A birdhouse seems like a simple idea, but it’s not. Whether you are buying one or making your own, read the information below carefully. Having an incorrectly-built birdhouse can be harmful.

Also, keep in mind that birdhouses are primarily functional—putting brightly-colored decorative birdhouses outside may suit your interests, but not the interests of birds.

Quick Tips

  • Avoid a perch on birdhouses. While they are iconic, they do not aid the bird in any way. Perches can actually give predators easier access to the nest!

  • Do not paint birdhouses. Most paints are toxic to them, and birds prefer natural-looking wood.

  • Birdhouses need to be cleaned every year after use.

  • A steep roof helps keep the nest dry.

  • Drainage and ventilation holes are needed.

  • Put birdhouses on a pole or on the side of your house. A tree trunk can also be used, but it's not as preferrable since predators will be able to reach the nest.

  • Predator problems can be solved with predator guards. To learn more, click and read "A Note About Predators" at the end of this page.

What Makes a Good Birdhouse?

Nestbox is just another name for birdhouse, although the nestbox on the right may not be what comes to mind when you think of “birdhouse.” Many birdhouses are highly decorated and house-shaped, as the name suggests. However, these traditional birdhouses pose certain dangers to birds, such as toxic paint and providing a perch that could help predators gain access to the nest. If you want to provide a safe nesting place for birds, your nestbox should follow certain guidelines such as:

  • Unpainted and untreated wood.

  • No perches, which aid predators and are not needed for birds.

  • Rough or grooved interior walls to help fledglings climb out of the nest. Whether the interior wall is simply rough or has grooves depends on the species, so do your homework!

  • Sloped roof with an overhang to help protect against the weather.

  • Some type of hinged door for cleaning.

  • Ventilation and drainage holes to help keep the nest clean! Please visit the source below for more information on these.

  • Should be functional, not decorative.

  • For even more details, visit Cornell Lab's birdhouse infographic: here.

Top: This is a fairly good example of a safe and functional birdhouse. Notice how different it is some the birdhouses seen in the store! However, it should have some ventilation holes drilled in the side, and it would preferably not on a tree trunk. Photo taken by Kenneth C. Zirkel; used through CC BY-SA 4.0.

Bottom: This is an example of a birdhouse you should NOT use. Photo taken by Kabir Bakie; used through CC BY-SA 2.5.

Which Species?

Something else to consider is which species you would like to attract to your birdhouse. While you won't necessarily get the species you are hoping for, controlling the size of the entrance hole can limit the species that can use the birdhouse. (A birdhouse with an entrance hole meant for a nuthatch can't be used by an owl, for example.)

An important note on European Starlings in the US: if you don't want this invasive species nesting in your birdhouse, have an entrance hole smaller than 1 and 9/16 inches, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They won't be able to nest there because they won't fit!

Courtesy of SunCatcher Studio. Used with permission.

Where to Place Birdhouses

The best place for a birdhouse is on a free standing pole; these poles can deter predators or be equipped with a “predator guard.” They can also be mounted on the side of a house (but, keep in mind that the box needs to be cleaned after each season, so it should be accessible!).

Predators, such as cats, raccons, and squirrels have easier access to birdhouses on tree trunks. So, put your birdhouse on a pole or the side of a house if you can. No matter where the birdhouse is installed, it should be secure enough to withstand severe weather. Also, avoid places sprayed by pesticides and herbicides; these chemicals are harmful.

Some species prefer forested areas or fields for their nests, so research the location for whichever species you want to attract.

Any birdhouse should be located away from bird feeders and baths, so nesting birds have privacy and minimal disruptions. As far as weather goes, the entrance hole should not face the direction the wind usually blows.

  • In hotter climates, place the birdhouse in a shaded area.

  • In wetter climates, place the birdhouse in a sheltered area.

A Note on Predation

Many animals, such as cats, raccoons, snakes, and squirrels, will eat eggs and/or nestlings from birdhouses. To help prevent this, place birdhouses away from trees and use a “predator guard," which blocks predators from access. Predator guards include the Stovepipe Baffle, the Noel Predator Guard, and the Metal Collar.

Remember that predation isn’t necessarily bad—it's a natural process. However, it becomes a problem when we encourage unsafe birdhouses. We don't want to give predators an easy meal.

To learn more about predator guards, click here.