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Birdhouses 101: Housing Wrens, Bluebirds, and Purple Martins

In our last issue, we discussed how you can help birds make it through the winter by providing them with food and water. Today we’ll discuss that third essential that birds share with all animal life: shelter.

Birds generally build their nests in the spring. But if you put one up now, it will weather and have a comfortable smell and feel to the birds by the time spring comes. What's more, needy birds will probably come and use it before then to escape the vicissitudes of winter.

Birdhouses vary widely in design and price, depending mostly on which species they are intended for. You can get a nice wren house for less than $10, but a housing complex built to shelter a purple martin colony can cost more than $600. Therefore the first thing to consider before buying a birdhouse is what species you want to attract.

wren housesWrens

If the answer is wrens, we carry eight different models, all of which are under $20. Most are made of cedar wood, (which repels insects, mold, and is resistant to bad weather), and have a removable section to allow for easy cleaning. You can choose between a natural cedar model such as the Woodlink Audubon Cedar Wren House, or a painted model like the Home Bazaar Little Wren House which is white with a brown roof. We also carry the the Songbird Cedar Wren House Kit, which makes for a great kid's project.

Build Your Own

By the way, if you're good at woodworking, you can find specs and instructions online for building your own birdhouse at such places as the Maine Cooperative Extension Service and the Okalahoma Extension. Specs for building birdhouses for twenty-four different species including four kinds of woodpeckers and three kinds of owls, may be found on this Bird House Dimensions Chart. You can also buy complete plans for building purple martin houses from Purple Martin Central.

Bluebirdsbluebird houses

Many people want to attract bluebirds because they are beautiful, helpful, peaceable, and have an enchanting song. Furthermore, due to loss of open space and exposure to pesticides, bluebirds are in serious decline. Besides the personal enjoyment you will get from hosting them, putting up a bluebird house is also an act of conservation. As the Michigan Bluebird Society says, A bluebird box is perhaps the easiest and most rewarding way to do something good for the environment.

That said, our bestselling bluebird house is the Songbird Essentials Top Viewing Bluebird Box, which has a Plexiglas portal that lets you peek in through the roof. The Songbird Essentials Flat Top Bluebird House is also very popular. We've looked at the recommendations of the Bluebird Society, and these boxes seem to follow them pretty well.

purple martin housesPurple Martins

Another popular songbird are purple martins, the largest American swallow, and one of the few birds that can be considered semi-domesticated in that they will return year after year once they have established a home, along with their offspring who will live in the same quarters or as nearby as possible.

Like bluebirds, purple martins are also facing survival challenges, in fact, according to the Purple Martin Society, purple martins east of the Rocky Mountains are completely dependent on humans to supply their nestboxes (birdhouses) in order to breed today.

Purple martin birdhouses are the most expensive kind of birdhouse you can get, as they are designed to contain multiple rooms to accommodate a whole colony of martins. Furthermore, these types of houses have to be mounted on poles, so the purchase of an additional pole kit becomes necessary.

People who set out to attract purple martins consider it a hobby, and some get into it quite deeply. In fact, more than a few of our customers who consider themselves empty nesters have decided to change their status by attracting and caring for a purple martin colony.

If you want to become a purple martin landlord, we recommend you read The Stokes Purple Martin Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting and Housing Purple Martins, which will tell you all you need to know about getting a colony started it and keeping it happy and growing. You may also want to visit the Purple Martin Conservation Association for many helpful tips and suggestions.

There's more to say about birdhouses, but the main thing is just to be sure to get one or build one and put it up! Whether you are attracting bluebirds who, to paraphrase Thoreau, carry the sky on their backs, or purple martins with their “loud, rich chirruping, to quote W. M. Tyler, or the wren whom William Shakespeare called the most diminutive of birds, you will not regret your decision to provide them with a home.

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