There’s nothing like the joy of watching colorful songbirds flit around your garden. As someone who has spent decades cultivating welcoming habitats for our feathered friends, I always encourage fellow nature lovers to consider adding birdhouses. Nesting boxes provide safe shelter for breeding birds and can help attract more species to your backyard.
However, a common question is, “Should I put food inside the birdhouse?” While the intent is innocent, unfortunately, placing food within nesting boxes causes more harm than good.
In this article, we’ll explore the primary purpose of birdhouses, the risks of using food to attract birds to them, and better ways to make your birdhouse enticing. We’ll also cover proper bird feeding practices separately from nesting materials. I aim to provide helpful tips so you can enjoy observing birds and supporting their populations while respecting their comfort and needs. So read on to learn the dos and don’ts!
- 1 The Purpose of Birdhouses
- 2 Why Food in Birdhouses Isn’t Ideal
- 3 Attracting Birds to Birdhouses
- 4 Proper Bird Feeding Practices
- 5 Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat
- 6 Birdhouse Maintenance
- 7 Ethical Considerations in Bird Care
The Purpose of Birdhouses
Birdhouses serve the specific function of providing cavity-nesting birds a safe place to lay eggs and raise young. Species like chickadees, titmice, wrens, bluebirds, and swallows rely on enclosed nesting sites since they don’t construct elaborate nests like robins and cardinals.
In the wild, these birds nest in natural tree cavities or old woodpecker holes. However, habitat loss has severely decreased available nesting sites. This makes installing an adequately designed birdhouse in your yard an excellent way to support reproduction and survival.
It’s crucial to understand birdhouses are for shelter, not food. Bird feeders serve the entirely separate purpose of supplementing natural food sources. While feeders can indirectly attract birds to your area, the birdhouse should provide a secure nesting space, not access to mealworms or seed mixes!
Here are a few key points cavity-nesters look for in a nesting site:
- An entrance hole of the proper diameter for their species (not too large or small)
- Adequate depth for the nest, eggs, and adult birds
- Sufficient ventilation
- Protection from predators and weather
- Seclusion from other nests and human disturbance
Why Food in Birdhouses Isn’t Ideal
Given their different functions, filling birdhouses with food can cause more problems than it solves. Here are the top reasons to avoid this practice:
Attracts Predators and Pests
Food inside a birdhouse draws unwanted attention from predators like cats, raccoons, and snakes. These animals may raid the birdhouse and consume eggs or nestlings. Seeds and insects can also attract pests, rodents, and insects in the house.
Creates an Unhealthy Environment
Bird droppings, spoiled seeds, and leftover food accumulate inside the birdhouse, promoting the growth of mold, mildew, and bacteria. This contaminates the nesting area, risking the health of chicks and adult birds.
Excess food, feces, and associated insects produce foul odors that repel prospective nesters from taking up residence. Birds rely heavily on their sense of smell to assess potential homes.
Triggers Aggressive Behavior
Abundant, concentrated resources from food placed in birdhouses generate territorial aggression between nesting pairs over ownership of the box. This added stress compromises breeding and nesting behaviors.
As you can see, providing food alongside nesting sites muddles the intended purpose of a birdhouse. Keep the two areas separate for the health and safety of wild birds looking for a home.
Attracting Birds to Birdhouses
If food in birdhouses causes issues, how do you make your nesting box appealing to your desired species? Follow these tips:
Understand Regional Species
Research which cavity-nesting species are native to your area before installing a birdhouse. Choose an appropriate design and placement to target those particular birds. Familiarity with local food sources is critical.
Select the Right House
Consider the nesting preferences and physical attributes of the target species. For example, a wren house should have a 1-1.25 inch entrance hole and be placed 5-10 feet high in a tree. Meanwhile, chickadees need an entrance hole of 1.25 inches and a box set 8-12 feet tall on a post or tree.
Think Safety and Security
Survey your yard for potential predators and disturbances. Place the birdhouse in a quiet location away from high-traffic areas. Face the entrance hole away from prevailing winds and intense sun. Add predator guards to deter snakes, raccoons, and cats.
Rather than food, emphasize native plants, a water source like a bird bath, ample cover, and organic insect populations. This establishes your yard as an inviting habitat catering to all the birds’ needs, not just hunger! Monitor houses frequently to remove invasive nests.
