by Steve White
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
If you hope to attract nesting birds, early spring is the time to make your nest boxes available for your feathered friends. The term “bird houses” is not an accurate description of these important boxes. Birds do no live in houses. They do not have different rooms for unique functions such as dining, sleeping or entertainment. In fact, due to its design with only one hole, a nest box can be an unfortunate trap for birds as predators block the single means of escape.
Nest boxes are used for a single purpose, to raise newly hatched wild birds during nest-building and egg-laying. Once the hatchlings have fledged, the nest box will remain empty until the next nest building stage begins. Some species have two or three broods each year, ending this activity before the autumn season arrives.
Depending on where you live, there are only 8-10 wild bird species that will use nest boxes. Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, swallows, bluebirds, woodpeckers and sparrows are the most common backyard birds that will readily use our nest boxes. Multi-hole complexes are conducive for the purple martin families. Each species requires distinctive measurements and hole sizes for successful broods.
Have you ever witnessed a bird as it attempts to enter a nest box hole? It will grasp onto the edge of the hole and go only part of the way in. The prospective tenant keeps putting its head and shoulders in and out numerous times. It is measuring the hole for a specific size. A chickadee requires the hole to be exactly 1 ¼” in diameter. A wren needs a hole that measures 1”. Purple martin uses a 2 ½” hole.
As you can see, if you hope to attract a specific bird, you need predetermined entrance holes. The reason is for the safety of the baby birds. Large birds, such as blue jays and starlings, will aggressively go after newborns in nest boxes. All birds that use nest boxes measure the holes with their shoulders to determine if they can just barely enter and exit safely, yet not allow larger predators to enter. If the hole is too small, the parents may injure themselves each time they enter. If the hole is too large, the babies are at risk from dangerous predators. It’s that simple.
The smallest hole in nest boxes should be 1”. The wren families find a comfort level in this diameter entrance. Wrens are a small bird and prefer nest boxes that hang and sway in the wind, versus stationary boxes affixed to trees or posts.
The depth and size of the entire nest box will also have to conform to each specific bird species. Some birds build large, deep nests that will require a nest box that is at least 12” tall. Other birds can use boxes that are only 8” tall due to the simplicity of their nests.
Just as each human family has very specific needs for their homes, wild birds have requirements as well. Be sure to do your research before you purchase or build your nest box for your backyard birds. They will be glad you did!
Enjoy your birds.
Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve White is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our blog “Bird Droppings” via our website www.wildbirddepot.com. Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.