9 Ways to Attract Nesting Birds (AND help them thrive!)
How can you attract nesting birds to your yard?
Nesting season is one of the most exciting times to be a backyard birder! I love watching different species build homes for their young and seeing the baby birds thrive and leave the nest. It’s one of my favorite ways to connect to nature. 🙂
But getting birds to feel comfortable enough to raise their family in your yard can be challenging.
Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do to help encourage them. Keep reading to learn about:
9 Ways YOU Can Attract Nesting Birds!
#1. Select the RIGHT kind of birdhouse
Ok, I’m sure you are thinking to yourself, “If I want to attract nesting birds, then I just need to go and buy lots of birdhouses.”
Unfortunately, while that isn’t the worst idea, you will probably be disappointed with the results for a few reasons.
First, many species of birds will NEVER use a birdhouse. Instead, they prefer open nests that aren’t enclosed. You can learn more about these species and strategies to attract them at the bottom of Tip #5 below.
Second, each bird species that does use a nestbox has its own requirements for size, location, and nesting materials. If you don’t use the right type of birdhouse, you’ll most likely end up with House Sparrows and European Starlings, which are non-native bullies that will use any nest box they can find.
If installing a few nestboxes sounds intriguing, check out the resources below. There is WAY too much information to share in this post alone! This chart lists the most common cavity-nesting birds in North America and their ideal size and location.
If you’d like to buy a pre-made birdhouse, this Poly Lumber Bluebird House is one of my favorites. It’s durable and opens from the side for easy cleaning. And as the name suggests, it’s perfect for BLUEBIRDS.
#2. Choose the best location for your birdhouse
There are three questions you should ask when you’re choosing a spot for your birdhouse.
A. Is it safe for nesting birds?
Birds won’t choose to nest in a spot that’s easily accessed by predators. It’s a good idea to install your birdhouse on a metal pole, which will prevent some predators from accessing it.
Choose a location where you can secure the nest box well so that it doesn’t move around too much. You don’t want to risk a big gust of wind startling your nesting birds away permanently.
B. Is it a spot that will attract nesting birds?
Areas that don’t get a lot of human or pet traffic are ideal. Also, avoid feeding areas where birds tend to congregate. For example, if you have bird feeders on one edge of your yard, put your birdhouse on the opposite end. Birds are territorial and unwanted visitors showing up to eat will drive nesting birds away.
Following this same logic, you don’t want to have too many birdhouses in a small area. Typically, you’ll want to have at least 25 ft (7.5 m) between birdhouses, but this distance can vary greatly depending on each species.
C. Is it easy to access?
As a nesting bird landlord, you want to make your job as easy as possible. Try to choose a spot for your birdhouse that you can easily access for cleaning and maintenance. And don’t forget about observation! Make sure you have a clear line of sight from your preferred viewing area.
#3. Provide sources of calcium
Calcium is a vital nutrient for nesting birds. First, it takes a considerable amount of calcium to produce eggshells. And nesting mothers also have to have enough calcium to pass on to their young so that their bones grow strong.
There are a few different ways to provide extra calcium to attract nesting birds.
First, some birdseed mixes have added calcium supplements. With these mixes, it’s as easy as replacing your typical seed with a calcium-rich blend during nesting season.
Second, you can also make a calcium supplement out of chicken eggshells.
Just follow these steps!
- Gather your eggshells
- Boil the eggshells for 5 minutes to sterilize them
- Bake the eggshells at 250 degrees F (120 degrees c) for 10 minutes to dry them out
- Crush the eggshells
- Mix the eggshell powder into your birdseed, offer it in a tray feeder, or spread it on the ground near your feeders
#4. Install a birdbath
Believe it or not, most people never use birdbaths to attract nesting birds to their yard!
I think this is a mistake because a birdbath that offers fresh water is invaluable to nesting birds.
First, birds need to drink daily to survive, so having a consistent water source is vital. Having it close by is even more important for nesting birds, that don’t want to travel far from their nest. If they have a clean birdbath right outside the nest, they don’t have to fly all they way across the neighborhood looking for a drink!
Second, birds (including fledglings like this adorable bluebird) like to take baths to clean themselves. Fledglings are able to leave the nest, but only for short periods of time. So, the closer the birdbath, the more likely a nesting bird is to pick that location.
When you’re attracting nesting birds, the most important feature of a birdbath is its depth. It should be a maximum of 2 inches (5 cm) deep in the middle, with edges between 0.5 and 1 inch (1-3 cm) deep. If your birdbath is deeper than this, nesting birds and their fledglings won’t be able to use it. If you already have a deeper birdbath, add different-sized stones for birds to sit on.
#5. Landscape your yard with THESE plants
To help attract nesting birds, you need to create a habitat that they use in nature!
Here are some of the most popular nesting birds and a list of plants you can use to attract them.
In addition, here are some other tips for creating your bird-friendly habitat:
A. Don’t cut down dead trees.
I know dead trees can be an eyesore, but rotting wood is where woodpeckers create cavities, which are the sites that attract future nesting birds!
B. Don’t cut back your garden.
A brushy garden filled with dead plant material and old-growth may look terrible to a homeowner, but many birds use these wild gardens to sit, rest, groom, look for food, and defend their territory. Many birds will also use this debris to help build their nest.
