Bird Houses, Baths and Feeding Shelters How to Make and Where to Place Them
BATHS AND FEEDING SHELTERS
HOW TO MAKE AND
WHERE TO PLACE THEM
EDMUND J. SAWYER
CRANBROOK INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE
Bulletin No. 1, Fifth Edition
by The Cranbrook Institute of Science
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
First printed as “Bird Houses”
First Edition, March, 1931, 2000 copies
Second Edition, February, 1938, 1500 copies
Revised and enlarged to include western species, baths, and shelters
Third Edition, December, 1940, 3000 copies
Fourth Edition, June, 1944, 5000 copies
June, 1951, 4000 copies
Fifth Edition, July, 1955, 6000 copies
September, 1963, 5000 copies
Printed by Litho-Art, Inc., from type set and printed by the Cranbrook Press
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Foreword 5
- Bird Houses and Common Sense 7
- Some Current Notions Corrected 7
- General and Miscellaneous 11
- Material 11
- Entrance 11
- Nails 13
- Slabs 13
- Facilities for House Cleaning 13
- Position of Boxes 13
- Undesired Tenants 14
- Thickets 15
- Dimensions for Various Houses 16
- House Wren 18
- Other Wrens 18
- Black-capped Chickadee 18
- Other Chickadees 19
- White-breasted Nuthatch 20
- Other Nuthatches 20
- Tufted Titmouse 20
- Tree Swallow 21
- Other Swallows 21
- Eastern Bluebird 21
- Other Bluebirds 22
- Crested Flycatcher 22
- Flickers 23
- Purple Martin 25
- Tree-nesting Ducks 27
- Hawks and Owls 28
- Common House Finch 29
- Robin and Phoebe 29
- Bird Baths 33
- Food Stations 35
- Bluebirds 4
- Nesting Sites, Natural and Artificial 9
- The Best and Most Simple Form of Artificial Nesting Site 12
- Discouraging the Uninvited Guest 14
- A Simple and Effective Box Bird House 17
- A Chickadee Family 19
- The Martin House 24
- Nesting House for Ducks 26
- An Easy-to-make Box 27
- Nest Boxes for the House Finch 30
- Nesting Shelves for Robins and Phoebes 30, 31
- Bird Baths 32
- Types of Feeding Stations 34
- Drinking and Bathing Station for Winter Use 36
- Wood Ducks Back Cover
Most species of the smaller birds which nest in hollow trees,and therefore in bird houses, suffer seriously from intrusionby English Sparrows and European Starlings. These twospecies, nesting in similar locations and being prolific, tend to take up allavailable nesting cavities, even ejecting native birds which have built orbegun to build. This condition, already serious, may become far morebaneful than we are as yet able to realize. It may even contribute to theeventual extinction of Bluebirds, Crested Flycatchers, and Purple Martinsunless we provide nesting sites sufficient in number and suitable inkind for all. The number of natural nesting sites is already far belowthat required by these birds, and yet the Starlings in particular are increasingalarmingly. There is no way to determine when a final adjustmentor balance will be reached or what the numerical status of our nativebird-house dwellers will be when such balance shall have been attained.
In the case of the native species named above, we can at least help byproviding proper nesting boxes which will induce the birds to concentrateabout our houses, where the European Starling and the EnglishSparrow menace may be more easily and effectively met than elsewhere.The reader should note that the imported English Sparrow, which is inreality a weaver finch and unrelated to our tuneful native sparrows, is theonly “sparrow” east of the Rocky Mountains that nests in holes or birdhouses. The shyer, more desirable, native species are invariably harmlessand should be both protected and encouraged.
The smaller of the bird-house species, such as the House Wren, TreeSwallow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, and TuftedTitmouse are less affected by the intruders. These smaller birds can use,and usually select, cavities with openings too small for either Starling orEnglish Sparrow to enter. However, there is still a distinct practical advantagein providing proper boxes for House Wrens and other smallspecies. In many instances these birds fail to find places safe from theubiquitous English Sparrow and European Starling, which then proceedin their well-known manner to work destruction. A properly made wrenhouse, chickadee house, or swallow house can be absolutely safe from theforeign invaders.
More nesting sites, properly made and situated, are desirable, owingto the destruction of birds’ traditional nesting sites over wide acreagesabout cities and other settled areas, but the providing of suitable birdhouses needs no defense or excuse. Whether it be the beautiful and demurebluebird, “bird of happiness,” the sleek and immaculate swallow,the songful wren, “saucy and impudent,” the bustling and industriouschickadee, or the alert and noisy flycatcher, the native tenant of the birdhouse will be an interesting and entertaining neighbor, always prompt topay his rent in one form or another or in many forms and with interest.Does one need any special excuse for offering hospitality to such aneighbor? When birds nest on our home grounds, their destruction ofgarden pests, mosquitos, gnats, and other undesirable insects is concentratedwhere we can most directly profit from the results—our owngreater comfort and safety, better gardens, more productive orchards,more verdure in shade trees and in ornamental trees and shrubs.
Bird Houses and Common Sense
Although there are a number of points which shouldbe considered in the proper designing and placing ofa bird house, there is one simple idea which practicallycovers the whole subject. Every species of our smallnative birds that nests in a bird house nested originally in a hollow tree,by preference in a hollow of one unvarying type—the burrow made bya woodpecker. Thus we need only know what the burrow of a woodpeckeris like and we have automatically solved in a general way thequestions of material; size and shape of entrance; diameter, depth andform of cavity; height above ground; and situation. The nature of nestingmaterial and its whereabouts should play absolutely no part in humanplans for the prospective tenants. “Unfurnished” rooms are the onlykind for which birds are looking.
