5 Ways to Attract Birds to Backyard Nesting Boxes

This post first published on Care2.com

We enjoy watching wildlife dine at our feeders all winter, and it’s such an honor when some birds decide to raise their brood in the nesting boxes we build from recycled materials. This post offers five ways to attract birds to backyard nesting boxes.

Providing nesting boxes is important, say experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, because for many species of birds there’s a shortage of great places to nest. While most birds choose their nesting locations in the spring, it’s never too late to attract birds to your backyard nesting boxes.

Many birds have more than one brood per season and may switch to a new box to raise their second or third broods. In addition, if a bird is unsuccessful in raising its first brood due to a predator, it may be very happy to take advantage of a new box hanging somewhere else on your property.


1. Location, location, location

Every species of birds has a different habitat requirement. If you choose the right location, you will have the best chance of attracting the type of bird you’re hoping for.

Experts at Birds and Blooms Magazine say that the best location for a bluebird house is an area facing or surrounded by open fields where insects they eat and feed to their young are plentiful. Chickadees, on the other hand, prefer their houses to be located in a cluster of small trees or in a shrubbery.

House wrens are attracted to boxes hanging from small trees in an open yard, and purple martins prefer housing to be placed in open fields or lawns with clear flyways.

If you want to attract tree swallows, and you have a body of water in or near your yard, then you’re in luck. These birds like to nest close to water where they can find aquatic insects to feed to their young.

2. Consider the style of your nesting box

In general, say Birds and Blooms experts, small birds need small houses and big birds will look to the larger backyard nesting boxes, but each species have desires beyond the size.

For example, purple martins like to nest in groups and are attracted to condo-style housing. These community homes should have at least four cavities with between six and 12 being ideal.

Bluebirds look for single room nest boxes, which can be about 50 to 75 yards apart. Unlike the bluebirds, house wrens prefer to live in small single houses away from other nesting boxes.

While commercial nesting boxes come in a wide variety of colors and designs, bird experts caution that it’s best to keep the boxes simple, not stylish.

In addition, experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology say that a perch is unnecessary for backyard birds. In fact, perches can help predators gain access to the nest. We learned this the hard way when last year a blue jay used the perch on one of our boxes to attack the babies inside. We removed all of the perches on our nest boxes and the birds still use them.

Blue tit bird brings caterpillar in nest box

3. Make sure you use the right materials

Bird experts agree that wood is the best material for building birdhouses. The only exception is martin houses, which are often made of aluminum or dried gourds and painted white to reflect the heat.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a safe and successful birdhouse will have the following features:

  • Use untreated wood, preferably cedar pine or cypress.
  • Choose galvanized screws to make the best seal.
  • A sloped roof that overhangs the front of the birdhouse keeps out driving rain.
  • A recessed floor keeps the nest from getting wet and extends the life of birdhouse.
  • Drainage holes allow any water that enters the house to drain away.
  • Walls should be at least three-quarter inches thick to insulate the nest.
  • There should be five-eighth inch ventilation holes near the top of each of the side wall.
  • For small boxes typically used by wrens and chickadees, smooth boards on the interior walls can be roughened with coarse sandpaper below the entrance hole to help fledglings leave the nest. For medium size boxes, a number of horizontal cuts on the interior below the entrance hole act like a ladder for swallows or bluebirds.
  • A hinged side that’s kept secured on one side with screws offers easy access for cleaning out the nesting box when the season ends.

4. Birds are picky about the size of the entrance hole

You can attract a particular species of bird to your boxes by making sure the entrance hole is the correct size.

House wrens look for the smallest entrance at 1 1/8 inches. This helps keep out competing nesters since almost no other birds can fit through such a small opening.

Eastern and Western bluebirds like a 1 ½-inch hole while the tufted titmouse, chickadees and nuthatches are more comfortable with 1 ¼-inch holes.

5. The height of the nest box also matters

Nesting birds prefer their houses to be hung at different heights.

Purple martin houses need to be about 15 to 20 feet high. Wood ducks and screech-owls like their boxes to be 12 to 40 feet above the ground while bluebirds boxes should be hung at a height of 5 to 8 feet.

Wrens are happy to nest in boxes placed between 6 and 10 feet high, and chickadees are most likely to nest in houses that are 4 to 8 feet above the ground.

Photo credits: Thinkstock