Build a Birdhouse

In January, spring seems a long time away, but now is a great time to build a birdhouse for the season ahead! Why now? Well, there are a few kinds of birds who seek shelter in hollow trees and birdhouses during the long winter nights. But the main reason is that some birds begin scouting for nest sites surprisingly early in the year.

Birdhouses (sometimes called nestboxes) are really artificial dead trees. They are used by birds which nest in cavities or holes in trees. These holes are usually made in dead branches or trunks of trees by woodpeckers. But people don't usually leave dead trees standing in their yards. Plus, people brought a couple of new birds, Starlings and House Sparrows, to North America and these compete with our other birds for hollow trees to nest in.

What can you do to help? Build a birdhouse and put it out where birds can use it for nesting or for winter shelter. Once you have a successful birdhouse, you can do some science yourself by observing the birds that use it. You can see what kinds of things they use to make the nest, how many eggs they lay and how long it takes them to hatch, what they feed their young, all kinds of things. Of course you have to be careful not to disturb the birds too much or they will leave the nest.

First of all, you have to decide what kind of bird you want to make a house for. Different kinds of birds need different sized houses. Size differences in birdhouses include: the size of the hole and how high it is above the floor of the house, and how large the floor of the house is.

Milk carton birdhouses are easy to make, but wood is the most common material used to make birdhouses. Wood is easy to work with and it makes a house which protects birds from the heat of summer and the cold of winter.

There are a number of websites that have information on building birdhouses. Once the birdhouse is made, the job isn't finished. You have to put it up in a spot where it will be used. This means knowing how high to hang the house and in what kind of area.

The Baltimore Bird Club has information about birdhouses as part of its Backyard Birds page.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's Birdhouse Network has information on birdhouse sizes, birds that use birdhouses and a project where you can build a birdhouse and send information about who uses it to a research project. (A registration fee is required to be in the research study.)

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has plans for nest structures and other bird items. 

For an idea of what a difference one person can make, read about what Dr. Richard B. Fischer has done for bluebirds near Ithaca, NY.

Visit our Bird Study page for more bird resources.
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