Bird houses - do I even bother?

rudysmallfry(z6)April 1, 2006

Hello - I'm fairly new to this forum. I've lost interest in some of my other regulars. Need some new input I guess. I have a question about bird houses. I'm interested in giving the birds in my yard more areas to nest. I'm planning on adding some bushes and possibly a fir tree, but those take time to grow. All that's there now is some marsh grasses and several swamp Maples. Is there any sense in putting up bird houses? Would the birds even use them? Right now I've got a good variety of visitors. I'm worried I'd just be throwing off the whole balance by putting up houses that some birds would use over others, and the result would be some of them being driven away. Humans are just so good at introducing things that just mess up the natural balance. I'm leaning toward not putting up anything man made. Any pros or cons to bird houses?

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I have quite a few birdhouses,last year it was birds in all of them.I had bluebirds,robins,wrens,purple martins,fiches,plus nests on wreaths on porches,bushes,trees,EVERYWHERE...

    Bookmark   April 1, 2006 at 10:01PM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Hi Rudy,
Actually, I'm becoming more and more into not introducing too many "manmade" things, but just standing back and watching it. Of course I mean mostly with birdfeeding and houses. If I were you, I would plant alot of native bushes that make berries for the viburnum, etc. I would definitely add a couple evergreens, even if they do take awhile to grow. One of my favs is white pine.....which grows fairly quickly. Buy one that is about 3-4 years old, and it should grow quickly.
I have a couple wren houses......but they are very territorial, so it's up to you whether you want to introduce that or not.
Have you just moved to this house? If so, I say wait a couple years, until you get a sense of what's going on in your yard, and who lives there already. Have fun!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2006 at 10:17PM
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Cool, that's good to hear. Are their certain sizes, the holes particularly, for the various species? I'm most interested in the smaller birds who might otherwise get chased off my the bigger birds. I love the chickadees, but they don't seem to hang around and nest in my yard. I also don't have a nearby fresh water source, so that might have something to do with it. Do you keep the houses a certain distance from feeders, or hang them at any particular heights?

    Bookmark   April 1, 2006 at 10:19PM
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terryr(z5a IL)

Below is a link on various size holes for which birds and how high....
We moved into this house a year ago. I see sparrows, sparrows, and sparrows, so I'm not putting up my birdhouses. I live on a small lot in the middle of town and hopefully, when my plants get bigger, new birds come in. Then I will put up my bird houses. I've only got 2, so I think it would be fun to watch what goes in. Oh, did I mention I also have sparrows?

Here is a link that might be useful: all about birdhouses

    Bookmark   April 2, 2006 at 11:05AM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Also, if you are going to go with birdhouses, remember that predators would really like to eat all those babies too. For example, for bluebirds, you should get a hole-extender to keep certain predators from reaching in there. Animals and snakes can climb poles, so sometimes that means you need a pole with a baffle on it. Coons can climb trees and get to birdhouses too. Unfortunately, it can be a trial and error process and you will probably lose some birds in the process. I've seen booklets on birdhouses put out by somebody like Sunset or others. I have a $12 book put out by Donald and Lilian STokes that's pretty good called "The Complete Birdhouse Book".

    Bookmark   April 2, 2006 at 11:36AM
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chrsvic(z6 OH)

My recommendation is to just put up a couple houses for chickadees and wrens. If the hole size is 1 1/8 inch diameter, those birds can get in but the sparrows cannot. You could also hang gourds, wrens will nest in those but usually not sparrows, because the nest swings.

If you put up a birdhouse with larger holes, you have to be willing to deal with the house sparrows, and discard their nests every time they build. Allowing sparrows to breed makes matters worse for the native birds.

On a positive note, every bird house i've ever put up gets used in some way. If the birds don't nest in them, at least i've found that they sleep in them on cold nights.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2006 at 2:12PM
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I think I will just supply a few houses for the smaller birds. The chickadees are just so cute. They sit right there on the branch while I'm filling up the feeder. Great little personalities. I'm afraid if I put up the larger stuff, I'll be attracting the predators along with the birds. I'll work on creating a natural environment and attract them that way.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2006 at 12:48PM
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knottyceltic(S/W Ontario 5b)

I agree with the others who said "go for the birdhouses" but control the species that use them by controlling the size of the entrance to the house. We learned quickly to make the hole small enough for bluebirds and wrens but not large enough for the evil House Sparrow that will not only move in and hoarde the place but will kill any babies in the nest already in order to move it's own self into it.

