As I travel around the southern Georgian Bay I see many places with decorative bird houses hung in what most birds would consider undesirable locations, such as front yards or even curbs that have lots of traffic moving by. They may look cute to the owners, but they are practically useless for the birds.
When people are looking for a house, the first thought is usually on its location. Bird minds work in the same way, mainly: is it safe for me and my family? Do we have food and water nearby? Is our new house comfortable? These considerations by mere animals may surprise many people, but think of this: a bird house hung in full sun may overheat, killing its occupants. We have air conditioning in our homes, but a bird house will require some sort of ventilation. A simple hole in the front will not accomplish that. A metal screen at the back will do it.
In my new home in Wasaga Beach I can not put up any bird houses because of bylaw restrictions. In my previous garden we had several, which were always occupied.
Bird houses must be cleaned of old nesting material, dirt and eventual parasites annually, as soon as the birds have left. A hinged opening flap at the side will allow for that. It can also be at the back, provided that the bird house can easily be removed from its mountings. A top-hinged lid is easiest. Don’t make it too easy, though, because raccoons and other predators will also try to get at the young birds, so put a good tight latch on it.
Hanging Bird homes, such as hollowed-out gourds, on tree branches in the shade is a good idea for wrens and a few other small birds, but squirrels and chipmunks are omnivorous opportunists and will sometimes drag the gourd or house away and eat the baby birds. It’s a quick source of calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals. Although, of course, they do not have the slightest notions of what these are when they eat the birds!
Squirrels have the nasty habit to chew and enlarge the entrance holes to wooden bird boxes, to make it easier for them to get in and out. A metal plate with a hole punched or drilled into it will solve that problem. In winter, however, when some birds may use the boxes as shelters from the weather, that may not be the best idea because the plates may ice up. A wooden plate with a same size hole, set on top of the entrance hole, can be exchanged easily if it shows chewing marks.
Store-bought bird houses rarely comply with any of these requirements for bird comfort. Their concentration is on cute designs such as replicas of barns, tree houses and multiple mansions, which are useless collectors of feces and dirt.
Natures Way Outlets like Walmart and Canadian Tire in Wasaga Beach, Barrie and Collingwood have a basic, cleanly built design of a Bluebird house in stock, which can be easily adapted for other species. It looks neat and can be easily fitted with hinged access and a ventilation screen. Depending on where you put it up, you may attract Bluebirds, but you will definitely get house sparrows and starlings. It looks like they have non-rusting screws which would make at least one side easily accessible for cleaning. And they do have the extra wooden “chewing piece”. I would, however, exchange the black roof for a light-coloured wooden roof, since black attracts and absorbs heat (look on the Internet for “nature’s way bird houses” – they provide on-line ordering).
If you want all of the good features you must build your own bird houses for birds you wish to attract and also stick to a few specific measurement guidelines. Look on the Internet for “bird house templates” and you will find oodles of them to keep you busy. All you need is a few simple tools and some basic skills.
Bird baths should be included in any bird house project, and that’s easy. Walmart and Wayfair have many choices. It does not matter if you love Cherubs or Roman Pillars, so let your taste run amok. But please remember that all of them have to be continuously filled with water in spring, summer and fall to fulfill their primary purpose of providing drinking water for the birds. Their secondary purpose of a bird bath will be your benefit of watching birds having “fun at the beach!”.