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smallpagodabirdhouse.jpgMany gardeners like to feed birds and provide birdhouses for them.  While birds sometimes eat our produce, they also eat a lot of bugs.  Bird watching is fun, as well.  Adding a bird house to your garden encourages birds to remain there.  It also helps create islands of habitat in areas where safe places to nest and raise a brood are scarce. 

Just any birdhouse will not do, however, unless you do not care what birds you attract.  It turns out that birds are incredibly finicky about their choice of housing.  Not only is the location important, but the size of the house, the size of the entry hole, and the material in the house all play a part in a bird’s decision to move in.

smallwoodduckbox2.jpgBirds range from tiny hummingbirds to huge raptors.  Bird houses attract birds that naturally nest in holes, or cavities, in trees.  Robins, for example, are not cavity nesters and will not use a bird house.  Bluebirds, on the other hand, will readily go into a bird house and raise two or three broods during the summer.

The first choice you need to make is who you want to provide housing for.  Each bird has slightly different requirements in terms of size of the box and size of the entry hole to the house.  Size of the house is obvious --  a wood duck could never fit in a wren house. 

smallwrenhouse2.jpg The size of the entry hole, however, is important because it excludes predators and keeps larger birds from taking over the nest.  For example, wren houses have holes no larger than 1 1/8 inch in diameter.  Any larger and the English sparrow, an aggressive invasive species, moves in and evicts the wren.  No bird house should have a perch on it.  Only the English sparrow uses those, and so they encourage this species to move in.  No use putting out the welcome mat, is there?

smallbluebirdhouse1.jpgBird houses may be purchased at most places that have a lawn and garden department.  However, those houses are usually generic houses that are not targeted to a specific species.  Sort of the cracker box house equivalent for birds.  You can order bird houses on line from a host of vendors.  One caution about buying houses is that the guy on the side of the road may build cute houses, but they often have the wrong size entry hole for the size of the bird house.

You can also build your own bird house.  You can find free plans all over the internet.  However, the Northern Prairie Wildlife Resource Center has a book of plans developed by wildlife biologists.  It is free to download and has most species of birds and a few mammals with the correct housing.  It even tells you what type of habitat to set the house up in and how far off the ground it needs to be.

In addition to matching the bird house to the bird, you need to set it in the appropriate area.  Purple martins are a popular bird to try and attract.  They need open pasture to catch the food they prefer.  If you have wooded properties with no open areas, putting a purple martin house up is a waste.  The Northern Prairie Wildlife Resource Center plans tell you where to set up your house to maximize success.

smallmailboxnest.jpgsmallmomspurplemartiinhouseinstalled.jpgIt is important to minimize the ability of predators to get in the nest.  Snakes, other birds, raccoons, and lots of other animals eat bird eggs and hatchlings.  You can put a predator baffle on the pole where your bird house is to help keep predators out.  This is a slick metal collar that extends out a foot or two and the predator cannot climb over it.  You can even put one on a tree in which you put a nest box.

How will you know that your efforts have been successful?  You will see more birds around and some of them will be fledglings.  However, you can measure your success in a more tangible way.  The Cornell Ornithology Lab has a program called Nest Watch.  You are taught, over the internet, to collect data on birds nesting in the nest boxes you have placed out.  You can see the birds develop and aid science at the same time.

Watching birds is a rewarding hobby.  Attracting birds that will eat the grasshoppers and other problem insects is doubly rewarding.  All it takes is deciding what birds you want to attract and have the habitat for, buying or building the appropriate bird house, and setting it out.  The first season you may not have any takers, but the birds will eventually use it. 

smallcraggyoakscreechowlbox1.jpgRemember to put food out, as the parents will be feeding their babies and can use the extra help.  Water is important as well.  Food, water, and shelter will make your yard the go to destination for birds.

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