So you’ve probably set up your own birdhouse and basically, ZERO birds are using it! I too was wondering how I could set up my own birdhouse. So I did my own deep research and found some answers. Here’s what I found:
Birds won’t use your birdhouse due to a number of reasons:
- You Set It Up During The Wrong Season
- You Built Your Birdhouse At The Wrong Height
- Your Birdhouse Is Placed At The Wrong Location
- Your Birdhouse Entrance Hole Isn’t The Right Size
- Your Birdhouse’s Previous Nest Hasn’t Been Cleaned Out
- Your Birdhouse Has Predators and Threats Nearby
- Your Birdhouse Is Painted Too Bright and Fancy
- Your Birdhouse Isn’t Paired With A Nearby Birdbath and Feeder
- Your Birdhouse has a Perch On The Front
- You Put Birdfeed Inside The Birdhouse
- Your Placed Nesting Materials
- Your Birdhouse Size Is Too Small/Too Big
- Your Area Might Not Have Many Cavity-Nesting Bird Species
Now I know that setting up a flourishing birdhouse that birds love can be really difficult, and that’s why I will run through these 12 mistakes with great details so that you can be well on your way to achieving your first bird residents in your birdhouse. Read on, and I will go through the mistakes in more detail!
1. You Set It Up During The Wrong Season
Okay, thinking like a rational person, you’ll want to set up your birdhouse by spring or during spring where birds return to the nest after the winter months right? Well, not quite! Birds lookout for a few other factors before they decide that a birdhouse is ‘safe’ enough for them to call their home.
Some birds may begin to nest early – even before you even realise that it’s spring! You see, that’s because they don’t operate like how we do with months and years, they determine when to come back using the length of day. As such, early nesters who are quick to arrive may miss the opportunity to take up your birdhouse as their home. In addition, most birds would want to give it some time to make sure the nest isn’t easily threatened by broods or threats nearby before they decide to move in.
As a rule of thumb, you should get your birdhouse ready and deployed by mid-winter at the very latest! This ensures that early-nesters can have time to scout out your birdhouse and for more opportunity for a bird to settle in during the spring.
2. You Built Your Birdhouse At The Wrong Height
One of the most common mistakes that backyard birders or birdhouse builders make is that they get everything else right except the height the birdhouse is placed at. You see, different birds tend to look for different heights in their cavity nests.
If your birdhouse is always empty, chances are, your birdhouse could be placed at a height that is either too low or too high for the cavity-nesting birds in your area. Birdhouses should be mounted from a 5 to 30 feet height range. However, as this range is simply too large to be applied in practicality, birdhouse heights need to be tailored to be similar to the natural cavity heights of specific species in your area. The height needs to be perfect!
Do a quick search of the cavity-nesting birds in your area, then single out the bird species in the list. Then determine what kind of bird you want to inhabit your birdhouse and its respective mounting height using the table below.
Optimal Birdhouse Mounting Heights
|Bird Species||Mounting Height|
|House Finch||5-10″ (2-3m)|
|House Sparrow||10-15″ (3-5m)|
|Purple Martin||10-15″ (3-5m)|
|Tree Swallow||5-10″ (2-3m)|
3. Your Birdhouse Is Placed At The Wrong Location
Setting up your birdhouse at the wrong location can really change the whole game here, and I’m not kidding! A simple tweak to a bad location can be all you need to attract birds to your birdhouse.
Firstly, if you have multiple birdhouses, they should be spaced apart so as to allow for some privacy between different bird families. I’m sure you’ll also want some private space between you and your neighbors next door right? So do birds! A general rule of thumb of spacing will be at least 25ft apart from each other. Birds are territorial, so this distance will help birds to be comfortable in their own home space.
Secondly, your birdhouse is located somewhere where there is little shading from the afternoon sun. It can get really hot inside the birdhouse during noontime, especially if the birdhouse is painted black which absorbs UV rays from the sun. Although shading from the sun isn’t necessarily required, I have noticed in forums online, people have found success when birdhouses are situated close to their shaded areas. I mean, let’s take every advice we can get right?
Thirdly, different birds have different preferences as to the type of birdhouses it likes. I actually wrote an entire article where I listed out all the best locations and ways to hang/mount up your birdhouse, and a really helpful chart of common cavity-nesting bird species and their respective ideal birdhouse habitats. You can read the article on my blog here.
4. Your Birdhouse Entrance Hole Isn’t The Right Size
Another common mistake that I’ve seen in those trying to set up their own birdhouse is that the entrance holes for the birdhouses are just of the wrong size! This is also common among newbies who have asked questions on Quora on the Internet about this! Don’t worry, you’re not alone in this, and let me explain in greater detail.