The hole extender is an excellent idea as well.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 1:42PM
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lisa11310(z5 MI)

Hi there I have 3 nest boxes and they are being used. One thing to keep in mind is that if you put up the boxes, please be responsible and PROTECT them properly! Once you have seen new baby birds and watched them grow it will break you heart to see them killed or disapear because they have been eaten. Pleas go to the website. It is mainly for BlueBirds but the information is the same for other cavity nesting birds.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 3:40PM
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terryr(z5a IL)

Can I ask a question though? You put up birdhouses to draw them in and to nest in the box instead of making a nest in a tree or a shrub. But what about the bird that does make a nest in potted plant or low in a shrub? Are we supposed to protect them also from predators? I ask this because I had a wren make a nest in a watering can used for plants outside my backdoor on the deck when we lived in TN. I couldn't come up with a solution to keep the coons or the cat (not mine) away. The wren laid eggs and then the coon or the cat got em. I felt bad, but isn't that part of nature? Do I make sense?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 4:22PM
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Terryr, you're question is kind of why I asked about putting up houses in the first place. My logic is, while I don't have all of the birds that I would like nesting in my yard, I don't know that it makes sense to disrupt the ecosystem that is already in place. Right now I don't have any predators. I never see snakes or racoons, and my dog keeps the neighbor's cat away during nesting season. My concern is that I might disrupt the balance that is already in place. If I do put up several bird houses, I might attract cats or other predators as well as birds. I'm not going to get into the outdoor cat debate. There's plenty of rants about that. It's kind of a catch 22. Attract more birds = more food supply for predators. I feel that providing birds shelter for nesting in the form of bushes and trees would give them far more cover than a wooden house nailed to a tree. Putting up nest boxes would just give me the instant gratification I seem to be looking for. Hopefully in a few years, I will have some nice natural landscape for them to nest in. I am going to pass altogether on the houses and go for au natural.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 6:01PM
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Terry: Doesn't sound like you had any control over a raccoon getting those babies, but you can try to keep your own cats inside. House cats are non-natives and kill many native birds, mammals and frogs, toads, etc.

As for hole extenders, the research indicates that they don't work to deter predators. Boxes should never be mounted on trees or buildings or fences. You should mount boxes on a slick metal pole with a predator baffle. Also, bluebirds, tree swallows and house sparrows can all fit in the same sized hole, so making the hole small enough for a bluebird will also allow in house sparrows. The only thing you can do is monitor the houses to make sure the sparrows do not nest, or actively eliminate them from the area. House sparrows are non-natives. Another option is to use a sparrow spooker (strips of mylar hung from a yardstick or dowel over the roof of the house). You can only put this up after the first egg is laid as the non-sparrow, cavity-nesting bird will be bonded with the box enough to get past their fear of the spooker. You should also take the spooker down once the babies fledge because there is some concern that sparrows will eventually become desensitized to them if you leave them up--rendering them ineffective. Check out the bird house network on Cornell's website or the Garden Web bluebird forum for more information on how to offer housing responsibly.

Rudy: I agree that if you don't offer it responsibly, you are upsetting the balance in the ecosystem. However, when you offer boxes responsibly, you provide nesting sites to cavity nesters. As development increases, natural cavities become more scarce, so there is a need for humans to fill this void with housing, as long as it is done responsibly. I believe the comeback of bluebirds and purple martins is likely a result of bluebird trails that have been monitored by responsible people who educated themselves on the right way to offer housing.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 3:49PM
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terryr(z5a IL)

Vonyon, I couldn't agree more about the cats. I don't own any, I'm allergic. Hopefully, when this yard starts to fill out, the sparrows will all go away, and the good birds will come. Sparrows are very annoying birds.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 4:36PM
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Terry, maybe you're right, and I certainly hope you are, but it has not been my experience. House sparrows are very opportunistic, and they are fierce competitors with native birds for nesting sites and food. Because they didn't evolve with the birds who are native to this ecosystem, natives are unprepared physically to compete with them. Any non-native species whether it is a plant or animal has the potential of outcompeting and outpopulating the natives. It is the natural way of it. This is seen across the country with plants, fish, etc. Some examples are the uproar over kudzu or snakehead fish.

House sparrows (and starlings for that matter) will kill other birds and destroy their eggs and nestlings. They will also build right on top of their dead bodies. I am not trying to be graphic here. I am speaking from experience and would not want anyone else to have to find such a thing. I wish someone had warned me!

