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Encouraging Birds to
Build Nests in Your Yard

We love providing spots in our yard to welcome birds to make nests so we can enjoy watching the babies grow up. But we have to be careful to help desireable species thrive and discourage the take over of invasive non-native species, such as the house sparrow.

Above are four baby robins almost ready to leave their nest. We were fortunate that it was built at eye level in our young ornamental pear tree in Michigan. They had good cover behind the dense growth of leaves and remained unseen by predators.

Greg built the nest box below with a 1 1/2" hole to accommodate house finches, swallows and a few other birds. It is 14" high in the front, 11 1/2" high in back and all the walls are 7" wide. He hinged the front door to allow for easy cleaning. There's no need for a perch - it would allow predators easier access. He attached it to a 4"x4" 5' above the ground with a plastic waste basket which has successfully blocked predators. There are a number of websites that offer free nesting box plans (i.e. - 50birds.com).

Make sure to leave an open slot below the roof for ventillation on hot days and provide holes in the floor for drainage. Greg cut the corners of the floor for 4 drainage holes. Make sure the rest of the structure is tight fitting because drafts from the walls can be harmful to the young.

The nest box stood empty all of 2009. Then in May of 2010 Greg nailed several sticks vertically to the inside of the door. That way the box more resembled the rough inside of a hollow tree with a surface that small bird feet could grasp when they are ready to leave the nest.

One day, shortly after the installation of the twigs, house finches and house sparrows were fighting over the nest box. The aggressive house sparrows won and built a large nest where they laid 5 eggs. We should have torn out the nest right away, but we were curious about these birds.

Later I read dozens of stories about house sparrows repeatedly attacking and killing the young of many other species, so I will never let them build in our yard again. We plan on reducing the hole to 1 1/4" to keep the house sparrows out and let chickadees, nuthatches or downy woodpeckers have a try at nesting there.

House sparrows happen to be larger in the Rocky Mt. and plains areas so they shouldn't be able to get in our nest box with the reduced hole. There are a variety of attachments you can get to spook these birds and you can buy specialty nest houses to specifically help bluebirds survive (they use the same size hole - 1 1/2"). You can destroy house sparrow nests, eggs and young under federal law in an effort to help native birds live.

We also installed small platforms with 2" high walls on two corners of our deck roof where it extends beyond our deck so the poop will fall on the grass. In these spots we have easy viewing from inside our house. One corner platform only had a large stick for a wall at first and is near a trellis. I assume a squirrel or predatory bird got the finch babies from that nest, so we then added a wall there, too. The house finches (social song birds) love nesting under our deck roof. About a week or two after a nest empties, eggs are laid again. The babies can get quite noisy when a parent comes with food.

The mother with the worm (below) ended up eating the treat herself perhaps because the babies didn't open their mouths right away. But they were more than ready the next time (second photo), but all she did was dig in the bottom of the nest - don't know what she was doing.

Below is a shot (taken with a mirror) of the second brood for the season. The female incubates them for 2 weeks, then the babies leave about 2 weeks after hatching. This bunch did well. Greg managed to film one taking its first flight. It jumped up on the wall, looked around, then hopped back in the nest, thought a moment, then returned to the wall and took off like a natural.

Greg noticed a house finch darting out from a slender evergreen shrub in our yard. So he inspected the branches and found this tiny nest (about 4" diam.) with four babies sparsely covered with downy feathers.

With a birdbath in our backyard, the robins also took up residence nearby building on the crook of our drainpipe. Below is a shot of a baby just out of the nest that was hopping around our yard. It was a good thing I started sporadically feeding the birds during the spring. Reducing their activity around the feeders and birdbath caused the neighborhood cats to lose interest in our yard. Now only the cat next door comes by once in a long while, so the baby birds have a good chance at surviving in our fenced area until they get completely airborne.


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