Housing for Nesting Birds

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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One of the pleasures we derive from living at high altitude and remotely are the birds that surround us all year long. While we enjoy an occasional visit from bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, elk, deer, and sometimes a grey wolf, we enjoy the birds the most. They are entertaining and educational, as well as some of the most devoted creatures on raising a family. They search for a good nest site and then lay their eggs and keep them warm until they hatch. Then they are  constantly in search of food for the babies until they are developed and old enough to fly away on their own. Once they are out of the nest and have been shown how to provide for themselves, they are on their way in life. Pretty effective and simple.

Providing Nesting Boxes

One way we keep them coming back year after year to nest and raise their families is to provide nesting houses for them. We have had generation after generation of various bird species nest around our house in those bird houses. They benefit us by keeping our insect population to a manageable level and we provide them a safe environment to raise their families.

My personal preference is the wren, which is a tiny bird that hops around on our firewood pile to find food that other species can not get to because of those tight spaces. The weather can be harsh and difficult in the mountains on both people and our feathered friends. The winds are sometimes strong and hail, snow and heavy rains make it tough on the birds but they are very resilient.

Birdhouse Design

Making bird houses is pretty simple and youngsters often start learning their woodworking skills making bird houses. They can be made from material on hand which can be scrap lumber to  hollowed out logs. They need to have ventilation and have a safe dry area. The opening should be big enough for the species that you hope to attract to nest there.

I have found that a 1¼-inch hole will accommodate most small birds. I prefer to use galvanized tin roofs painted with an exterior paint that contains no hazardous toxins. They also need to be hung high enough where predators can’t reach them so I usually use a ladder to hang them from a suitable limb.

I am told that the female selects the nesting site and then both male and female gather the material to build the nest. With four German Shepherd Dogs (also known as German Shedders) there is usually a lot of undercoat available to be used for the nests to make them more comfortable for the tiny baby birds.

Lumber from Trees

Like just about everything made or manufactured bird houses do not last more than a few years. Recently as I was cleaning out under our house I found some pre-cut birdhouse pieces that I had cut many years ago and totally forgotten about. As soon as I saw them in the box where they had been stored I recalled the pieces and where they came from.

We lived in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1985 when hurricane Kate passed over the city. It was only a category one storm but it generated considerable damage. We were without power for a week or more and ended up with 5 large pine and oak trees blown over and laying on our house. When the workers cut the trees off the house, I had them save the base sections so I could mill out lumber from them. That lumber is where the birdhouse pieces came from that are in the above photo.

Those trees provided lumber for many projects over the years and now they are providing dry, comfortable housing for birds here in Colorado. Making the two houses in the photo brought back memories of building bird houses over the years plus all the damage those trees did when they ended up on our home.

These pieces had been cut for decorative indoor houses and not functional houses. They are too large for wrens, so I subdivided them into a duplex for two family occupancy. One has an entrance on one side and the other family will have an entrance on the opposite side. I have no idea if two wren families will share the accommodations or not, but it allowed me to put these spare pieces to use constructively.

Helpful Hints

Some helpful hints would be to put the bottom on with screws so when the birds are through with the house the bottom can be removed and the old nest can be cleaned out for the next tenant. Also it is advisable to use an exterior glue to hold the pieces together. I use a powdered exterior glue that is designed for whirly jigs that have moving parts and bond well for outdoor use.

I use pegs on the front under the entrance since we do not have a problem with snakes at this altitude. Snakes can wrap around the pegs and stick their head inside to eat eggs and baby chicks. If we were at a lower altitude I would use a little piece of wood that the birds can grab onto and snakes can’t use for leverage.

I also like using a tin roof for its durability and it doesn’t allow water to enter. Two or three small ?-inch vent holes in the back of each house are enough for ventilation since it never gets very hot at this altitude. I also make sure that nails don’t come through to the interior for the safety of the birds. Almost any creative design will work as long as it is dry and ventilated.

Because birdhouses are simple to make, this really isn’t a DIY blog but one that points out how providing birds a nice dry nesting area is beneficial to both the birds and us humans.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and living with animals and birds go toMcElmurray’s Mountain Retreat. Read all of Bruce’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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