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Features of a Good Bird House
Whether you buy a birdhouse from a retail store or make your own, several factors increase the likelihood of a successful flight. Some designs of bird boxes are known to improve the likelihood of hatching success, while others can contribute to the unfortunate death of nestlings. A good quality birdhouse should have each of the following characteristics.
1. New stairs or textured front wall
Inside the front wall of any birdhouse, nestlings need a ladder or textured surface to dig their little claws into. They must be able to climb into the entrance hole in order to fly. If your birdhouses are made of very smooth materials, it will be necessary to carve horizontal grooves, forming a ‘ladder’ for the chicks to climb. Simply run small lines about 1/2″ to 1″ apart, using a chisel, wood carving knife, or other similar instrument, in a horizontal pattern from the bottom of the box to the entry hole. You can also attach a 4″ x 4″ square piece of window screen or other fine mesh using wood staples or carpenter’s glue. Just make sure the mesh isn’t too tight and the clips don’t stick out. If you use glue, make sure it’s completely dry before letting the birds invade your home.
2. Smooth and secure entry holes
Birds are diligent about keeping their feathers in great condition. Their lives depend on it. If the entry hole is jagged or has any sharp protrusions, it will damage the feathers every time a bird enters or exits the box. Run your fingertip around the entrance hole of your birdhouse. If you feel any rough spots, sand them with fine-grit sandpaper. This should be done every year when you clean out the old nest. If the entry hole has been damaged by a squirrel, you may be able to put a hole guard over it. These can be bought or made in your shop by simply cutting a thin square of wood and drilling the right size hole in it. Attach the guard over the old, damaged screw hole, being careful not to let the screws penetrate the inside of the box, where they could pose a feather hazard. Alternatively, you can attach the guard with carpenter’s glue.
3. Ventilation and drainage holes
Without an air flow, bird boxes can become too hot or the air may not be healthy for young birds to breathe. The intake hole itself does not provide enough fresh air, so you need to add some ventilation holes if they are missing in your design. Ventilation holes should be located near the top of the box, preferably under the protective lip of a hinged cover.
If the nest box has holes in the bottom, they are not for ventilation; are for drainage. These are also essential. Drainage holes prevent the boxes from filling with rain and help keep the nests dry if they get wet. Some species, such as bluebirds, don’t mind if their nests get wet periodically. Check for holes in the floor of the box. They can be placed in the middle or in the corner. If there are no drainage holes, make some with a drill. Drain holes can be 1/8″ to 1/4″ in diameter. Sometimes the holes will become blocked with nesting debris, so make sure there are enough holes to allow for this possibility.
4. Roof seams properly sealed
A good birdhouse design should not have leaking roof seams, but don’t despair if you have one. If there is a roof liner that allows water in, it may be OK for bluebirds, as long as only a few drops of water get in during a heavy rainstorm. However, if it rains heavily, the box can fill up faster than it drains, suffocating or chilling the unfortunate nestlings. Inspect the roof seams for possible leaks and fill them with an exterior grade sealant bead. Be absolutely sure the enclosure is completely dry before putting it outside. If the bird gets cap materials or adhesive on its feet or feathers, it can result in death.
5. Human approach to cleaning
All poultry houses must be properly maintained. This can usually be done once a year, after the young have left. To do this, you need to have access to the inside of the box, without having to disconnect or break it. Some decorative birdhouses may not have this feature as they are purchased more for decoration than practical purposes. The best models open on the sides or in the front. This is easier for you and less dangerous for wild birds. Where the floor of the box is the point of entry, there is a risk of it accidentally opening and dislodging the occupants. Where the entrance is the roof, there is the greatest risk of occupants getting wet in a heavy rainstorm, although this is easily prevented by following the steps in #4 above.
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