There is solid ground for assuming a woodpecker’s burrow to be theideal pattern for a bird house. The woodpecker, whatever its species,free to excavate any form of chamber that it might wish, invariably usesone type of burrow. The birds which by preference habitually adopt fortheir own use the woodpecker’s abandoned home have likewise thusplaced their own age-old stamp of approval on that type. It is logical toassume, therefore, that the artificial bird house should follow at leastthe general plan of that long-tried and preeminently successful nestingsite. Since a theory may be plausible while yet utterly untenable in actualapplication, it remains to add that abundance of experience in buildingand placing bird houses all goes to prove the foregoing basic principlesoundly correct in practice. With or without benefit of the plans andspecifications in such a bulletin as this, a person who takes his cue froma woodpecker will not go far wrong. In planning a bird house, we mustcontinually hark back to the idea of the woodpecker’s burrow—or rather,we should never quite lose sight of it.
Some Current Notions Corrected
Attention should be called to some common misconceptions. Thecolony bird house, or any bird house with more than one compartment,is always a mistake unless it has been designed for Purple Martins. Yet8certain firms have for years been advertising “wren houses” of four ormore chambers. One who knows this pugnacious little bird tries in vainto imagine two pairs of wrens living peaceably under one small roof!Every bird house should consist of one, and only one, chamber—withthe single exception of a house intended for the Purple Martin, whichnests in colonies.
The cubic capacity of the bird houses one sees is nearly always muchtoo great—often several times too great. Builders seem to believe thatthe diameter of the nesting chamber should at least equal the totallength of the bird—a theory as erroneous as it is plausible. Plate I illustratesthe fact that the sitting bird normally occupies a space measuringmuch less from side to side than the outstretched length of the bird.Figure No. 4, Plate I, shows how much work is often made for theHouse Wren, while figure No. 5, on the same plate, shows how greatlythis work may be reduced—with the greater inducement to the prospectiveoccupant.
The square or rectangular door is another frequent mistake—a projectionof the designer’s own plantigrade and vertical personality.
To place the entrance at or near floor level is also an error. Rememberthat birds close no doors against drafts, that their “beds” are laidon the floor and consist of light straws, feathers, or other flimsy materials.
Many a wren house with entrance (as it should be) too small for anyEnglish Sparrow to enter, is hung swinging from a branch as a furtherprotection against the unwanted sparrow. That is like beheading a criminaland then, “just to be on the safe side,” shooting him into the bargain!It is said that wrens do not hesitate to use these swinging nesting sites,but we have our serious doubts. We have personally seen one instanceof a wren nesting in the pensile home of a Baltimore Oriole, but it issignificant that in this case we failed to find any better site nearby. Somepersons report success with this type of house and prefer it because of theease of putting it up and taking it down without injury to a living tree.
Two doors, presumably entrance and exit, to a bird house of one compartmentis nearly as ridiculous an innovation as the two doors said tohave been provided by a famous scientist for the use of his old cat andher kittens, respectively.
Plate I. Nesting Sites, Natural and Artificial
1, 2, 3, A nesting woodpecker, a Chickadee, and a pair of bluebirds, respectively.Compare length of bird with diameter of nesting chamber. 4, A wren house, asfrequently made, of eight to ten times the necessary cubic capacity. 5, A wrenhouse of proper and ample size.
Overcrowding is a prevalent fault. On an area insufficient properly toharbor two pairs of wrens or bluebirds there will often be a half-dozenor more bird houses. Tree Swallows are social birds and will occupyboxes placed near to one another, but ordinarily, birds, especially thoseof the same species, do not build near each other. It is a large town lotwhich will properly accommodate more than one pair of nesting wrens.Even the demure bluebirds do not like to build within a stone’s throw ofeach other. While the martin colony may number upward of a dozenpairs in the same house, there may not be other martins within a mile.There is many a small village whose single martin house accommodatesall the martins to be found within a radius of several miles.
The size of entrance seems often to be a stumbling block. One seeswren houses with perfect bluebird entrances, and bluebird houses withdoorways best suited to wrens or chickadees or, at the other extreme, todoves!
Although arguments, supported by some experience, have been advancedfor larger entrances, we nevertheless suggest entrances of nearlyminimum size—a suggestion based on personal experience and long familiaritywith the preferences shown by the species concerned. ApparentlyJohn Burroughs was first to point out that when birds hesitate toenter a small opening it is evidently because their bodies, completelyfilling the entrance, render the cavity totally dark and therefore alarming.Cut a few small auger holes to admit light, and the bird enters the nowsomewhat less mysterious chamber. The holes also provide needed ventilation,but they should be small and well above the entrance-level, fordrafts must be avoided. The entrance to the house for wren, chickadee,or Tree Swallow should be, since it easily may be, too small to admitEnglish Sparrows. It is not possible to exclude English Sparrows fromhouses of other birds in that way.
Finally, the mistake is often made of providing simply a bird houseinstead of a martin house, a wren house, a bluebird house, or a house forsome other definite species. The result is that such houses usually go unoccupiedor else are promptly claimed by the first English Sparrows thatspy them. Any bird house will suit the English Sparrow if only he canget into it, and he usually can get into a bird