Homey houses for feathered friends
Spring in Kentucky brings robins flitting across green lawns, cardinals perching on fence posts, and hummingbirds hovering in blooming flower gardens. If you enjoy watching the antics of these lively creatures, consider turning your yard into a bird retreat, one that will have birds fluttering to check in.
Begin by setting up feeding stations. Choosing foods that will appeal to the birds you most want to attract will make your yard difficult to resist. Blends of seeds geared toward various bird species are readily available at local markets, hardware stores, and pet supply stores. Don’t limit yourself by only offering one kind of feed. Ornithologist Craig Scharf, Rosewood, says, “Essentially, the greater the varieties of food, the greater variety of birds.”
Birds need water for drinking and bathing too. This feature is easy to include in your yard by simply adding a birdbath. Consider offering water sources of varying heights. Scharf says, “Having a birdbath that is at ground level can encourage some birds to your back yard that would not come otherwise. A small decorative fish pond can also attract a wide variety of birds.” However you choose to offer a water source, just be sure that for the safety of the birds it is securely fastened. Also, remember to keep the water clean by changing it often.
Finally, one of the best ways to attract birds to your yard and to keep them there for an extended period of time is to provide nesting boxes, or birdhouses. Scharf says that providing a nesting box, along with supplemental food, can significantly increase the parents’ ability to raise more and robust young. “In the end,” he says, “the birds may be increasing their chance of being successful breeders.”
The Elkton Road Church youth group in Greenville realizes the importance of offering nesting boxes to birds. As part of this article, they recently built birdhouses and donated them to area nursing homes for a community service project. Aaron Cobb of Dunmor assisted the youth with their project. Cobb says all ages can actively participate in building a birdhouse. “If they are young children, assist them in marking where your next cut will be, or have them help hold the wood as you fasten it together. If they are old enough to use tools, let them make cuts, drill holes, and fasten the wood together. Let it be their project, and you be the assistant.”
When it comes to building birdhouses, the design possibilities vary almost as much as the species of birds. The most important thing is to research the bird species you most want to attract to your yard. Cobb says, “Build your house to the specifications required to attract the birds you wish to attract. Building birdhouses is not a one-size-fits-all project. Each bird requires its own dimensions.” The youth group at Elkton Road Church built birdhouses to be used by house wrens, Carolina chickadees, and Eastern bluebirds.
Once your completed birdhouse is ready to hang, give some thought to where to place it. For example, most backyard bird species are territorial, and you’ll want to be sure not to hang houses too close together. Ornithologist Craig Scharf says, “Some birds need open spaces around their nest box in order to feel protected from predators. Other types of birds prefer their boxes to be placed on posts in open fields, and others prefer having boxes placed higher up on the trunk of trees in wooded areas.” And be sure to avoid placing nesting boxes in areas where pesticides are in use. Scharf adds, “Young developing birds are especially sensitive to the use of chemicals. Most nestlings are fed a high protein (insect) diet, even if they are to grow up to be seed eaters. Spraying for bugs in the area of the nest and in their feeding habitats can cause serious problems.”
Now that you’ve found the perfect spot for your birdhouse, there is a minimum amount of maintenance involved. Regularly ensure that it is securely attached to the tree or post it hangs from. You’ll want to clean out your birdhouse and remove any old nesting materials each year. Check the hardware on your birdhouse often. Is it in good repair? Does it still fasten securely? If you have purple martin houses, you may want to take those birdhouses down each fall for storage until spring. Also, be sure to monitor birdhouses for competing bird species that you may not want to attract, and for predators such as cats or squirrels.
By offering a variety of food, fresh water, and birdhouses, your bird retreat will make for happy tenants, some of which will flock to your yard year after year.
Handy hints for attracting birds
Although colorfully painted birdhouses may be beautiful to us, most birds prefer more natural looking homes for nest building. If you can’t resist the urge to paint, latex paint may be less harmful, and be sure to only paint the outside.
