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BIRDHOUSES AND THE BIRDS THAT USE THEM
by Charles Kennedy

Birds use natural cavities in trees, posts, buildings, caves and many other structures to build nests in. These cavities show much variety in size and shape. Little birds can get by in small holes; bigger birds need larger cavities with bigger doorways. Some birds drill their own holes in trees, while others find knotholes or crevices. Almost all of the cavity nesters will use a birdhouse if it is of the proper size and in the right location for the individual species. You will be a successful bird "landlord" if you have some knowledge of the needs and preferences of the various families of cavity nesters. The following is a list of birds that will use a birdhouse, along with the specifications for the house. The type habitat preferred by each species is also included.

Page Quick Links

Wrens | Chickadee | Titmouse | Nuthatches | Downy Woodpecker | Prothonotary Warbler
Eastern Bluebird | Hairy Woodpecker | Flicker | Crested Flycatcher | Purple Martin 
 Wood Duck | Predator Control | Definitions | Top of Page

If you need detailed construction plans for birdhouse visit...
Birdhouse Plans at Cornell Lab of Ornithology
If "doing it yourself" is not your style have a look at our birdhouse selection.
Alabama WildBird Conservation Association Nature Shop

Definitions

  • DIMENSIONS - The inside dimensions of the birdhouse. Width X Depth X Height.

  • HOLE SIZE - The size of the entrance hole.

  • HOLE HEIGHT - The distance the entrance hole should be above the house floor.

  • HEIGHT - The distance the house should be placed above the ground.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE

HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Wrens

4 X 4 X 8

1 1/2 X 4 4-6" 4 to 10 ft.

Comments: Wrens will build a nest in anything that resembles a cavity. This includes boxes, cans, mail boxes, old hats, and flowerpots. Rather large twigs are often used for the nest  the entrance hole needs to be fairly large. A rectangular slot in the door works well for this. A simple way to achieve this is to make the house door shorter than usual which will leave a rectangular opening above the door.  The wren house should be placed on the side of a building or on a post or tree. These lively little birds will often nest on a porch.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Chickadee

4 X 4 X 8 1 1/4" 6" 4 to 15 ft

Comments: Chickadees are secretive about their nest building. You will have to watch the house closely to see their coming and going. Place the house in areas where woods meet open areas. The chickadee nest is usually made from moss. The eggcup will be lined with animal hair.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Tufted Titmouse

4 X 4 X 8 1 1/4" 6" 5 to 15 ft

Comments: Titmice are closely related to chickadees and have similar nesting habits. Place the house on the edge of woods or in woodland clearings. Titmice will often add a bit of trash like cellophane or a bit of snakeskin to the nest.

Page Quick Links
Wrens - Chickadee - Titmouse - Nuthatches - Downy Woodpecker - Prothonotary Warbler
Eastern Bluebird - Hairy Woodpecker - Flicker - Great Crested Flycatcher - Purple Martin
Wood Duck - Predator Control - Definitions -
Top of Page

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Nuthatches

4 X 4 X 8

1 3/8" 6" 5 to 15 ft.

Comments: Brown-headed, White-breasted, and Red-breasted Nuthatches will all use a birdhouse. The nest is similar to that of chickadees and tit- mice, but may contain pine seeds. Place the house along the edge of woods or in woodland clearings.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Downy Woodpecker 4 X 4 X 9 1 1/4" 7" 5 to 15 ft.

Comments: The Downy is one of North America’s smallest woodpeckers. Like the other woodpeckers, they excavate their own cavity, but will use one made by another bird. They may peck the inside of the birdhouse in order to create some sawdust for the nest. Place the house in woodland clearings.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Prothonotary Warbler 4 X 4 X 6 1 1/2" 4" 4 to 12 ft.

Comments: The Prothonotary Warbler is a bright yellow bird that lives in areas with water. Listen for their loud "sweet, sweet sweet" call around beaver ponds and rivers. They prefer to use a cavity that is over water, so place the house accordingly.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Eastern Bluebird 4 X 4 X 8 1 1/2" 6" 4 to 15 ft

Comments: Bluebirds prefer open areas with trees for nesting. Orchards golf courses and open woods make good locations. Yards with large open lawns are also good. Avoid areas with high grass, thick woods, or large, open areas with no trees. The house can be attached to a tree or post.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Hairy Woodpecker 6 X 6 X 12 1 5/8" 9" 12 to 20 ft.

