Nesting Birds

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

Every year as winter approaches and holiday plans start to take shape, I find that the new year is upon me before I can believe it. Given the fact that my husband and I recently made a temporary move pending completion of new-home construction and our oldest son’s wedding celebration very happily filled October, I find that I am already behind!

In an effort to help you to get ahead, the information shared in this article focuses on attracting nesting birds to your property even though it is only November. For those whose holiday shopping list includes someone with an interest in birding, this information may lead to crossing off at least one gift already. And for others who are just plain serious about attracting birds to their home landscape in spring, a list of inexpensive but important nesting materials to be collected over time is provided.

As you know, spring brings birds of all kinds back to Pennsylvania. They readily nest in areas where a steady supply of food, water and shelter exists. Construction of a single nest can require thousands of individual ‘search-and-carry’ missions for nesting birds. Over the next few months, consider saving some of the following that might normally be discarded: string or yarn in 3-4 inch pieces, animal or human hair, strips of soft cloth, feathers, dryer lint, pine needles or shredded paper.

An increase in development and removal of damaged and dead trees has left many cavity-nesting birds with fewer natural places to raise their young. In addition, invasive birds such as the European starling and the house sparrow compete with native bird species for the use of remaining cavities. Some birds, like woodpeckers, are equipped to create their own cavities. Others are virtually homeless with fewer nesting cavities available…. which leads me to the holiday shopping tips I promised earlier.

We all know that blue birds like to use nesting boxes designed specifically for their use – when they can beat the sparrows to it, of course! Chickadees and wrens like nesting boxes as well and there are various types available commercially. Each box contains different features and is targeted to a particular bird species. Visit a specialty store in the area to choose the right one for you or the loved one on your Christmas gift list.

Constructing a nesting box can be quite simple for the handy man or woman. Basic features include: natural untreated wood, lumber that is at least ¾ inches thick to provide insulation, a sloping roof to keep rain out, drainage holes to keep the interior dry and provide ventilation, and rough or grooved interior walls to help fledglings exit. Instructions for building your own nesting box are available on-line and at the library.

The habitat available to you will be the primary factor determining the type of bird you can attract. Place birdhouses in locations where the target bird is likely to reside – avoid any areaas where pesticides may be used. The box can be mounted on a tree or a pole. Make sure the box is attached securely enough to withstand severe weather and wind.

Take into consideration the direction the box is facing and how much direct sun it receives. Many birds reject boxes that face due west because the box may stay too hot. Before placing your box, research habitat, nest height and direction preferences for the species.

In our area of the country, nesting boxes and nesting materials should be made available in mid to late March. Don’t be discouraged if birds don’t find the box in the first season as sometimes it takes a few years for birds to find a new box.

Once the nesting box has been utilized, it is important to keep it clean for the next brood. Some birds will not inhabit a box with a used nest. Removing debris cuts down on the possibility of parasites for the next brood of fledglings. Some birders scrub the used box with a 10% solution of chlorine bleach to ensure that any presence of disease does not linger.

And finally, extra energy is consumed in migration, mating and construction of their nests. Ample suet is a food source you can provide. Feeding suet should be a year-round habit for birders, as it is a welcome source of energy all year long. Don’t stop feeding suet to your wild birds when the weather warms. In addition, try tossing a few dried, crushed eggshells in the feeder. Nesting birds will appreciate the extra source of calcium as they begin to lay their eggs.

So there you have it – an early list of bird tips to keep you busy over the holidays if shopping, and over the winter if gathering scraps or building bird boxes. Before you know it our feathered friends will be back; let’s hope we’ll all be ready for them.

Read other articles on birds, wildlife & beneficial insects

Read other articles by Kay Hinkle