Building Better Birdhouses and Backyard Habitats
Birds are a part of nature that have become so common and accepted that you may not even consciously notice them… until they aren’t there. Indeed, that’s an effective suspense-creating technique in writing and movie-making: Nothing makes a place eerily ‘too quiet’ like the absence of birds in the background!
On the other end of the spectrum, few things are as comforting as the presence of birds. Their songs, their beautiful colors, their effortless grace with flight, even their inquisitive eyes if you happen to catch ‘a moment’ with one amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life – everything about them is delicate beauty.
But just like humans need shelter from the elements, birds need a place of protection against the cold, rain, and those other predatory birds who seek to threaten their families and disrupt their lives in general.
And the best part is that your own backyard is a wonderful place to foster and observe the life cycle of birds by building a backyard bird habitat.
Building for the Future
I’d like to amend my last statement: The best part is that you can use the activity of building a birdhouse to spend time with your kids and teach them about the importance of caring for these delightful little creatures!
You can get everything you need to build your birdhouse from your local home improvement store and here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Untreated wood is the best construction material for birdhouses and although you can make houses and nesting boxes out of reclaimed lumber and tree sections, 3/4-inch plywood is a great option.
- Galvanized nails, screws and hinges are great because they will not rust.
- Be aware of entrance hole size! This is especially important for allowing the ‘tenants’ to get in and keeping predatory birds out.
- Although you can decorate your house however you like, keeping a more neutral palette and natural appearance will help to conceal your new inhabitants from predators and pests.
- Along those lines, if you are just beginning your backyard birding adventures, a house mounted to a tree provides the best chance that cavity-dwelling birds will utilize it and are preferred over free swinging houses.
- Don’t forget the ‘food’ when providing the ‘shelter’ because bird feeders are not only a great resource for the hungry birds but they are also a source of endless entertainment for you and your kids as you watch the dynamics of different birds coming together and interacting over a meal!
For specifics on local species and related birdhouse and entrance hole size requirements, check out this great resource from the Audubon Society of Portland: http://audubonportland.org/sanctuaries/nestbox.
Here are some of the typical species of Portland birds you are likely to be able to attract with your backyard habitat.
The house finch is a backyard staple in the Pacific Northwest and brings a pop of vibrant color and energy to your community feeder.
These spunky little birds with long curved bills will happily inhabit nest boxes that are placed closer to the ground (lower than 7 feet high) and although they typically feast on insects in the brush, they love a bite of suet from a feeder, provided it’s not too far out in the open.
Perhaps the ‘darlings’ of the backyard, chickadees are favorites due to their lack of inhibition around humans, curious nature and move-in ready attitude when presented with bird feeders, houses and nest boxes.
Bird Call to Action
Indeed, the backyard has become such a prevalent place to watch birds that there is even an event dedicated to their honor! For four days in February, you can contribute to the wealth of knowledge used by scientists and conservationists in keeping track of an area’s bird numbers by participating in the ‘Great Backyard Bird Count’ (the ‘GBBC’).
2013 marked the first-ever global GBBC, drawing participation from 111 countries and tallying contributions from every continent on the planet. You can participate in this year’s ‘snapshot bird census’ by devoting only 15 minutes on one or more days between February 14 and February 17 and keeping track of the number of individual birds of each species that you see.
For more information on the GBBC in Portland, visit the Audubon Society of Portland’s information page, available at
What kind of birdhouse are you going to build and what types of birds are you hoping to attract with your backyard bird habitat?