To make cleaning your nesting box a snap, be sure to include a clean-out door via a hinged roof, or a sidewall that easily unscrews.
Drainage holes are important too. Cobb says, “Drainage holes allow water to drain from the house, preventing baby birds from sitting in a saturated nest. It also helps to prevent the wood from soaking up water and decaying faster than it would naturally.”
It’s not necessary to add a perch to your birdhouse as most birds don’t need them. In fact, perches may make it easier for predators to invade the nest inside.
Don’t forget to ventilate your nesting boxes by leaving a gap just below the roofline or by drilling a few extra holes on each side, below the roof.
RECOMMENDED TOOLS FOR BUILDING BIRDHOUSES
Table or hand saw
Drill bits (1⁄8", 1 1⁄8", and 1 1⁄2")
Phillips drill bit or Phillips screwdriver
Speed square (triangle measuring tool)
Protective gear: safety goggles or glasses; gloves; earplugs
HOUSE WREN BIRDHOUSE
All lumber is 3⁄4 inch thick untreated pine. (Note that lumber in the store is referred to differently than its actual size. For example, when you buy 1” X 6”, its actual size is 3⁄4” X 5 1⁄4”)
1 Roof left side 6 1⁄2" X 7"
1 Roof right side 5 3⁄4" X 7"
1 Bottom left 4 1⁄2" X 4 1⁄2"
1 Bottom right 5 1⁄4" X 4 1⁄2"
2 Front and back 5 1⁄4" X 5 1⁄4"
2 hinges, 1 1⁄2"
2-inch safety gate latch
2 eyehooks, 1 3⁄16"
1 lb box 5⁄8-inch galvanized deck screws (you’ll have plenty left for other birdhouses)
Spade bit, 1 1⁄8"
Drill bit, 1⁄8"
A) Place the right side of the roof (5 3⁄4" X 7") board up to the left side of roof (6 1⁄2" X 7") board. Secure together with hinges. Make sure the hinges are positioned so that the 5 3⁄4" board will open fully when raised.
2. Place the bottom left board (4 1⁄2" X 4 1⁄2") up to the bottom right (5 1⁄4" X 4 1⁄2").
B) Predrill holes through the bottom right board. Secure with screws. Drill two 1⁄8" drainage holes in the bottom to allow for water drainage. This will leave you with a 5 1⁄4" by 4 1⁄2" bottom.
C) On front board (5 1⁄4" X 5 1⁄4"), measure down 2 inches from the top and drill a 1 1⁄8" hole for the opening. Remember that the house is diamond-shaped, so measure down from the point at the top.
D On back board (5 1⁄4" X 5 1⁄4"), measure down 1" from the point at the top. Drill three 1⁄8" vent holes. This will allow for air circulation in your birdhouse.
E) Place the front of the house over the assembled bottom section. Align the edges, predrill holes, and fasten with screws. Repeat this step securing the back to the bottom. Remember that the entrance hole and the vent holes will be at the top of the birdhouse.
F Place the roof on the house (allowing for equal overhang at front and back of house). Predrill holes and secure with screws. Remember not to fasten the side of the roof that hinges open.
G) Attach the safety gate latch to the underside of the hinged roof and the bottom. This keeps the roof closed but allows for easy cleanout.
H) Predrill and secure 2 eyehooks to the point of the roof to allow for hanging.
HOUSE WREN FACTS
These social birds readily settle into birdhouses and may return to nest in the same one for several years.
Wrens often build nests in unusual spots, such as shoes left outdoors, old hats, or boxes in the garage.
They may compete with other birds for nesting holes, and sometimes “evict” other birds from their nests.
Offer wrens sunflower seeds or suet. They also eat a variety of insects, including beetles, flies, and earwigs.
While wrens avoid nesting in heavily wooded areas, they do prefer to have trees nearby and rarely build their nests more than 100 feet from wooded areas. Place the birdhouse 5 to 10 feet above the ground.
