Prepare Your Yard for Nesting Season

Jill Staake

Every Thursday, the Working for the Weekend segment highlights a project or job for Southeastern gardeners to tackle in the weekend ahead.  Know of a project you’d like to see featured here, or a garden chore you’d like some help with? Make your suggestions in the comments section below.

Working for the Weekend:
Prepare Your Yard for Nesting Season

This beginner birdhouse is made using only one board! Click the image to learn how it's done.

March has come in (like a lion in some places and like a lamb in others) and spring is nearly here. Birds are ready to begin nesting, if they haven’t already, so spend some time this weekend preparing your yard to welcome them.

According to Georgeann Schmalz of Birding Adventures, Inc., there are seven species of birds that commonly use nesting boxes in the Southeast: Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, House Finches, and House Wrens.

Nesting boxes should be cleaned after each nesting season. If you didn’t clean yours last fall, verify that no birds have begun using them yet by watching closely for a few days. Then, follow the steps below:

  • Open the box. Avoid inhaling dust and detritus from the box as you do so.
  • If an old nest remains in the box, remove it carefully and place it in a plastic bag. Turn the bag inside out, use it like a “glove” to grasp the nest, and pull the bag over the nest – this way you don’t need to touch the nest with your hands.
  • Use a paint scraper to remove any waste materials or wasp nests from the inside of the box.
  • Use a stiff wire brush to scrape any remaining residue out of the box.
  • Sanitize the box by making a 1:10 bleach solution. Using a  spray bottle, spray the inside of the box thoroughly, and leave it open for at least 24 hours to dry. Don’t worry about using bleach – in a solution this weak, it quickly oxidizes and becomes harmless by the time the box is dry.
  • When the box is dry, close it and prepare to welcome the birds!

This box offers a "green" roof to keep birds cool. Click the image to learn how to bulid it.

Don’t have a nesting box yet? There’s a lot to know about picking a bird house that birds will actually use. Use the resources below to choose a box that’s right for you.

Bluebirds are very particular about the nesting boxes they use. Click the image to learn how to build a box to fit their needs.

If you don’t have space or desire for nesting boxes, you can still welcome nesting birds to your yard by providing the materials they need to build nests. Duncraft has a whole category of nesting materials for purchase, but you’ll find that you already have plenty of these materials around the house and yard already. Popular nesting materials include are listed below. Visit AllAboutBirds.org for a complete list and instructions on how to offer these materials.

  • Dead twigs and leaves, dry grass
  • Yarn or string cut into 4- to 8-inch pieces
  • Human or animal hair (no longer than 4-6 inches long)
  • Sheep’s wool and feathers
  • Plant fluff or down (e.g. cattail fluff, cottonwood down)
  • Moss, bark strips, and pine needles

What other tips do you have for welcoming nesting birds to your southeastern yard? Do you have any nest-building activity in your yard yet? Tell us all about it in the comments!

  1. says

    I had two Keeshonds (the look like Chows) who had quite thick undercoats. It was amazing to see every year when we cleaned the nesting boxes how many nests had been made using my dogs fur! I’d sit on the deck and brush them then sprinkle that fur around in my garden, which the birds promptly used to make their nests from.

  2. Oma9876 says

    Just make sure there is enough space around the birdhouse. I don’t have a space of a meadow, but surely will leave ample space for an approach from all sides.

    I bought a hole guard which fits into the entrance hole and has a small ladder; the birds just don’t want to use that birdhouse. Shall I keep it. I am in the country and don’t want the raccoons to get in there for the eggs or little ones.

    Thanks
    Hilde

    • Jill StaakeJill says

      Hilde – A hole guard is definitely a great idea to protect from predators, and most birds don’t mind them and even prefer them. There could be a lot of reasons birds are avoiding that nesting box in particular – take a look at this article from Birds & Blooms to make sure you’re getting the most from your nesting boxes.
      http://www.birdsandblooms.com/Birds/Spring/Birdhouse-Basics-

      Hope this helps!

  3. Oma9876 says

    Sometimes it is suggested to use the lint from the dryer. I tried that in Cleveland; but with the rain it just wads up into more like felt and stays so wet in the onion bag that I don’t like to use it.

    Hlde

  4. Nancy Gates says

    I have a cat door opening cut into the door to the laundry room, where I feed and “toilet” my cats. The hole is surrounded by a brush. When I clean it, I add it to the compost–or offer it to the birds for nesting.

    • Jill StaakeJill says

      Great suggestion, Nancy – pet hair is a great nesting material to offer. Just remember that if you treat your pets with flea powder or any kind of topical pesticide treatment, you shouldn’t give that hair to birds, as it can poison them.

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