Bird Housing

Before Buying a Birdhouse

Learn what to look for before buying a birdhouse.

Duncraft’s Guide to Bird Houses

Before You Buy a Bird House

When you decide to buy a bird house be aware that there are many designs being sold that are unsuitable for the birds. These houses may not attract any birds or the types of birds you wish, or they may actually be harmful.

Many are very cute and look like little decorated houses. There is nothing wrong with these, but they are often more appropriate as indoor decoration than as good safe homes for wild birds.

Below is a checklist of the nine most important features of a good working bird house. Before you put a house out for wild birds, be sure it has these features. If it is decorative and still has these features, then it is fine to put it out.

Nine Features of a Good Bird House

1. No Perch

Tree holes in the wild have no perches, so the birds that use nest boxes do not need them. They can be a disadvantage in that they may attract House Sparrows, an invasive species that often takes over nests from our native hole-nesting birds.

2. Entrance Hole Size

Most of our common hole-nesting birds can use an entrance hole 1-1/2 inches in diameter. This size also keeps out Starlings, another invasive species that takes over nest boxes from native species.

3. Floor Dimensions

The inside dimensions of the box are important and should be at least 4 inches by 4 inches so that there is room for the young to develop.

4. Box Height

The distance from the bottom of the entrance hole to the floor of the box should be at least 5 inches. This keeps the developing young well down in the box and away from predators that might approach the entrance hole.

5. Be Able to Open

You must be able to open the box, either on the side, front, or top. This helps in two ways: to monitor the progress and health of the young, and to clean out the box at the end of the season.

6. Ventilation

There should be holes or slits at the top of the box sides or along the top of the front of the box to let hot air out when the sun beats down on the box in summer.

7. Drainage Holes

The bottom of the box needs to have holes or cut off corners to allow any water to drain out of the box.

8. A Way to Attach the Box

Check to see if there is some way that you can attach the box to a pole, such as holes or a bracket.

9. Roof Overhang

The roof should overhang the entrance hole by 1 to 2 inches. This both shades the entrance hole and keeps the rain out.

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  • Shan Rodgers June 24, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    I think you are right on. I have found also that birds seem to prefer gourd birdhouses over wooden birdhouses, all things being equal. I agree with the no perch, 1 1/2″ hole (sometimes 1 1/4″) vent holes and drainage holes. I have some at http://birdhousespecials.com/gourd_bird_houses.html that you might want to take a look at and let me know what you think.

  • Dennis Sanchez November 30, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    You wrote that a birdhouse should be made out of wood, to help insulate the birds from cold and heat. My older brother has been interested in bird watching for a couple years now and I thought it might be a good idea to get him a birdhouse for his birthday. I’ll definitely make sure it’s wood, so that if a bird does make a nest, they stay safe and warm.

  • Burt Silver December 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    I wouldn’t have thought to make sure the birdhouse has drainage holes in the bottom to avoid water filling it up. That makes perfect sense. My wife and I are really looking forward to finding a birdhouse to put in our backyard. We want to have wildlife all throughout our garden, and this will really help.

  • John Mahoney March 13, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    Thank you for talking about the importance of taking into account the size of the entry hole when buying a birdhouse. I can see how looking into this can help you attract the right type of birds to your yard. It makes sense that taking your time to look into this can help you find out more about the species in your area and what to do to work with them.

  • Ernest London June 22, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Thanks for the tips for choosing a birdhouse. My wife and I have been talking about putting some birdhouses in our yard so we can see more wildlife. I like what you mentioned that the roof of a birdhouse should overhang the entrance by a few inches to keep the sun and water out. I will be on the lookout for that.