As natural food sources become more and more scarce for birds, so too are safe places to nest. Those of us fortunate enough to have wild birds in our neighborhoods as well as bird-accessible properties can help out, not just with food and water, but with nesting homes for them to safely birth and nurture their chicks.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a special website devoted to bird nesting called NestWatch, where you can learn about nesting requirements for birds in your area and how to attract those birds to the nests you build or buy for them. You can also learn which birds are declining in your area, so if you want to help increase their numbers you can focus on creating a mini-habitat for those species outfitted with special nesting boxes, specific bird foods and, don't forget, water. This is a must-review site for anyone who wants to provide nesting opportunities for local birds.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Cornell Lab)
Of course, nature does what nature does and the best laid plans of humans may be outdone by some other clever species that likes your woodpecker digs more than the one she'd have to make for herself, so don't be too upset if another bird or critter takes over.
Henry Bell and Co, a British manufacturer of bird houses and feed recommends that nesting boxes are all "crafted to provide adequate insulation from the cold and extremes of weather and have good drainage, locks to protect from predators and top openings – as recommended by wild bird care experts." The top opening is for your convenient entry to clean; most bird entries face forward. The company also suggests that bird houses "face between north and east, thus avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds." And "Make sure that the birds have a clear flight path to the nest."
Northern Saw-whet Owl nests in an old woodpecker hole (Photo: David Brislance, Lutsen, MN)
Whether you are constructing or purchasing a nesting box for your backyard birds, the National Wildlife Federationrecommends the following:
Check that the box is well constructed and contains these basic features:
- Constructed of natural untreated wood (pine, cedar or fir)
- Lumber for walls that is at least ¾ of an inch thick to provide insulation
- An entrance hole of the appropriate size to allow desired birds to enter but keep larger birds out
- An entrance that is the correct distance from the floor to accommodate the nest
- An extended and sloped roof to keep the rain out
- A recessed floor and drainage holes to keep the interior dry
- Rough or grooved interior walls to help fledglings exit*
- Ventilation holes to allow the interior to remain cool
- A side or top panel that opens to allow easy access for monitoring and cleaning
- No outside perches, which aid predators and other harassing birds
* Surface areas of bird homes are often ignored but they are extremely important. Both adult and baby birds need something to grip with their claws so interior walls should give them something to grip.
If you are up to it, you can build a birdhouse yourself, considering all the needs of the specific species you want to build for. I would start by reading this article from The Spruce and follow its recommendations.
But there are several well-reviewed bird houses on Amazon that you might want to check out before going the Tim Allen route. Here are just a few....
Coveside makes this beautiful eastern white pine box for three kinds of woodpeckers: hairy, red-headed, and red-bellied woodpeckers (see image above). Note the slate predator guard around the entrance that keeps out predators and discourages hole enlargement. The dimensions of the Three Woodpeckers House are 17.5" h x 7.5" w x 9.75"d.
There are other birds, as attested to by Amazon customers, who will fine the Coveside Woodpeckers House a happy place to raise their chicks - Bluebirds, for example, and Great Crested Flycatchers, and Eastern Screech Owls.... Coveside bird houses are higher priced than some of the other popular nesting boxes, but customers are very pleased with the quality. You can find more Coveside nesting boxes here.
With a 1.125 inch round opening, this Cedar Wren House will keep out sparrows, finches, and other small birds - except wrens and chickadees, of course. The whole house is 8.9 x 8 x 8 inches plus a 4-inch vinyl-coated wire for hanging. The Cedar Wren House is made of naturally insect and rot resistant premium cedar and stainless steel rust-free hardware. Air vents allow for proper air ventilation through wall and floor openings to promote bird health. Side panels pull out for easy cleaning.
Nature's Way Bird Products, including this Cedar Wren House, are very popular nesting houses. If you need a portal protector, this one is 1.125 inches in diameter.
These nesting boxes are all hand-made in Indiana from beautiful, durable cedar wood. The roof is made of a poly-wood and it protects the box from mold. The overall dimensions are 11.375" W x 14.25" H x 10.125" D plenty of room for a roost of Screech or Saw-Whet Owl nests and much less accessible than a large hole in a tree! If you have a rodent problem, this is the nesting box you want, but it is intended for the smaller owls, not Barn Owls or Great Horned Owls.
Easy to clean, the front door opens out for complete access. For best results mount 10 to 20 feet high in a large, dense tree. JCs Wildlife Screech Owl or Saw-Whet Owl House Cedar Nesting Box comes with rust-free mounting screws and a bag of pine shavings.
Depending on the kinds of birds you hope to invite to your yard, you can find just the right size nesting box on Amazon, Duncraft, or BirdHouse Supply. When you choose a nesting home, just make sure the entrance is the right size (not too big!), that the house is placed out of danger from other wildlife, and that the opening of the house faces the most positive environmental conditions (e.g., least wind, rain, snow).