or not to paint to preserve nest boxes and reduce temperatures in hot environments remains questionable without peer-reviewed studies to understand the full effect on nesting birds.  If you feel paint is necessary, it should only be applied to the exterior, never inside the box. Unfortunately, even zero- and low emissions latex paints or oil-based stains release fumes for months.  Be sure to paint or stain in the fall for spring nest box placement, allowing several months for fumes to dissipate over the winter months while the paint or stain cures.    

4. Use Nesting Materials Strategically

Nesting materials can encompass a variety of soft, delicate fibers designed to help encourage nesting in your bird house. Many of the best materials are found in nature and can include items such as:

  • Cotton
  • Feathers
  • Dead twigs
  • Dry grass (untreated)
  • Moss
  • Feathers
  • Plant down (e.g. cottonwood or milkweed fuzz)
  • Pine needles
  • Animal fur

While most of these materials are relatively easy to find, you could inadvertently use incorrect or unsafe materials without realizing it. For instance, you might think that dryer lint is akin to feathers or cotton, but it could include dangerous compounds that aren’t safe for the bird. In addition, lint also turns dry and crumbly after it gets rained on, leading to nest instability!  Dryer lint also takes longer to dry than natural materials and may chill baby birds or foster the growth of toxic molds and mildews.

To stay on the safe side, why not go ahead and purchase a bird house that already includes nesting material or complementary bird-focused nesting materials? That way, you know you’re getting a pure, high-quality product that’s safe, secure, and ready to be used immediately.  Our Wood Duck Nest Box comes with wood shavings, for instance, since this species prefers this type of nesting material.   

Also, check out our Birdie Bell With Nesting Material. This all-weather holder comes filled with a unique type of nesting material that contains a blend of five different natural-colored materials! The only material of its kind, it includes:

  • Feathers
  • String
  • Cotton
  • Hemp
  • Aspen fiber

Compared to cotton-only mixtures, this nesting material is more universal. That means it will attract a greater variety of North American nesting birds! If you run out, there are refills available, so you never have to go without!

Looking for another type of all-natural bird house filler? You can also use our Best Nest Builder! This weatherproof material is designed to last all season long and serves as the perfect addition to your backyard setup. If you’re already setting out nyjer, sunflower, and mixed bird seed, this material is a great next step. Goldfinches love it, and it’s common to find them snuggling in during their nesting season, which usually lasts from June to mid-August. This filler is field-tested and proven to work and last according to specifications. 

5. Determine Your Ideal Bird House Size

Humans may have fallen into the notion that a bigger house is always better, but birds don’t share that same mentality. 

The general rule to go by is that smaller bird species need smaller houses, and vice versa. Tinier ones such as chickadees and house wrens, for instance, will usually only need a box that’s around eight inches tall, though the base size will vary. Most of these bases will measure approximately five inches by five inches.

Then, there are larger species that need a lot more wiggle room. These include screech owls and wood ducks, among others. Our Screech Owl House measures 15 inches tall, 9 inches wide, and 10 inches deep. 

Try to set up bird houses that are appropriately sized for the species that you want to visit and nest in your yard. 

6. Measure the Entrance Hole

Another sizing requirement to keep in mind is the diameter of the entrance hole. 

Some species, such as house wrens, will only require a very small entrance hole. These birds do best with an entrance that is only a little over one inch around. This is why our Jenny Wren House features a 1.125-inch entrance! Made of wood with a side opening for easy cleaning, this durable little house is an affordable way to attract beautiful wrens to your yard!

Why does it matter how big or small the entrance hole is? This diameter directly affects the number and types of predators that are allowed access to your bird house. In addition, it also helps prevent other, larger nesting birds from accommodating a space meant for a particular species. For instance, very few birds can fit into a wren-sized entrance hole, so you don’t have to worry about this species losing its place to another one, like non-native house sparrows and european starlings

While wrens prefer to keep their front doors small, other birds require more room. Take wood ducks and screech owls, for instance. These species prefer a doorway that’s more elliptical in nature, measuring a few inches around (usually around three to four inches). You’ll also notice that these larger entrance holes tend to be placed toward the top of the bird house, while small-to-medium sized ones are usually located just above the middle. 

7. Understand Height Requirements

Are you thinking of mounting a bird house to a tree or pole in your back yard? Before you start installing it just anywhere, it’s best to consider how tall it needs to be for the species you want to welcome. 

