(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 4, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
I have gone to great lengths to make my yard bird-friendly. I leave seedheads on the perennials into the winter to provide food. I have bird baths scattered around to supply them with a drink and a bath when they need it. I place these things in areas where the birds can see if there are any predators nearby, and provide them with safe places to roost.
I have discovered that birds are not the best at choosing a nesting location though. They build their nests in the strangest and often least safe place they can find. Under the eaves, in the soffiting, in the shortest bush in the yard, in the chimney.
After coming to the conclusion that I should probably provide them with a safer place to nest I discovered that the bird house has evolved far from the old wooden structures my grandfather used to throw together in a couple of hours. It seems anything goes. If it has a hole the right size, and a place big enough to build a nest, they will use it.
Birdhouses are constructed based on the species of bird you would like to attract. The biggest factor being the size of the hole. There are, of course, generic houses if you just want birds, but if you're looking for a particular kind of bird there are things to take into consideration.
Hole size is important. I wanted to attract smaller birds but discovered the hard way that the holes were too big and lost an entire nest to starlings who reached in and dragged everything - nest and eggs - out and destroyed them. I did not make this mistake again!!
Ventilation and drainage. There must be both of these present otherwise you could suffer losses due to over-heating or drowning.
Cleaning. There must be a way to clean the houses. Removal of the previous years nests and debris is a must.
The materials used are important as well. Try for wood if possible. Avoid any toxic materials; remember that metal will rust and possibly overheat.
Placing the houses in different areas of the yard, habitats, will attract different types of birds. Paying close attention to where your birds are currently nesting can provide clues as to where to place your bird Houses.
When we were kids, my dad always built nesting boxes for the wood ducks. We would trek out in the dead of winter onto the beaver ponds and attach these boxes to old tree stumps. The wood duck nests in trees above the water.
We have all heard of purple martins. They are gregarious and like to nest in colonies. The multi-storied houses are usually attached to the tops of high poles to attract them.
Chickadees prefer rustic looking homes within a few feet of the ground.
Bluebirds like abandoned orchards or fence lines around a field, preferably 4 or 5 feet above the ground.
Out of curiosity I browsed a few garden centres. I saw many beautiful bird houses. Common sense made me realize quite a few of them were totally unsuitable, designed more for looks than usefulness. Bear this in mind when you are shopping for housing for your birds. Just because it looks beautiful doesn't mean it is good for the birds.
Bird houses can be very enjoyable. You will soon have many babies flitting about the garden. They are a joy to watch. Hopefully I've given you some inspiration on a wonderful way to help our feathered friends this coming summer.
A wonderful resource for those of you considering Bird Houses.
Many thanks to IRIS for her wonderful gourd birdhouse photo used at the beginning of this article. The rest of the photos are my own.