Optimal placement of your bird houses depends upon the layout of your yard or gardens. Bird houses should be located at least 25 to 30 feet apart. Birds like their privacy and some are territorial. This prevents squabbles among neighbors. It is best to face your bird house entrance away from prevailing winds. Here in Upstate New York my storms come from the north and west. So I position my bird houses facing southeast. This protects the baby birds from rain, wind or late spring snowstorms. Facing entrance holes more towards the east also safeguards baby birds from overheating on very warm spring days.
If your garden or yard is edged by a wooded or shrubby area, then that is exactly where you need to place your bird house poles. Some smaller birds like titmice and chickadees prefer this kind of location. If you decide to hang your bird house from a tree branch, make very sure that you also use a dome-type baffle to hang above it. This will help to deter critters that would otherwise climb down the branch and raid the bird’s nest. This is a very important step to minimize the dangers to nestlings and birds in your backyard.
If you install your bird house on a pole, which is the most bird-safe choice, be sure to place a cylinder baffle on your pole to discourage raccoons and other climbing predators from looting the nest. Baby birds are susceptible to all kinds of perils, so anything you can do to minimize them will help tremendously.
I have found that the best poles come from the electrical department at the nearest big box hardware store. They are available in long lengths, are inexpensive, very sturdy and the galvanized metal lasts a long time in all kinds of weather. One end of this conduit will be threaded so the right size fitting, also found in the electrical department, will screw right on to the top of the pole. The fitting needs to be a threaded flat metal flange with screw holes. Use wood screws to attach the flange to the bottom of your bird house. Rotate the whole assembly into the threaded end of the pole and you’re all set.
You’ll need to dig a hole at least 2 to 3 feet deep, or whatever gets you below the frost line in your region, to accommodate your new pole and bird house. If you set it in too shallow, your pole will move and shift with freezing and thawing. You’ll end up with a cock-eyed bird house! So buy a length of pipe that is as long as you need for the bird you are trying to attract (see below) plus the depth. Note that for some higher-nesting birds you will need to connect more than one pole to achieve the right length. And with the higher pole you may want to attach ropes or wires to anchors (as you would with tent poles) in order to hold it steady while the cement sets up.
I used a small torpedo level to make sure the pole was standing straight before I added a few large stones for support. Then I mixed up some quick setting cement (also from the hardware store) and filled the hole. Remember to check for level again before the cement sets up and make final adjustments. Now, sit back and wait for your first bird to find it. Be patient, they will find it!
As to the birds you are trying to attract, you’ll need to mount your bird house between 4 to 15 feet for chickadees. Nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, titmice, tree swallows and violet swallows, and flycatchers prefer to nest between 5 to 15 feet off the ground.
Wrens like to be 5 to 10 feet high, while prothonotary warblers like their houses from 4 to 8 feet above the ground. If you want to attract common or Northern flickers, you need to mount their bird house from 6 to 20 feet high. Purple martins prefer 10 to 15 feet, pileated woodpeckers are comfy around 15 to 20 feet; and screech owls, and kestrels love the higher altitudes at 10 to 30 feet.
You will please red headed woodpeckers, red bellied woodpeckers and wood ducks with a house mounted 10 to 20 feet high. However, hairy woodpeckers need a home that ranges from 8 to 20 feet above the ground. House Finches will use a bird house that is 8 to 12 feet high.
Robins, barn swallows and phoebes prefer to nest on a platform or shelf that has at least one open side. Mount the platform for barn swallows and phoebes at 8 to 12 feet, for robins 6 to 15 feet.
Bluebirds prefer an open area, like a meadow or field. They like fence posts, so their bird houses need to be from 4 to 6 feet off the ground, mounted on a post or metal garden stake.
Some birds, like downy woodpeckers and wrens will use a birdhouse that is mounted in a sheltered area on your house. I have a bird house attached to the garage under the overhang. Both titmice and downy woodpeckers have used that house on several occasions.
And I had a phoebe use the bend of my square-shaped downspout on the back of the house, which was also under an overhang, to build its nest year after year. The new nest was built on top of the old one each time, right up until it couldn’t fit under the overhang any more! That was situated on the northwest corner about 12 feet off the ground.
Most birds prefer a nesting area that has some cover nearby. Being out in the middle of nowhere, unless you are a bluebird, will not suit most birds at all, and they probably will not occupy the bird house. Follow these general guidelines for optimal placement of bird houses around your garden and yard, and you should have success in attracting and protecting your backyard birds. I applaud your commitment and efforts towards helping our backyard birds to flourish.