Proper Bird Feeding Practices
While food in nesting boxes causes issues, bird feeders are a great way to supplement wild food sources. Follow these tips to feed birds properly:
Choose Quality Feeders
Select feeders tailored to your target bird species. Platform feeders work for ground birds like doves and jays. Finches and chickadees prefer tube feeders. Suet feeders attract nuthatches and woodpeckers. Make feeders easy to fill, clean, and safe for birds.
Offer Nutritious Foods
Provide foods aligning with birds’ seasonal nutritional needs. Black oil sunflower appeals to cardinals, finches, and titmice. Safflower attracts cardinals but deters sparrows. Suet provides winter fat for chickadees and woodpeckers. Nectar suits hummingbirds and orioles.
Practice Proper Hygiene
Thoroughly clean feeders with a mild bleach solution every two weeks, scrubbing away mold, bacteria, and waste. Rinse well with water afterward. Wear gloves when handling feeders and use separate equipment for each feeder to avoid cross-contamination.
Follow Strategic Placement
Position feeders near cover, 10-15 feet from bushes or trees, so that birds can escape predators. Avoid areas near windows to prevent collisions. Use multiple feeders to minimize crowding. Locate them conveniently for you to access and refill.
Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat
Rather than relying on single elements like food or housing alone, strive for a well-rounded, bird-centered habitat. Here are some fundamental principles:
Plant Native Flora
Incorporate diverse native plants providing seeds, berries, nectar, cover, and nesting materials. This gives birds nutritious natural foods and familiar resources adapted to your climate.
Offer Fresh Water
Add a birdbath, small pond, or other water source. Position it near foliage for protection from predators. Refill water frequently and adjust depth for all birds to access. In winter, add a heater to prevent freezing.
Protect from Pesticides
Embrace organic gardening practices to nurture the insect populations birds rely on. Eliminate pesticides and chemicals toxic to wildlife. Select native plants resilient to your local conditions.
Retain existing mature trees, shrubs, and bushes. If lacking, plant native trees, shrubs, and vines to create a dense protective canopy. Brush piles also provide shelter. Add birdhouses suited to cavity nesters.
Mimic Natural Habitats
Observe layouts of local wilderness areas and try to recreate the layered structure. Plant tall canopy trees, shorter understory trees, large and small shrubs, and groundcovers to support diverse species.
Installing birdhouses is only half the work – proper maintenance keeps them safe and usable for years. Follow these tips:
Time Cleaning Carefully
Clean boxes in winter or early spring before nesting begins. Avoid removing established nests during the breeding season. Monitor boxes weekly when active to toss out invasive nests like European starlings.
Follow Cleaning Procedure
Remove old nesting materials, scrape out debris, and scrub all surfaces with a 9:1 bleach-to-water solution. Rinse and let air dry completely before re-mounting. Wear gloves and use designated tools for each house.
Check for Hazards
Inspect houses for loose screws, missing roof panels, protruding nails, large entrance holes, signs of chewing or damage. Make any necessary repairs before reinstalling.
Prepare for Weather
In rainy seasons, ensure drainage holes don’t become clogged. Before cold months, seal exterior gaps to prevent drafts and add insulation like bark or wood chips.
Ethical Considerations in Bird Care
When cultivating bird-friendly spaces, we must balance supporting wildlife populations while minimizing harmful interference. Here are some vital ethical principles:
Respect Wild Behavior
Enjoy observing bird behaviors but avoid intrusive actions like removing eggs or nests or capturing birds. Let events like predation occur naturally without human intervention.
Follow Birding Guidelines
When birdwatching, remain quiet, keep your distance to avoid startling birds, and never disclose sensitive nest locations. Obtain permission before entering private property.
Prioritize Habitat Needs
Learn about habitat and resource requirements for target species. Provide native food plants and nesting materials specific to those needs. Monitor nest boxes to prevent invasive species.
Promote legislation, policies, and programs enabling habitat protection and ethical, sustainable land management. Advocate for preserving wilderness areas and biodiversity.
When we uphold ethical, solid values grounded in respect and conservation, everyone benefits – birds, ecosystems, and people alike.
I hope this article clarified the distinct purposes of birdhouses versus bird feeders and why it’s best not to combine the two. While supplying food seems helpful on the surface, it can jeopardize the intended function of a birdhouse as a safe nesting site. Fortunately, you can easily make your birdhouse attractive through strategic placement, design, and establishing a welcoming habitat. Please apply these tips to provide much-needed nesting opportunities and sustain vibrant local bird populations. Supporting our wild feathered friends instills a sense of wonder about the nature around us.