How to put up and maintain a birdhouse

By Lance Gardner (Lance) on June 16, 2010

You have a birdhouse and are all excited to get it hung up. Wow, won’t it be fun to watch those birds raise their first family in your yard? They will even help you out in your garden eating a lot of bugs. Before you make some big mistakes, however, it is a good idea to take some time to pick a good place for it, and ensure it is hung well.

You worked hard at making your house, received it as a present or maybe bought one that fit your yard well and 2010-06-10/Lance/db62b2are all excited to get it hung up.  Wow, won’t it be fun to watch those birds raise their first family in your yard?  They will even help you out in your garden, eating a lot of bugs to feed the growing babies.  Before you make some big mistakes, however, it is a good idea to take some time to pick a good place for it, and ensure it is hung well.  If it is put in a place that is too hot, you may have cooked eggs, or worse, baby birds.  Even worse, snakes, squirrels, raccoons, cats and other predators may decide that your birdhouse is the perfect place to find a meal.  Once they recognize this ready food source, there is a good chance they will return.  Don't forget to click on the thumbnail image to see the whole picture as several images are composites that have a lot hidden in the thumbnail. 

Before discussing how to locate and hang the house, I would like to mention a few tips for anyone that wants to construct their own birdhouse.  I have made a lot of birdhouses and researched what most agree will work well.  The house should be made of reasonably weather resistant lumber, such as white oak or non-fragrant cedar (fragrant cedar can be toxic to some critters), and be at least 3/4 inch thick to provide insulation from extreme temperatures.  I use one inch rough cut lumber locally milled from a tree that was taken down (hate to see good wood go to waste!).  I have also used old 3/4 inch plywood scraps with bark nailed inside under the entrance hole.  Ventilation holes or small gaps need to be incorporated, as well.  I cut off small corners of the floor and either drill small holes under the roof or leave a gap between the front of the house and the roof.  The interior surface, especially near the hole, needs to be rough so the birds (including the babies trying to fledge) can have something to hold onto while getting out - that is why I use rough cut lumber.  The house should also be fairly rain resistant, with a solid (no holes) overhanging roof on all sides of the top, and tight joints along the sides. Don't forget that different species of cavity nesting birds use different house and hole sizes, so make sure your house is constructed for the bird you hope to attract.  Here is a quick reference guide with sizing information:  http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/habitat/wild-in-the-woods/make-a-bird-house.pdf

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To hang a birdhouse, I recommend hanging it on a post with a baffle to discourage snakes, squirrels, raccoons, opossums and other predators.  Especially squirrels will chew the opening quite large, rendering the 2010-06-15/Lance/4e1ae8house unusable, and squirrels are also major nest predators.  That’s right, squirrels will eat the eggs and baby birds.  I have also seen cats sit on a birdhouse and reach in to grab whatever they can.  My method for hanging the house is to mount the house to the top of a post about 5-7 feet from the ground, using either the back or bottom of the house, depending on your personal preference and what is available for hanging.  On many of the houses I make, the back is purposely long to make this easier.  Any sturdy post will work, such as ½” rebar, old water pipe, or wood.  The bird houses need to be sited properly, keeping in mind exposure to wind, rain, sun, and the birds preferred habitat (bluebirds like wide open fields, while wrens prefer bushy areas, as an example), as well as time of year and spacing to avoid territorial squabbles. Especially in the summer, afternoon shade is helpful. 

2010-06-15/Lance/ba6e38Currently when I donate or hang my own houses, I use stiff metal strips with pre-drilled holes that I found somewhere along the way, and these make it very easy to hang my houses (far right in the image).  I screw the metal strip on the back of the house, with a hose clamp held under it.  I slide the hose clamp over the post and tighten it, the house is now securely attached.  A small piece of rubber in between the hose clamp and pipe can sometimes help secure the house, especially for smooth pipes. I have also used pipe clamps and metal strapping; the photo left shows these three different ways I have successfully mounted a birdhouse.

For a baffle, a length of stovepipe works well and is easy to install.  2010-06-15/Lance/734e61Stovepipe can be opened up and placed on a post even if it is in the ground with the house already on it.  Other types of baffles may need to be slipped on, which means having an open end on the pipe and post.  As you can see, I have used both methods.  To hang the baffle, first, get two nails with large heads that are about an inch long, such as shingle nails, and a hose clamp that fits your post.  Or you can get longer nails and bend them at 90°.  The nails and clamp should be attached about a foot below the house.  As the clamp is tightened onto the post, tuck the nail heads or bent nails in between the post and the hose clamp from the top, so the clamp holds the nails in place firmly.  The purpose of the nails is to ensure the baffle wiggles, inhibiting any critters from being able to get a hold of the baffle and climb up on it. 

