Why Birds Don't Use Your Birdhouse, According To An Expert

Here's why birds aren't flocking to nest in your birdhouse.

<p>Getty Images / catnap72</p>

Getty Images / catnap72

A highlight for any Southern bird enthusiast is seeing their favorite birds congregate in the yard or garden, whether they are enjoying specialty bushes, birdhouses, or bird baths. Providing migrating birds with the right resources is helpful in bringing them to your yard, so it can be frustrating if despite your best efforts–there are no birds.

So, why aren’t birds using your birdhouse? A few factors might be at play, according to American Bird Conservancy’s Senior Conservation Scientist David Wiedenfeld.

“First, not all birds do use birdhouses,” Wiedenfeld tells Southern Living. “In fact, a relatively small proportion of species will use birdhouses.”

Wiedenfeld explains that there isn’t a clear pattern to which birds will and which birds will not use a birdhouse.

“Species that are closely related tend to either all use birdhouses or all not use birdhouses,” he says, adding that chickadees and titmice (related) all use birdhouses, and crows and jays (related) all don’t use birdhouses. “Some are mixed, though. For example, some owls will (such as) screech-owls and Barn Owls but other owls, like Great Horned Owls, won’t.”

Meet The Expert

  • David Wiedenfeld is a Senior Conservation Scientist at American Bird Conservancy.

Why Birds Don't Use Your Birdhouse

Wiedenfeld says that in the southeastern United States, common birds found in yards that use birdhouses include: House Wrens, Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows in the northern part of the Southeast, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and sometimes other species like Carolina Wrens and White-breasted Nuthatches.

“Two introduced species, House Sparrow and European Starling, will also use houses,” he says.

Some species require specialty birdhouses, such as Purple Martins.

“Purple Martins like houses designed and placed for them. You can make birdhouses that Barn Owls, Eastern Screech-Owls, and American Kestrels will use, if you’re in a more rural area,” Wiedenfeld says. “And Prothonotary Warblers and Wood Ducks will use birdhouses, if you have them near a nice swamp with trees.”

But Wiedenfeld cautions that even the nicest birdhouses with the best intentions will not attract some birds.

“Cardinals won’t use a birdhouse, nor will mockingbirds, catbirds, orioles, meadowlarks, goldfinches, House Finches, buntings, sparrows – except House Sparrow – or warblers – except Prothonotary Warbler,” he explains. “Woodpeckers don’t use birdhouses, because, of course, they make their own.”

Related: How To Attract Purple Martins To Your Yard, According To An Expert

Why Do Birds Use Birdhouses?

Birdhouses often provide a lot of protection for birds’ nests and can help keep out predators.

“For birds that will use them, birdhouses are safe, dry, and often warm in early spring,” Wiedenfeld explains.

If that’s so, then why don’t all birds use birdhouses?

“Cavities, that is, ‘natural birdhouses,’ are relatively scarce in nature,” Wiedenfeld explains. “Therefore, most species of birds evolved just to make their own nests, so they don’t have to rely on being lucky and finding a cavity, or birdhouse.”

Related: How To Attract Bluebirds To Your Garden, According To An Expert

Can You Encourage Birds To Use Your Birdhouse?

Wiedenfeld says birds are usually pretty picky about where they will nest, which includes the size of the box, the size of the opening, and where the box is placed.

“To encourage birds to use your birdhouse, you need to meet their needs,” he says, emphasizing this is more about dialing in on species specific housing.

What Turns Birds Away From Using A Birdhouse?

Birds won’t use just any box placed just anywhere.

“Placement is very important, so finding the right placement for the birds you want to use your birdhouse is key,” Wiedenfeld says. “Placing the birdhouse in the wrong habitat – say, deep woods for a chickadee, or in a very built-up area for bluebirds–will keep them from using the house.”

In addition, the bird house should be the right size for the bird you’re hoping will use it.

“Wren houses for wrens, bluebird houses for bluebirds, martin houses for Purple Martins, etc. Wrens won’t use a Wood duck house."

Does Location Play A Role In Birds Using Birdhouses?

Location is one of the key reasons birds will like or not like a birdhouse and Wiedenfeld emphasizes that most birds are “pretty picky” about where their birdhouse should be located.

“House Wrens are happy with suburban and rural yards–lawns with shrubs, trees, and grass – and will be happy with a birdhouse placed almost anywhere in it. Bluebirds, on the other hand, like edges. They prefer a box along the edge of a field, although it can also be into the field, but it should have grassy areas like lawns nearby, with trees and shrubs for high perches,” he explains. “White-breasted Nuthatches like boxes that are placed high in trees. Purple Martins want a house that is placed with open access on all sides—they won’t use a box that is in the woods or even in a yard that is mostly trees—they want a lot of open space. They also really like areas near a pond or lake.”

How Big Should The Birdhouse Hole Be?

In general, small birds like small houses and a small entrance hole, and larger birds need proportionally larger houses with larger entrance holes.

“There are a lot of birdhouse designs on the internet, and most birdhouses are easy to build,” Wiedenfeld says, adding that NestWatch from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has plans for building birdhouses for many different species, along with important information for placement (height above ground, spacing, type of habitat). “You can also buy birdhouses at a lot of gardening centers and hardware stores.”

Birdhouse Tips To Consider

Know Your Yard

“It’s important to consider what habitat you have where you want to put birdhouses, so you can get the right kind of birdhouse for the birds you will have in your yard,” Wiedenfeld says.

Size Matters

“It’s also important to have a birdhouse that is the right size with the right-sized entrance hole, and placed at the right height,” Wiedenfeld says.

Make A Mess

“A ‘messy’ yard is better for birds in general, and will give you a better chance of having birds use your birdhouse,” Wiedenfeld says. “Messy can still be neat, but with shrubs and flowers that can provide food, perches, and hiding places. All lawn is usually not good for attracting birds. And reduce your use of pesticides to as little as possible—baby birds need bugs.”

Protect and Inspect

“Raccoons, opossums, snakes, and cats can raid nest boxes and take the eggs, young, and sometimes the adult birds. If your birdhouse is on an artificial pole, a predator-baffle can be an important protection for the nest,” Wiedenfeld says.

Clean It Out

Birdhouses should be cleaned out after every use, or once a year.

“Be sure the birds are done nesting,” Wiedenfeld says. "Most commercially made birdhouses have a panel that can be opened for cleaning, but if not, you may need to remove nails or screws. Take out all old nest material and clean the box with water, and let it dry. This helps prevent build-up of parasites and germs.”

Grant Privacy

“When you do have birds occupying a birdhouse, give them some privacy and quiet,” Wiedenfeld recommends. “If you can stay away from the immediate area of the birdhouse, the birds will appreciate it. If you can avoid mowing, at least for a few weeks, around the birdhouse, they’ll like that, too.”

Related: The 10 Best Hummingbird Feeders Of 2024

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