Unsure if a wren is building in your birdhouse? Look at its tail. Wrens tend to tip their tails upward.
CAROLINA CHICKADEE BIRDHOUSE
Base and roof are 3⁄4” thick wood. (Note that lumber in the store is referred to differently than its actual size. For example, when you buy 1” X 6”, its actual size is 3⁄4” X 5 1⁄4”)
1 Base 9 1⁄4" X 12"
1 Left side of roof 7 1⁄4" X 12"
1 Right side of roof 6 1⁄2" X 12"
Note: The following “logs” are 1" x 1" (we used a table saw to rip an untreated pine 2x6 into 1" x 1" “logs”—or you can buy 1x1s, like those used for a trellis)
16 logs, 7" long
14 logs, 4" long
2 logs, 5" long
2 logs, 3" long
2 hinges, 1 1⁄2"
1 safety gate latch, 2"
2 eyehooks 1 3⁄16"
1 lb box 1 5⁄8" galvanized deck screws
Spade bit, 1 1⁄8“
Drill bit, 1⁄8”
A) Center 7” log one inch from back of the short edge of base (running parallel with back of base). Predrill two holes, and secure the log to base with screws.
B) Place two 4” logs 1⁄4” from end of the 7” log. Predrill two holes, and secure to base with screws. This will be the overhang that gives your house the log cabin look.
C) Place another 7” log up to the 4” logs, allowing for 1⁄4” overhang. Predrill two holes, and secure to base with screws.
D) Drill four 1⁄8” holes in floor of house for drainage.
E) Repeat steps one through three, alternating logs seven layers high to give the house a cabin look.
F) After you have seven layers high, take two 7” logs and cut a 45-degree angle at each end. This will leave one edge 7” and one edge 5” long. Predrill two holes, and secure to the top of last 7” log with screws. This is the beginning of the roof support.
G) Take 5” log and cut a 45-degree angle at each end. You will have one edge 5” and other edge 3”. Predrill holes, and secure to last 7” log with screws. Tip: To reduce possibility of injury, if using a power saw, we suggest you cut the 45-degree angle in both the 5” and 3” logs from a longer section.
H) Take 3” log and cut 45-degree angle at each end. Predrill one hole and secure with screw to remaining 5” long log.
I) Measure up 7 inches from floor on the front of house, and drill a 1 1⁄8” entrance hole.
J) Place the right side of roof next to left side of roof and fasten together with hinges. This will give you a 7 1⁄4” X 7 1⁄4” X 12” long roof that hinges.
K) Position roof on house. Allow for 1” overhang off the back side roof support. Position roof so it is flush with roof supports. Predrill four holes through left side of roof and secure to roof support with screws. Do not secure right side of roof because it will need to be opened for easy cleaning of house.
L) Attach safety gate latch to underside of right side of roof. Attach eyehook to right side of house so the roof can be secured down, but be easily opened for cleaning.
M) Attach two eyehooks to top of house for hanging, and you are done.
CAROLINA CHICKADEE FACTS
With its black cap and black throat, the Carolina chickadee closely resembles the black-capped chickadee. In fact, where the range area overlaps for the two species, they sometimes hybridize.
Curious and acrobatic birds, they often hang upside down on twigs, in search of insects.
A pair of male and female Carolina chickadees may stay together for several years. Together, they choose a nesting cavity or nesting box.
They will eat insects and spiders, but also frequent bird feeders to eat sunflower seeds and suet.
They are identifiable by listening to their song: “Chickadee-dee-dee.”
Hang birdhouses from trees or near trees, approximately 5 to 15 feet from the ground.