I know that house sparrows are doing what is natural to them. It is because of this that I don't find house sparrows annoying, I just don't want them becoming the only species in my yard. Left unchecked, I know that is what they will do. They tend to nest earlier than most natives claiming nesting sites before natives have a chance. From the sialis website cited above "HOSP [house sparrows] are prolific breeders. They may raise 2-5 (average of 3) clutches of 3-7 (very seldom less than 4) chicks each breeding season, (averaging 20 chicks per season). One pair can theoretically quintuple the population in one year. Using some conservative assumptions, one pair could increase to 1,250 birds in 5 years. Eggs are incubated for 10-16 days, and nestlings are fully feathered in 15-17 days." Pigeons, starlings and house sparrows have become the only birds that you see in cities. That is because of human sprawl, but also because they outcompete the natives. Lack of species diversity is an indication of an unhealthy ecosystem. Each species within the system has a job to do and so is an integral cog in the wheel.

Good luck to you. I hope you find that you are right. Please keep us posted as your garden progresses.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 9:38PM
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terryr(z5a IL)

Vonyon, the only bird I see on a daily basis is the sparrow. I was seeing some really big black bird and down the street my sister's neighbor has pigeon nests in their trees. I see them occasionally caddy corner from me in the park. So far, I haven't seen a starling. If this was some big honkin city, I could understand better. But it isn't. It's a little town of 7600. But you drive out 3 miles to my parents house and every bird imaginable is out there. They (sparrows) are always in those stupid privets on my property. Those are coming out. We spent a while yesterday pulling some up. Yea, just pulling them up. No shovel needed. It was very weird. I also have 3 of those bridal wreath spireas left....they going bye bye also. We bought this house a year ago last Dec. and it needed a lot of work before we could move in. I saw a pair of cardinals almost daily while working here. Now I don't see them. I hope that with everything I'm planting, it won't be palatable to the sparrows and they leave me alone. Pipe dream? Maybe, but I'm going to do my damnedest! I guess this little town has an unhealthy ecosystem. I'm in the one of the oldest parts of town, but I guess if the ecosystem is out of whack, it doesn't matter where I live here. I've also thought about putting up some sort of trap out at my parents and bringing all those birds here :o)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 4:28PM
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Terry: I know exactly what you mean. I live in a similar-sized semi-rural town. HOSP do not discriminate. I have a ton of them around here. I think that it has a lot to do with the ratio of development landscaping to edge habitat, how many farm animals are in the area (the feed and barns provide food and habitat), how many people are putting up boxes and letting them breed, how many people are feeding them artificially with cheap seed, etc. Not to mention how long they have been allowed to reproduce unchecked. You are seeing the results of their aggressive expansion and how it limits and reduces the population of native birds.

I think the small farm next door to me had a ton of them feeding on the goat, sheep, horse, pig chow for years until they moved...not to mention the eaves of the barns that provided nesting sites. I also have someone down the street who has about 5 condos for cavity nesters that are loaded with them all year long. I don't begrudge the species for surviving, I just have come to see the damage that they do to the ecosystem. Diversity of species guarantees the health of the system.

You go on removing that privet.....another non-native, agressively spreading plant. Good luck to you. Keep us posted.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 10:14PM
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terryr(z5a IL)

Vonyon, farm animals? Girl, this is farm country! Drive out of town and you can't help but see pigs, cows, sheep etc. I know the neighbors have some sort of birdhouse up, which I'm sure has sparrows that nest in it. They also have a hummingbird feeder that's been out there since Dec of 04. And the people across the street, same side as me, feed the birds. I have no clue what kind of feed, but sparrows are all over. I don't mind doing a little artificial feeding till I can get plants established, but not for the sparrows.

Sat and Sun are both supposed to be dry and sunny. We'll probably work on getting the rest of the privet out then. Do you by any chance, know of the site where you go to hear different bird calls? Something sure is singing away around 4 every morning. I'm wondering if it's just the sparrows. Honestly, I don't pay any attention to their "song"...I just ignore them for the most part.

We're going tomorrow to a place that specializes in native plants indigenous to this area. I can't wait!


    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 10:25PM
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Terry: Well, the farm animals are the reason for the upset in the ecosystem. Their grain is a huge draw for sparrows. You can't miss that grating CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP of the male HOSP. If you hear it once, you will never forget it. It is incessant at this time of year as they call mates.

Good luck to you in rebuilding habitat. More power to you!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 4:25PM
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