Most birdhouses you’ve seen are built like the picture above, right? A wooden box with a hole on the side. Now, chances are, if you’re new, you never really would have thought about the size of that entrance hole right? Different birds have different sizes and therefore bigger birds cannot fit into entrance holes that are too small. So if you would like to attract Black-capped Chickadees or Carolina Wrens to your birdhouse, you would pick a smaller hole size to prevent bigger birds like the American Kestrel from nestling inside. This more focused strategy will ensure that allows for a higher chance of at least one type of nestling in your birdhouse.
I have compiled a table of respective entrance hole sizes for common bird species in the US for your reference below:
|Bird Species||Entrance Hole Size|
|Chickadee||1.25 inches (3.2cm)|
|House Sparrow||1.75 inches (4.5cm)|
|Kestrel||3 inches (7.6cm)|
|Nuthatches||1.25 inches (3.2cm)|
|Warbler||1.25 inches (3.2cm)|
|Woodpecker||1.25 inches (3.2cm)|
|Wren||1.25 inches (3.2cm)|
5. Your Birdhouse’s Previous Nest Hasn’t Been Cleaned Out
Now if you’ve had birds living in your birdhouse of question from the previous year, and you wonder why new birds haven’t settled in this year, then it’s highly likely that you haven’t cleaned out the nest from the previous residents! Just as we humans love spring cleaning, they need to be done for our little feathered friends too! Upkeeping of cleanliness of the birdhouse also helps birds to maintain their good health too!
You may wonder: “don’t birds reuse their old nests?” Nope, they never do. They will always build a fresh nest with nesting material they can find in the area. They do this to avoid bird mites, bacterial contamination from their droppings, and insect infestations!
If a previous bird family has vacated the birdhouse after all the baby birds have fledged (grown flight feathers and left the nest), and if you realized that the birds haven’t been back in 2 weeks, it’s time you start cleaning out the nest to prepare for the next visitor. It’s kind of like Airbnb isn’t it? You are the host and the birds are residents, just that these guys stay for free! I recommend cleaning up your birdhouse at least once a year to prevent buildup of too much bacteria.
Firstly, start by taking down the bird’s nest and removing all the nesting material that is inside! Be sure not to leave any behind as it may contain unwanted bacteria and parasites. Dispose of it immediately. Trust me! I had a friend who had problems with bird mites before and they were found crawling all over her room because there was a bird’s nest built too near her window. She had a hard time removing them after! Yikes, I wouldn’t want that to happen to any of you guys!
Secondly, you can make a diluted bleach solution with 9 parts of water to 1 part bleach and use a scrubbing brush to remove all the mold and dirt within the birdhouse. Afterwhich, you can leave the birdhouse out to dry.
Thirdly, inspect the birdhouse and perform any needed repairs for the nest resident to move in. This includes tightening any screws or covering up any cracks in your wooden birdhouse with sealant to prevent water seepage. Then you can hang your birdhouse up again for the next feathered visitor!
6. Your Birdhouse Has Predators and Threats Nearby
If you live in an area where there are many unwanted animals roaming about that may scare birds such as neighbor’s cats, squirrels, snakes, and birds of prey, then you would want to situate your birdhouse further away from them.
It can indeed be really disappointing and tragic to see predators enter and eat up the entire bird family in your birdhouse. Never fret, we can implement some measures to ensure that doesn’t happen on our watch!
Here are some tips to counter that and be the predator police for your birds:
- Purchase deterrent products to deter cats and snakes.
- As much as possible, do not place birdhouses on trees; as snakes can gain access to the birdhouse too.
- Keep owned cats indoors and away from reach of the bird houses.
- Mount the birdhouse on a pole that predators cannot easily climb or reach.
7. Your Birdhouse Is Painted Too Bright and Fancily
Birdhouses are meant to be homes and homes are meant to be safe for rearing newly hatched eggs! They aren’t only meant for our viewing pleasure. If your birdhouse is colored brightly or has too many fancy patterns on its exterior, then you need to reconsider your priorities and understand that the bird’s safety comes first.
Birds generally prefer a birdhouse that is easily camouflaged into its surroundings, inconspicuous and doesn’t draw much attention.
As a general rule of thumb, a birdhouse should be painted with drab, camouflaged colors like green, grey, or brown. Avoid black as that can get really heated up during noontime. Birdhouses should not be painted with bright colors and fancy patterns to make them stand out.
Here’s an article on what kind of paint is safe for painting birdhouses. You’ll definitely need to check it out if you want to begin painting it!
Here are some picture examples of birdhouses that attract birds:
8. Your Birdhouse Isn’t Paired With A Nearby Birdbath and Feeder
If you’re going to provide the accommodation, why not provide the full package and provide the ‘breakfast’ along with the ‘bed’, just like in Airbnb? A nearby birdbath and feeder, although not entirely necessary, can attract initial birds to your backyard or garden. This can help birds to at least know of your backyard and to get familiar with the area. With easy access to water and food, it’s common sense that birds will also want to live near to such wonderful resources.