Different nesting birds prefer certain heights to build their homes. For example, house wrens only need to nest about five to 10 feet off the ground, while bluebirds can be even lower, placed only four to six feet above the ground.

If you want to attract larger species of birds, you’ll need to hang the appropriate house a little higher. Purple martins gourds, for instance, are usually located around 15 to 20 feet off the ground. 

To mimic the treetops they’re used to spending time in, you should place your screech owl or wood duck boxes at the highest points of all. These can soar up to 30 feet high! Remember to place the box right below the tree canopy rather than inside it, e.g. avoid placement such that branches obstruct the entrance hole.  Wood duck boxes can also be placed on poles or posts in the water, at least 3 feet above the high water mark.

8. Install Appropriate Predator Guards

It can be incredibly disheartening to find that your beloved birds have fallen victim to a predator. Some of the most common ones that tend to sneak into bird houses include:

  • Raccoons
  • Squirrels
  • Snakes
  • Cats
  • House sparrows

While it might be impossible to fully isolate the nest from any sort of intruder, there are steps you can take to fortify yours.

We offer many different resources in our online shop to help keep your houses as shielded from harm as possible. Take our 1.25-Inch Diameter Portal, for instance. Designed for nuthatch boxes and similar designs, this metal plate fits snugly on top of the entrance hole on the bird house. 

Its purpose? The copper plate strengthens the entrance hole and keeps its size consistent. Over time, squirrels and other naughty nibblers can wreak havoc on these structures. Eventually, this mischief can cause the hole to widen and allow more critters inside. If your bird house has an existing 1.25-inch opening already, this plate is a smart addition.

To accommodate larger bird houses with bigger entrance holes, we also offer a 1.5-inch Diameter Portal that serves the same purpose. More sizable houses can lure larger predators, including squirrels and raccoons, so it’s smart to stay vigilant. 

To keep predators like squirrels from climbing up a pole, you can also install baffles, such as our Cone Squirrel Baffle/Squirrel Guard. Designed to fit poles ranging from ½-inch to 1-inch in diameter, this baffle is made of galvanized steel and makes climbing a nearly impossible feat, if placed at least 10 feet away from lateral launching points.  Larger baffles are needed to keep raccoons at bay, such as our Dome Top Raccoon and Squirrel Baffle.  

9. Keep Your Bird House Clean

You don’t want to live in a dirty dwelling, so why would a family of birds? Cleaning your bird house can keep it looking great and working well for years. 

Any bird house can attract parasites, spiders, and other insects that feed on very young birds, so cleaning is more than simply an aesthetic endeavor. 

When should you tackle this task? Ideally, it’s best to clean your bird house once the nesting brood has completely left the structure, a process called fledging. Once you’ve determined that the birds are no longer returning to the nest, it’s safe to give it a good, deep cleaning.

In general, the three ideal times to deep-clean your bird house include:

  • In the spring, before nesting starts
  • After a brood fledges
  • In the fall, before storing your bird house 

If you decide to install a bird house to serve as shelter for songbirds and other nesting birds during the winter, you can also use the cleaner to prepare the space for them. 

When you clean the house, remove all of the old nesting material and remove any debris left over on the structure. To save time and make sure you’re doing a thorough job, use a cleaner specially designed for this chore, such as our Bird House Cleaner.

This all-natural cleaner is made with bird-safe enzymes. Upon application, it quickly sanitizes any bird house and goes to work removing organic stains. It also sinks deep into any crevices and crannies present to eliminate any parasites.  Watch a demonstration of this process here.

10. Time the Installation Right

Now that you know how to choose and install the right kind of bird house, you may be ready to get started! Before you begin your project, however, make sure the timing is right. 

It’s best to install a new bird house in the fall or the winter. This way, local nesting birds have plenty of time to locate your house and familiarize themselves with it before it’s time to breed in the spring. 

Migratory species arrive, breed, and nest at various times in the spring, so be sure to research the natural history of your target species and get your stored boxes in place at the right time!

Shop Our Collection of Bird Houses Today

Any back yard can transform into a safe and inviting habitat for a variety of different bird species. Whether you want to attract chickadees and wrens or screech owls and bluebirds, you can help encourage new visitors to make themselves at home.

The kind of bird house you select matters greatly, as does its placement, height, and design. The 10 tips above can help you get started, but we’re always here to help. Feel free to shop the wide variety of bird houses in our online shop, and let us know if you have any questions! You can contact us here to connect or come visit us in person!

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