I’m not gunna lie, I’m a sucker for birdhouses. My father told me a story once, about a elderly woman who was dying in the hospital who knew him as her Anglican Minister. She loved them, and her husband didn’t; they constantly fought over the number of avian accommodations she had about her house, and she gave him these instructions before she passed, “When I die, see that Reverend Gosse gets all my birdhouses, he’ll appreciate them.” What was funniest was that dad didn’t even know her well, it was just his reputation. He has a huge garden at his summer home (he winters in Florida, a snowbird himself. See what I did there?) I’ve even taken videos of the gardens, and are all on my youtube channel; here’s one such video set to the music of “Louis Armstrong’s, It’s a wonderful world“.
While I concede that they are lovely creations, certain care must be made to protect the tenants from predators like rodents and our own neighborhood felines, feral and otherwise. My desire to have such bird houses, bird baths and bird feeders are not meant as an invitation or a buffet; such as Winnie here may desire it to be.
Designing avian accommodations with security features may seem a little extreme, but I’m talking about design features making it harder to sneak a free lunch, not laser beams and security cameras. Though that would be really cool, too.
They can be functionally quite simple designs, fashioned out of wood scraps, old pallet board, cut-offs or the finest macassar ebony (I don’t recommend the Ebony). Some people make their entire livelihoods building custom birdhouses for public sale, while others devote their lives to county fairs and competitions to build the most elaborate, beautiful, clever or ornate models for the most distinguished of our feathered friends. Though I’ve not come across any in my travels, I would think that a bird feeder, bird bath and a bird-house all-in-one unit would be a really keen way to promote tenants to move into your modest accommodations. We want to make life as easy as we can for our guests, seeing as many of them eat bugs and are delightful to watch. There are also project kits that I’ve seen that attach to a window, like this lively unit, which I happen to think is stunning. Such a lovely chance to watch the nest grow, eggs to be laid, and examine the feeding process. There have been no peer-reviewed scholastic studies, that I can find, to suggest that these little critters mind a little “peep show” (I’m on a ROLL tonight!), but they just learn to ignore the primates behind the glass. Maybe they think WE’RE the ones under observation?
Functionally, a birdhouse is just a shelter that allows birds to comfortably enter, hang out, build a nest, raise a family, put money away for college, and vacate again. That being said, virtually any box could do, and it is really only limited by your creativity. I’m sure the birds don’t mind if the place has a single slope shed-style roof or a hip roof with dormers, but it adds a nice flair to the local when you have a theme to the buildings. Such single-family units are quick to assemble, and can easily batched-out when using power tools for quick assembly as for gifts or product offerings. The image to the left is a very functional unit with measurements included for the beginner; which is actually a great first-project for kids to build, since the angles aren’t difficult, there’s no complicated joinery, and it can be completely assembled using glue and clamping pressure.
If you’re looking for population density, and happen to have birds that are not terribly competitive, there are other options for you on the vast interwebs; such as this condominium, I hear the rent is very reasonable. This can be a great way to increase your population density, and increase the local bird population. They may require supplemental feed, which I can get into later, but there may be a certain amount of truth to the adage, “If you build it they will come.” After a few generations, the birds will come back and long-term contracts become viable. This can be a great chance for birdwatchers to take records of which birds they see around, and some serious investment in the local avian population can begin.
I worry about pests, though, like whimsical Winnie shown above. There are solutions to this cunnundrum, like not putting the birdhouses in trees where critters can get up there, or designing them to resist tampering. I can’t look at this picture without the Mission Impossible theme song rattling through my head. Solutions to these problems include building embedded posts in the lawn, with concrete anchors, and putting the bird feeders aloft there. There are also hoods or collars you can install on existing posts, like trees or poles. These prevent rodents from getting into your feeders or bird houses and tormenting your guests. We all have to eat, but let the puffy-tailed highwaymen find their own dinner and give tweety his chance to enjoy a free lunch.
The most important lesson to take home from all this is to be creative. You’re only concern is building a safe, dry, undisturbed place for potential tweeting tenants to enjoy the spring and raise a family. How you go about that, what shape you go with or the materials, should only be limited to what won’t harm the critters and what your imagination can come up with!
Finally, remember too that not only birds need homes, but other flying critters. I happen to have a fondness for bats. These critters aren’t always scary or spooky, consider the perspective from a rat! I know you’re not a rat, but these flying fanatics love their bugs. If you have an insect problem about your property, a bunch of bat houses (and sometimes a great deal of patience) will allow them to take care of your insects while you sleep, and they even work for free! Doesn’t get any better than that. They sleep while you’re doing your thing, and they tirelessly search for their next meal by the light of the moon. It’s a match made in heaven, and it’s advantages shouldn’t be overlooked.
A word of caution, however, that the bat houses aren’t exactly like we’ve seen in movies or cartoons, as adorable as it may be. They require spaces to fly up into, from the bottom. They like to hang or dangle from the ceiling of their enclosures, and they prefer very dark, warm, wind-free environments to roost. It’s sometimes a nice option to build fairly large structures with solar heaters in them, like the ones I wrote about, with fairly sensitive thermostats to keep them happy and comfortable throughout the colder weather during their stay.
I have read, however, that in some areas there have been problems with bats contracting rabies and spreading it in the area. There’s no sense in spreading such a terrible disease when it can be avoided, but incorporating bird and bat houses could be the best decision you could make to help control the bug population and give yourself and your family a great show when your flock comes home to roost.