Do note that if you are to place a birdbath and a bird feeder in your yard, try to space them out so that their living space is apart from their water source, and also apart from their food source. This is to prevent predators from being attracted to leftover seeds, which can be drawn to your birdhouse. Also, bird feeders can also contaminate birdbaths if they are located above them.
9. Your Birdhouse has a Perch On The Front
One of the most common problems of birdhouses is the perch in front of the entrance hole of the birdhouse. Most backyard birders on Quora and other forums and sites agree that perches are unnecessary and they are in fact detrimental because they allow predators to have easier access into the nest.
In fact, most cavity-nesting birds can already either cling to the outside of a wooden box without the need for the perch! If not, then the birds will be able to cope with entering the entrance hole directly without any need to perch outside it.
10. You Put Bird Feed Inside The Birdhouse
A bird feeder is a bird feeder and a birdhouse is a birdhouse. Having bird feed in the birdhouse is like having your meals on your bed all the time and not on your dining table.
(I know some of you have breakfast in bed sometimes, but it’s not always appetizing to do so!) Keep food spaces and living spaces separate and birds will be fine with the birdhouse.
By placing bird feed in the birdhouse, you will also be inviting unwanted predators such as squirrels, rats, and snakes who will explore the smells of food. If the birdhouse is vacant and you’ve left the birdfeed inside, a smaller predator could inhabit it, and potentially scare away any potential bird residents!
In addition, a birdhouse is a place for birds to build nests to house and incubate their young. This may contain bird droppings and other bacterial and parasitical contaminations. Eating bird food that is contaminated will do more harm than food to the birds.
11. You Placed Too Much Nesting Materials In The Birdhouse
Placing nesting materials in birdhouses is more often not necessary. Different birds have different preferences for nesting material and if you put a certain type of nesting material in a birdhouse, you may be limiting yourself to attracting only one type of bird species!
Instead of placing nesting materials for birds, you can set up a simple foundation for the birds to bring in the nesting material by themselves. These materials include small dry twigs, bark, and woodchippings.
Foundations are okay to be placed in birdhouses but nesting materials, if chosen wrongly can contain poisonous materials that can cause more harm than good.
To help you out, I have collated a table of possible nest foundations other have used for different bird species they attracted to their birdhouses below:
|Robins||1-inch thick of dry and dead leaves|
|Tits||1-inch thick of soft and dry leaves|
|Sparrow||1-inch thick of dried grass and straw|
|Owl||2 – 3 inches of pine, beech, or oak sawdust and woodchippings|
|Woodpecker||2 – 3 inches of pine, beech, or oak sawdust and woodchippings|
Also, if you’d like to discover what other things should go into a bird box and some consideration as to what to add, check out another article I wrote on this blog here, where I write about whether you need to put anything in your bird box/house!
12. Your Birdhouse Size Is Too Small/Too Big
The size of a bird box should fit the size of the bird that you are intending to house.
For example, to house slightly bigger birds such as American Kestrels, the bird box needs to be about 8 x 8 x 12 inches, whereas, for smaller birds, such as the House Sparrow, its bird box just needs to be about 4 x 4 x 10 inches to fit it.
Different bird species have different sizes, and the right birdhouse dimensions need to be able to fit the right type of bird! Bigger birds need more space when their eggs hatch and grow into hatchlings. If there is simply no space inside, then birds will have a difficult time moving in the birdhouse.
Moreover, some fledglings still remain with their parents for a period before leaving. If birds that have a larger brood size hatch all at once, the birdhouse may not be able to fit all of them.
I took some time to compile a simple table of common cavity-nesting birds found in the US and their recommended birdhouse sizes so you don’t purchase one too big or too small:
|Bird Species||Bird Box Sizes (Length, Breadth and Height in Inches)|
|Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches and Wrens||4 x 4 x 10|
|House Finches, Flycatchers, and Woodpeckers||6 x 6 x 12|
|Screech Owls, Wood Ducks, and American Kestrels||8 x 8 x 12|
13. Your Area Might Not Have Many Cavity-Nesting Bird Species
If all else fails, and you’ve avoided all the mistakes above, then there might simply be not enough or not many birds that are cavity-nesters that are living in your area!
If you’re still scratching your head as to what cavity-nesting birds are, here’s the simplest explanation for complete beginners: Cavity-nesting birds are birds that build their nests and raise their young in small natural crevices or cavities. They do not create their own nesting structure, but build their nesting material within the particular cavity.
This means that you will not expect to see non-cavity-nesting birds residing in your birdhouses, such as Northern Cardinals. Cardinals actually have cup-shaped nests and are not cavity-nesters. Examples of common cavity-nesting birds are woodpeckers, owls, wrens, kestrels, and swallows.
Now that’s a lot to cover for a single blog post! There are many things that can go wrong and result in your birdhouse being vacant for so long. With these mistakes laid out here, hopefully you have learned or picked up a thing or two to work on for the time being. With this, I wish you all the best as much as I wish myself the best in setting up a successful birdhouse with resident birds. All the best and happy birding!