Next, cut the top of the stovepipe straight down in about 6-8 places, so that when these cut parts are folded over, the folded ends will rest on the nails and just barely reach the post.  Place the stovepipe around the post and push the crimped ends together.  Fold the cut sections over and allow it to rest on the nails so it wobbles, impeding any critter from getting a grip and also blocking snakes from going through the middle.  If the folded edges do not seem to stay put, you can also drill some holes where they overlap, and hold them in place with a pop rivet, nuts and bolts, or even sheet metal screws.  2010-06-15/Lance/86ad33Since there is very little weight on the baffle, it does not need to be super strong.  I recommend wearing gloves for this, as there are many sharp edges exposed.  You can check out other sites, such as http://www.sialis.org/baffle.htm, for other tips. 

Here is some simple math to figure out how to cut the end of the stovepipe, if you want to use that for your baffle.  As an example, you have a 4 inch diameter stovepipe and 1 inch diameter pipe for your birdhouse: 4-1=3.  You now have 3 inches of space to fill to cover the distance between the stove pipe and your mounting post, but this refers to the diameter (all the way across the circle), not radius (center of the circle to an edge).  Since you will be bending in the tabs cut into your stovepipe from both sides, 3/2=1.5.  So, if you cut your tabs in the stovepipe 1.5 inches down, when you bend them in, it will just about reach your hanging post, which is what you want.  Summarized, (4-1)/2=1.5, or fill in your own measurements. 

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It is recommended to check your birdhouse once a week to see how the residents are doing, and to ensure that house sparrows are not using it.  If you see the invasive (not native, therefore not protected) sparrows using the box, remove their nests.  If they rebuild, plug the hole for a week or so until they give up.  For really persistent problems, check out other sources such as http://www.sialis.org/, and let me know what works.  House sparrows and starlings are very aggressive, and will kill the eggs, babies, and parents, so they must be removed.  Since these are introduced invasive birds, there is nothing natural about this - the native birds have little idea on how to deal with this behavior.  My parent’s bird houses get nothing but starlings in the martin houses and house sparrows everywhere else, so I am looking for good ways to limit these pest birds. 

2010-06-15/Lance/642970After a bird family is done with the box, the nesting material should be removed and house at least swept out, and another bird family will most likely move in.  This way, you can have up to 3 (or more) broods in a year.  The box should be left up all winter, as many birds will also use them for roosts to keep warm and will look for a nest site starting in February. 

So why do we check the bird’s nesting progress?  One year, a bluebird family in my yard lost the mother and the father was overwhelmed with trying to keep everyone fed.  You can see what happened to the quality of his care, as he no longer had time to remove the fecal packs.  I changed out the terribly messy nest and the birds fledged (left the house) a few days later.  Cowbirds can also lay eggs in the nest, which will cause the bluebirds to lose their own kids to keep the greedy cowbird baby fed – I remove these eggs, even though it may not be ‘legally’ allowed.  You may also find blowfly larva, which should be removed and destroyed, as they feed on the babies.  So there are many benefits to checking the nest about once a week.  More than that and you may disturb the birds too often and interfere with their health, or cause them to fledge too early.

2010-12-09/Lance/f77dbcYou should now have a predator proof house for many years, and many happy bird families.  There are many books and internet sites with additional information, if you desire to learn more.  I recommend http://www.sialis.org/, specifically for bluebirds, and with lots of general tips.  The North American Bluebird Society has a good site here: http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/ .

Related articles:
baffle, birdhouses, birds, hang, maintenance, nature, place, placement, post, wood

About Lance Gardner
I have an interest in just about anything that gets me outside, as well as anything that is alive or grows, and in making things. So my hobbies include gardening, outdoors, photography, dogs, woodworking, and most importantly raising my son.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
birdhouse portal protectors zackjohnsdad Jun 15, 2011 7:40 AM 1
Untitled nap Jun 21, 2010 6:10 PM 7
Thanks for the tips Hemophobic Jun 16, 2010 9:50 AM 2

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