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A visitor to my blog asked a question about building a birdhouse and I decided to post the question and my answer here.
I haven’t been able to figure out where to ask my question, so I thought I’d post it here. My sons (ages 8 and 5) and I are building a birdhouse this weekend to place in our back yard.
We live in Lincoln, CA, about 35 miles northeast of Sacramento, CA. your website mentions that a birdhouse should be built to attract a specific kind of bird (entrance hole size, placement above ground etc.). We’re not picky, but would like to give our birdhouse a good chance at being used.
What are the most common backyard birds in the Sacramento valley area? We’re planning on building a simple pineboard birdhouse. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks
Are you providing birdseed for your backyard birds? A mix of black-oiled sunflower and shelled sunflower kernels will attract the most kinds of feeder birds. Most blends also include striped sunflower and millet. You can purchase a good blend at Costco or at Wild Birds Unlimited.
This pdf article gives you some basic information about building a nest box or birdhouse.
You’ll probably attract the most types of nesting birds with a birdhouse opening of 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
Place the birdhouse between 6 and 12 feet from the ground. My nest boxes are on trees at about 8 – 10 feet from the ground and Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Oak Titmice have both raised young in my boxes.
Put your birdhouse up as soon as possible so the birds will find it this spring. If possible place near trees as most birds prefer a more protected area without too much activity.
This is a good all-around bird box that will attract many birds. If possible hinge the front so you can clean out the box at the end of the season.
Dimensions in inches
Top – 8 x 7
Sides – 8 x 5 x 10
Front – 4 1/2 x 8
Bottom 4 1/2 x 5
Back – 7 x 13
Opening – 1 1/2 inches diameter
Nesting birds in your area include
To help identify birds
All About Birds
If your boys like bird watching and feeding and identifying the birds you might consider signing up for Project FeederWatch, a citizen science bird identification program. The season ends in April for this year but you could signup for the 2009-2010 season which begins in November later this year.
Information about Project FeederWatch
If your family become bird watchers you might get a Bird Guide to help you identify birds. The Pederson Field Guide of Western Birds and the Sibley Field Guide for Birds of Western North America are both excellent guides. You’ll also need an inexpensive pair of binoculars.
You might also put up a hummingbird feeder. The most common hummingbird of California is Anna’s Hummingbird.
You can make your own hummingbird food (do not add food coloring which will harm the birds).
Recipe for hummingbird food
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
Bring water to a rolling boil. Remove from heat. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Cool and pour into feeder. Extra solution can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week. Change the solution in the feeder once a week.
by Bill Thompson, III
Q: How long does a bird live?
A: In very general terms, the larger a bird is, the longer its life expectancy. For small birds, such as migratory songbirds (warblers, vireos, etc.) the average life expectancy may be as little as two years. This short life expectancy is due to the many hazards birds face from birth: predators, disease, accidents, migration, starvation, habitat loss, and hunting, among others. Some individual birds have survived a surprisingly long time, including a cardinal (13.5 years), a black-capped chickadee (10 years), and an American goldfinch (7 years). One red-bellied woodpecker survived in the wild for 20.5 years! Captive birds, protected from the hazards of nature, have much longer life spans. Many waterfowl have survived in the wild for as long as 30 years, and seabirds, such as gulls and albatrosses, have longevity records that cover 30 to 40 years.
Q: What spring bird persistently sings, day and night?
A: Your bird is most likely to be a northern mockingbird. Don’t worry, male mockingbirds only perform this nocturnal singing in the spring and summer during the time of the full moon. Try running an electric fan (to create a buffer of sound) and using your earplugs on those nights when the male mockingbird is singing. Having a mocker around is a good thing-you might even consider yourself lucky!
Q: Do all birds mate for life?
A: No. Some species have unusually strong pair bonds between mated birds. These species include some eagles, cranes, swans, geese, and ravens. Being mated “for life” means, really, for as long as both birds are alive. When one of the pair dies, the other will take a new mate. Most North American bird species pair up primarily to reproduce, and go their separate ways soon after they have nested.
Top 10 Frequently Asked Backyard Questions
by Bill Thompson, III
How can I keep squirrels from cleaning out my bird feeders? The best solution is to prevent these clever critters from getting to your feeders in the first place. A quality pole-mounted baffle, suspended below your feeder, should prevent invasion from the ground. A smooth metal or plastic baffle placed above the feeder should prevent assault from the air, but you must make sure that your feeders are placed far from any object from which the squirrels can launch themselves. A squirrel leaping from a tree to your feeder will put the Flying Wallendas to shame. Last resort? Offer whole ears of feed corn or whole kernels in a squirrel-friendly feeder far from your bird feeders. You may lure them away with this, their favorite food.
Why aren’t there any birds at my feeder?
Birds are seasonal creatures of habit. Some species that eat seed at your feeder all winter switch to insects or fruit during spring and summer. And most birds take the bulk of their diet from natural sources of food, rather than at our feeders. So the goldfinches that stayed around until May may be off eating weed and flower seeds in nearby meadows. A healthy natural crop of seeds, berries, fruits, and insects is most likely the answer. Be patient, and the birds will return to your feeders once the natural food stores begin to dwindle. One final possibility: A predator may be stalking around your feeder, forcing the birds into hiding. Look for a cat or hawk in your yard if your birds disappear all of a sudden.