By William Moore
Just like the birds that inhabit them, birdhouses come in all shapes, sizes and colors.
In order to attract the right birds, you need to have the right birdhouse.
“Not all birds like the same house,” said Sandy Witt of Centerville. “The size of the entry hole varies by species as does the location of the opening and where the house is placed.
“But when the basic features are met, they will build. It doesn’t have to be fancy.”
While birds will set up residence for the season in a plain, no-frills house, some folks prefer to offer a more upscale abode for their feathered friends.
“Some of the fancier ones I build are intended to be inside decorations,” said Dale Smith of Tupelo. “But if the hole is the right size, they will get used.”
Smith goes all out for some of his fancier houses that feature doghouse dormers, trim, railings, gingerbread and spires. For some, he will even create miniature window boxes, complete with nail “flowers.”
“My wife designs the fancy ones and I figure out how to build them,” Smith said. “There is a lot of trial and error. Some of them, I will work on for a couple of weeks, spending a couple of hours a day.”
Carl Oglesby of Brewer likes to incorporate a bit of fun into his birdhouses. He has made them to resemble tractors as well as a train locomotive pulling several cars. He even made a log cabin with “shingles” made from pine cone seed scales.
“Whenever I run out of something to do, I go piddle in the shop and make birdhouses,” Oglesby said. “Everyone I have put up (outside) they have used.”
Tailoring house to bird
In Northeast Mississippi, birdhouses are most often used by wrens, Eastern bluebirds, sparrows and purple martins.
Wrens will build a nest almost anywhere there is a small opening and a small, cozy space. Bluebirds like a little larger house that faces out into an open field. Purple martins like to live in colonies at least 15 feet off the ground.
“Robins are pretty but like to nest on an open shelf,” Witt said. “Thrashes build their nests in bushes and trees. So do hummingbirds. And orioles are not big on houses.”
Blue birds prefer a house with a floor at least 4 inches square and around 8 inches tall. The 1.5-inch opening hole should be placed 6 inches above the floor. The house should be placed 5 to 6 feet off the ground facing an open area.
“Bluebirds are territorial and don’t like to be too close to other nesting pairs,” Witt said. “They can raise more than one hatching in the house in one year. I find they will come back if you clean out the house or not.”
A bluebird house will also be used by both wrens and sparrows.
Purple martins prefer six or more pairs in a colony, whether it is one large apartment-style house or several gourds placed close together. They like a 2.5-inch opening just a couple of inches above the floor. The houses need to be 15-20 feet off the ground.
“Martins leave in the winter and return in the spring,” Witt said. “The scouts will come back mid-February through early March. If they see a potential spot, they will tell the flock.”
Witt said now is the time to set out birdhouses. As it continues to warm up and food plants become plenty, the urge to mate will compel birds to start building nests, whether in houses or in other locations.
Now is also the time to start leaving out nesting material. Knitting yard should be cut into small pieces so small birds can carry it away. Lint from the dryer (without perfumes) is another option and can be placed in a suet cage to keep it from blowing away.
While store-bought birdseed will do a good job of attracting birds and keep them coming back, there are plenty of native plants that will bring on birds by the scores.
According to the Mississippi State University Extension Service publication 2402 “Mississippi Recreational Gardens: Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat,” there are plenty of native large and small trees that provide food for birds.
Blueberry, elderberry, American Beauty Berry and holly bushes are good food sources, as are most vines – including blackberry, honeysuckle, cypress vine and trumpet vine. Among the flowers birds love are bee balm, black-eyed Susan, Ironweed, coneflower, salvia and sunflowers.
“And remember to leave the flowers on the plant after they bloom so it will go to seed and give the birds something to eat,” Witt said.