Springtime is nesting time for many birds. Early morning choruses grow louder as birds repeatedly sing songs to attract mates and defend their territory.

After birds pair up, they’ll build nests, lay eggs and raise their young. Some birds will go on to repeat this cycle.

Here is a chart “Nesting behavior of common backyard nesting birds” provided by Wild Birds Unlimited.

When you place a nesting box in your backyard, you’re inviting birds to raise their families in front of yours. You’ll see birds courting mates, building nests, laying eggs, feeding young. And when it’s time for the fledglings to leave the nest, they’ll likely learn to feed at your feeders and bathe at your birdbaths!

Birds build open-cup shaped nests in trees or on the ground, or they nest in natural cavities (or holes) in trees. The birds that choose natural cavities are called cavity-nesting birds, and these birds will readily use a nest box if it is in the right habitat. Birds you can attract with a nest box (designed for the specific species) include: bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, Purple Martins, swallows, owls and Wood Ducks.

Selecting a good nest box
The nest box should have the right size hole, and the distance from the entry hole to the floor as well as the inside dimensions must suit the bird you are trying to attract. You can build your own nesting boxes or purchase them at a birding store. Just make sure your boxes meet the required specifications for the species of birds you’d like to attract to your yard.

The wood should be at least 3/4 of an inch thick to provide insulation.

The box does not need additional paints or stains. Dark colors can absorb sunlight and make the box too warm, depending on where it is placed.

You should be able to open a panel to monitor nesting activity and clean the box after its use.

The roof should be slanted so water can run off easily, and the box should include ventilation holes to help the interior stay cool.

The inside of the box should have recessed grooves or rough surfaces under the entrance hole to help baby birds climb out. Outside perches are not necessary.

Choosing the right habitat
Determine the proper height to hang or mount your nest box. Many birds prefer their nesting habitat at a certain level, and you will be more likely to attract the species you seek if you place the box at the right height. Find out where your specific bird likes to nest. Does the bird prefer woodlands or open spaces? Does it like to be near water? Place your box in your yard before birds start seeking nesting spots in February and March. You can leave the box up all year, but clean it out in fall so birds can use it as shelter in the winter.

Choose Functional Bird Houses

It is important that functional houses meet the criteria of the proper housing situation for birds. It is important that houses have the following characteristics:

  • good ventilation
  • panel for easy cleanout/removal of pests
  • adequate drainage
  • roof overhang providing shade and protection from driving rain
  • no perches

It is important for functional houses to have good ventilation. Panels of wood that are ¾ inches thick help provide insulation from the heat. Holes near the top of the house allow for the heat to escape.

Clean out
A side panel that opens allows for easy clean out of the nest at the end of the season which helps to keep the pest population down. (The Wild Birds Unlimited houses allow for viewing or photographing of the birds without disturbing them by offering a top opening panel.)

Holes at the bottom corners allow for drainage. Drainage holes in the middle of the bottom will not adequately allow for drainage.

Perches are not necessary and actually allow sparrows and other birds a place to sit and access the hole.

Fledgling ladder
It is a good idea (especially for bluebird houses) to provide either slashes or a ladder to help the fledglings leave the house.

Functional houses should fit the requirements for the kind of bird that is desired and should be mounted in a manner that is safe for that kind of bird. Consult the Wild Birds Unlimited Housing Guide (available at Wild Birds Unlimited stores) for more information.