EASTERN BLUEBIRD HOUSE
All lumber is 3⁄4” thick untreated pine. (Note that lumber in the store is referred to differently than its actual size. For example, when you buy 1” X 6”, its actual size is 3⁄4” X 5 1⁄4”)
1 Back 6 1⁄2" X 18"
1 Front 6 1⁄2" X 9"
1 Left side 5" X 10"
1 Right side 5" X 10 1⁄4"
1 Floor 5" X 5"
1 Roof 7 1⁄4" X 7 1⁄2"
Spade bit, 1 1⁄2"
Drill bit, 1⁄8"
1 lb box 1 5⁄8" galvanized deck screws
Freestanding post or existing fencepost for fastening birdhouse
A) On both right and left sides, start at one corner and measure down 1 1⁄2". Mark a line from there to the opposite corner, and cut along the line.
B) On the roof make a 15-degree bevel cut along the 7 1⁄4" long edge. This will allow the roof to sit flush with the back when attached.
C) On the front make a 15-degree bevel cut along the 6 1⁄2" edge. This will allow the front to sit flush with the roof.
D) In the center of the front board, measure down 1 1⁄2" from the bevel cut. Drill a 1 1⁄2" hole for the entrance of the birdhouse.
E) Measure down 2" from the top of the back, and draw a horizontal line. This will be where the top of the roof is.
F) Measure down 1" from the top center of the back, and drill a 1⁄8" hole. This hole will be used to secure the top of the birdhouse to the post.
G) From the bottom of the back board, measure up 5 1⁄2" and mark a line. From this line down, free-hand a decorative design to be cut away. Be creative, but leave enough wood so that a 1⁄8" hole can be drilled to secure the bottom of the birdhouse to a post.
H) Place the right side board up to the front board, aligning the angles. Predrill holes and secure with screws.
I) Measure 3⁄4" down from roofline on the back board and position the top of the right side. Align the right side edge with the edge of the back. Predrill holes and secure with screws.
J) Measure 1⁄4" up from the front, right side, and back to position the floor. Predrill two holes in each and secure floor with screws. Drill four 1⁄8" drainage holes in bottom of floor.
K) Dry fit the left side in place, aligning the bottom with the bottom of the front board. Measure down 1" from the front, and mark a straight line so that holes can be drilled through the front and back across from each other. Predrill holes. Secure with screws but do not tighten completely. This is the hinge that will allow the left side to be opened for easy cleaning.
L) Measure up 1" from the bottom on the front board (left side) and predrill a hole. Secure with a screw that can be removed to allow left side to open for cleaning.
M) Position roof with equal overhang on each side. Make sure to have beveled edge sitting flush with back board. Predrill holes and secure with screws to front, right side, and through back. Do not put screws in left side. Left side should have 1⁄4" gap from roof to allow for ventilation.
N) Using the 1⁄8" holes from steps 6 and 7, secure birdhouse to a post.
EASTERN BLUEBIRD FACTS
Found east of the Rocky Mountains, males are brilliant blue with rusty red breasts.
Bluebirds tend to frequent clearings such as meadows or pastures.
They eat wild fruit and berries, as well as spiders and insects such as caterpillars and grasshoppers.
Bluebirds usually have more than one brood each season, and young occasionally help parents with subsequent nests.
Position the bluebird house on a post about 3-6 feet above the ground, preferably facing a nearby shrub or tree to provide a safe place for young birds to fly to.
If tree swallows frequent the same area as bluebirds, hanging more than one birdhouse will help to eliminate competition for nesting sites between the two species.
For more information on identifying bird species, attracting them to your yard, or birdhouse specifications, check out the following Web sites:
Kentucky Ornithological Society
Kentucky Audubon Council
National Audubon Society
North American Bluebird Society
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Information on bird watching
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: >MORE BIRDHOUSE BUILDING
Get more tips for attracting birds to your back yard, find out about building a bluebird box at the Salato Wildlife Education Center in Frankfort on April 6, or learn how to enter an artsy birdhouse contest at the 10th annual Birdhouse Display and Benefit Auction, September 11, at The Arboretum, Lexington. For more info, go to More Birdhouse Building.