Comments: The Hairy Woodpecker is a larger version of the Downy Woodpecker. They are not as common as other woodpeckers, but will occasionally use a birdhouse. Place the house in the woods on a tree.

Page Quick Links
Wrens - Chickadee - Titmouse - Nuthatches - Downy Woodpecker - Prothonotary Warbler
Eastern Bluebird - Hairy Woodpecker - Flicker - Great Crested Flycatcher - Purple Martin
Wood Duck - Predator Control - Definitions -
Top of Page

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Flicker 6 X 6 X 16 2" 14" 6 to 30 ft.

Comments: Flickers, known as "Yellowhammers" in the south, are probably the species of woodpecker most often seen using a bird house. They need a large house with a large entrance hole. They nest in more open areas than other woodpeckers. Pastures, open yards, and golf courses make good places to locate a house. It is a good idea to put some sawdust or wood chips in the bottom of the house to prevent the bird from pecking it to pieces making material for his nest. The house should be placed on a tree.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Great Crested Flycatcher 6 X 6 X 10 1 ¾ " 8" 8 to 20 ft.

Comments: This large flycatcher is very much at home in yards with trees. The yellow breast and loud "wheep" call make him easy to identify. Look for a raised crest when the bird is excited. Great Crested Flycatchers will sometimes build a nest in martin houses and gourds. Place the house in fairly open yards with trees or in woodland clearings.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Purple Martin 6 X 6 X 6 2" 1" 10 to 20 ft.

Comments: The Purple Martin is probably our favorite and most sought cavity nesting bird. They nest in colonies, sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Place a multi-compartment house or gourds on a pole in an open area at least 50 ft. from the nearest tree. The pole should be designed to lower for cleaning the house at the end of the nesting season. The "scouts" arrive in Late February to search for nesting sites and the rest of the flock follows in March and April.

SPECIES DIMENSIONS HOLE SIZE HOLE HEIGHT

HEIGHT

Wood Duck 10 X 10 X 22 3X4"- Oval 17" 6 to 20 ft.

Comments: Some people are a bit surprised to learn that ducks will nest in a house. Wood Ducks require a large house, and usually like to nest over or near water. The house should have a piece of wire mesh attached just beneath the entrance hole to help the ducklings climb out. Wood chips or sawdust should be placed in the house for nest material. 

Page Quick Links

Wrens - Chickadee - Titmouse - Nuthatches - Downy Woodpecker - Prothonotary Warbler
Eastern Bluebird - Hairy Woodpecker - Flicker - Great Crested Flycatcher - Purple Martin
Wood Duck - Predator Control - Definitions -
Top of Page

The list above does not include all the birds in North America that will nest in a birdhouse. The birds listed are the most common house nesting birds in the eastern half of the United States.

The house dimensions are general guidelines. You will probably have the smaller birds using the large houses. The larger birds usually cannot enter houses with a small entrance. Woodpeckers will enlarge the hole however.

PREDATOR CONTROL

Raccoons, squirrels, rats, house cats, and other nasty critters can make life miserable and short for the birds using your houses. A metal baffle can be placed around the post or tree to prevent climbing. A metal guard can be placed around the entrance hole to keep squirrels from gnawing into the house. In spite of all you can do, some nests will be lost to predators. See "The Eastern Bluebird - Management Guide" for more details on helping your tenants survive the perils of living in the wild.

House Sparrows and Starlings are not included in the above list but are probably the most common birds using birdhouses in North America. They were imported from Europe years ago and have spread throughout the country. They are aggressive and obnoxious. They usually manage to drive the native species from the house. Neither species can enter a house with an entrance hole 1« inches or smaller. You may not have the heart for it, but House Sparrows and Starlings should be evicted from your birdhouse as soon as they are discovered.

Page Quick Links

Wrens - Chickadee - Titmouse - Nuthatches - Downy Woodpecker - Prothonotary Warbler
Eastern Bluebird - Hairy Woodpecker - Flicker - Great Crested Flycatcher - Purple Martin
Wood Duck - Predator Control - Definitions -
Top of Page

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