For Release March 26, 2002

We Need Better Housing, for Birds That Is!

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Iím a firm believer that we need to provide better housing, for humans and our bird friends! While I am limited in what I, and many of us, can do for human housing, many of us can, and do, provide good housing for our feathered friends. Regardless of whether you live in town or out in the country, there are species of birds that live around you and can benefit from bird houses.

Obviously I canít describe in detail how to build the many different kinds of bird houses, but if you stop my the Geary County Extension Office we can provide copies of birdhouse plans. I will describe some of the more common bird species that homeowners like to attract and the requirements to attract these species.

Purple Martins are always a favorite, but they can be a real challenge. They need a fairly large, tree free open space for a house to be utilized. The house needs to be eight to ten feet high and at least 30 feet from any trees that are half the height of the house. House Sparrows and starlings will try to pirate the nest spaces in a martin house. You need to not open the house until about the time that the first scout martins return. That is generally the last week of March or the first week of April. Purple Martins have been reported in the area for the last week or so, making now a good time to get a martin house up or opened. You may also not want to open all the nest spaces right away until more martins are seen. If you see sparrows or starlings starting to build nests, be sure to get out there and clean out their nests.

Behind martins, bluebirds are probably the most sought after bird house occupant. Bluebirds can be an even bigger challenge than martins because their ecosystem requirements are even more demanding. If you donít live in the country or on the very edge of town, with lots of open spaces, you probably wonít have much success. Bluebirds really like being on the edge of a stand of trees with a good expanse of grass out front. There are many different bluebird house designs. My personal favorite is any one that uses a slot at the top of the front for a box entrance as opposed to a hole. Starlings and House Sparrows are less likely to pirate these houses.

This brings up a good point. Bird houses do not need perches. About the only species that will make use of a perch in front of the entrance hole is a House Sparrow. Do the birds a favor, donít put perches on your bird houses.

One of the most successful bird houses in town is a wren house. House Wrens are very common town habitants and will make regular use of a wren house. One has to be careful not to make the nest hole of a wren house too big or house sparrows and starlings will pirate it. A nest hole of one and an eighth inch to one and a quarter inch is all the bigger it needs to be. The beauty of a wren house is that it may also be used by chickadees as well. Male House Wrens return first in the spring and start to set up territories. They will start building numerous nests in various locations. Then when there mate arrives he takes her around to all the possible locations. She picks the final nest spot, tears out all of his nest building and then builds the real nest. Iím not going to say a thing other than donít be disappointed if you see early nest building that goes no where.

I do have more information on bird houses and bird nesting at the Extension Office located at 119 East 9th Street in Junction City. Be sure to pick up our bulletins on backyard bird watching and bird feeding, including hummingbirds, as well.


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