C. Use native plants to attract as many species as possible.
Native plants attract native insects, which will, in turn, attract nesting birds. Additionally, native plants usually grow better and need less maintenance, so it’s a win-win!
D. Use your landscaping to attract nesting birds that don’t use cavities.
The species listed are a few examples below of birds that prefer their nests in the open, either in the crooks of tree trunks or on nesting platforms. Having plenty of trees, bushes, and platforms off the ground will help you attract these birds because they will NEVER use a birdhouse.
For attracting open nesters, you’ll want to have perches where they can build their nests. If you have trees in your backyard, these birds will use the crook between two large branches. But if you don’t have any trees or they aren’t in a good location, you can purchase nesting platforms to attach to a post.
This nesting platform is a perfect place for open nesters, like American Robins, to make their homes.
#6. Keep your nest box clean
The reason we need to clean out our birdhouses has to do with birds’ normal nesting behaviors. After the babies have left the nest, a bird won’t reuse that nest again. Every year, they build a new nest for the next season with fresh materials.
With a birdhouse, since the nesting materials are inside a structure, we need to get it cleared out to make room for a new nest to be built. If we don’t clean it out, then it won’t be used again!
In addition, when you remove the old nesting material and clean your birdhouse, you prevent insects, bacteria, fungus, and feather mites from taking over. All of these things can make nesting birds and hatchlings sick! So, by cleaning out your birdhouse, you’re doing the birds a huge favor and potentially saving their lives.
In addition, you’ll attract more nesting birds to your yard for you to enjoy.
8 EASY Steps to Clean Your Birdhouse (No experience needed!)
#7. Set out nesting materials
Birds are ingenious when it comes to creating their nests. In addition to twigs, leaves, and other natural materials, they use items we see as trash!
You can attract nesting birds with natural fibers like cottonwood or cattail down, clumps of human or pet hair, string or yarn, shredded paper, and down feathers from pillows. They will use these items as insulation and bedding, which will keep baby birds warm on chilly spring nights!
However, there are a few items you SHOULDN’T include in a basket of nesting materials:
- plastic strips
- aluminum foil
- dryer lint
These items can injure baby birds. Plus, because they’re made of plastic and metal, they’ll eventually end up as litter instead of biodegrading.
Here are some quick instructions on attracting nesting birds with a collection of nesting materials:
Gather your materials, making sure any dangerous or synthetic materials are left out.
Cut any string, yarn, and hair into pieces 4-8 inches (10 to 20 cm) long.
Decide how to offer your materials. One of the best ways to offer nesting material is in an unused wire suet cage. It’s easy for birds to pick out the material they want, and since they’re already made to be hung, your job is much easier too! You can also place the materials in a small basket or directly on the ground.
Place your materials in an area close to your feeder stations and birdhouses so the birds will see it, and make sure you can see it easily too. Watching birds gather the materials is incredibly fun!
You can also buy ready-made nesting materials to set out. Some of these nesting kits even come with a wicker or wire dispenser that you can hang from a tree branch. Check them out here!
#8. Keep cats & other predators away
Nothing will undo your work to attract nesting birds faster than a stealthy predator taking up residence. If you have cats, it’s best to keep them indoors, especially during the nesting season. Other predators like larger birds, mammals, and reptiles can also threaten nesting birds and their chicks.
There are some products on the market that can help protect your nesting birds from predators:
Whether you choose a wrap-around or a stovepipe shape, baffles will help protect nesting birds by keeping predators from climbing up to their nest. Climbing predators like squirrels, raccoons, and cats can be thwarted by a baffle!
A Noel Guard is a cage that wraps around the entrance of a birdhouse, making it much more difficult for predators to enter but leaving it open for nesting birds. Noel guards are especially effective against reptiles like snakes and lizards because of the exposed wire.
A portal guard is the most traditional way to prevent predators from entering a birdhouse. It extends the entrance slightly and reinforces the opening so squirrels and other rodents can’t chew it open to get inside. If you have the right size entrance hole, a portal guard will also help deter sparrows and starlings.
Additionally, there are two important birdhouse features to consider when you’re attracting nesting birds.
It may surprise you, but a perch at the entrance hole of a birdhouse is incredibly dangerous. It makes it easier for predators to get inside. Birds, on the other hand, don’t need a perch at their nest and won’t use it.
The entrance itself is another area of concern. It should be just large enough to allow the adult bird in. That way, larger predators aren’t able to get in and cause harm. Review the chart in Tip #1 for more info.
#9. If you find a nest, leave it alone!
The best way to attract nesting birds is to give them a place to feel safe and comfortable. And the best way to do that is to give them space!
It can be tempting to check on your nest boxes every day or to get close to a nest in an effort to see eggs or babies. But, these wild animals are generally fearful of people. If you get too close too often, you’ll end up with fewer nesting birds in the long run.
So, invest in a pair of binoculars, and observe your backyard friends from a distance.
How do you attract nesting birds to your yard?
Let us know in the comments!
Scott has used most of the following strategies for the past few years and has had the following species nest in his 1.5-acre suburban backyard: Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, House Wren, Song Sparrow, Mallard, Canada Goose, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow, and European Starling.