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All about the spring nesting cycle

All about the spring nesting cycle

Arguably the most exciting time for backyard birding begins in early spring, when migratory birds return from their winter recess and nesting season begins. What is nesting season? It’s the time of year when birds find a mate, build a nest, lay eggs, and raise their young. You, too, can experience the joys of nesting season in your own backyard by learning all about the spring nesting cycle!

bluebird hatchlings

Bluebird hatchlings in Bluebird Box House (Model# WWCH3).

When is bird nesting season?

Bird nesting season usually occurs from mid-March to mid-June and may fluctuate between geographic regions. Beginning in the spring, food sources are typically becoming more plentiful with the rise in temperature and increase in rainwater.

How do birds find a mate?

The first stage in the nesting cycle is courtship, or creating a pair bond between a male and female bird. You might be surprised to find that many of the ways birds attract a mate are similar in humans. Wild birds show off their talents by singing intricate songs and dancing with daring moves to prove their intelligence and maturity. Some choose to showcase their nurturing abilities, like nest-building and feeding, to demonstrate their ability to provide suitable shelter and foraging for their future young. Or simpler yet, they flaunt their finest features in displays that show off their bright plumage, health, and strength. This courtship generally lasts 1-2 weeks as the birds search for the perfect mate to nest with.

Where do birds make nests?

Depending on their species, the most common backyard birds will choose a variety of suitable nesting sites from tall grasses to birdhouses. Often building their nests at a fork in the branches of tall trees are hummingbirds, cardinals, and jays. Some birds, like juncos, make their nests in tall grasses, at the base of a tree or in exposed roots. Cardinals like to nest in dense shrubs or bushes, while finches will nest in a range of the previously mentioned locations. Woodpeckers prefer to nest in the cavities of live or dead trees but will not use nest boxes.

Bluebirds, tree swallows, titmice, wrens, chickadees, and nuthatches all prefer to nest in a cavity, whether it be a tree cavity or a birdhouse. If you’d like to try attracting a pair of nesting birds to your backyard, put up a Bluebird house or wren house ahead of the springtime and watch to see if your house becomes host to a growing family! Not sure where to put one? Check out our mounting and care instructions for Bluebird houses and wren houses.

bluebirds using bluebird house


A pair of Bluebirds using Bluebird Box House (Model# CWH3).

Bluebird Houses:

 

Wren Houses:

 

How long does it take for a bird to build a nest?

A bird’s nest can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to complete. There are many factors that can affect how long it takes for a bird to build a full nest. Material availability or quality, weather, and the bird’s experience level can all influence the number of days needed to construct a suitable nest.

Do birds reuse nests?

In most cases, birds do not reuse their old nests. Some birds, like woodpeckers and hummingbirds, may build on top of their old nests out of convenience or if it’s in their preferred location, but typically birds will move on to build a new nest in a new location as part of the nesting process.

If you have a birdhouse, it’s recommended that you clean it out after every brood has fledged. At minimum, once a year prior to nesting season. You can safely clean your birdhouse to reduce potential parasite problems and increase occupancy throughout the year.

How many eggs do birds lay in a season?

A clutch of eggs is the total number of eggs laid in one nesting attempt. A female bird doesn’t lay the same number of eggs in every clutch. The total number of eggs per clutch can vary widely depending on the species, or even the brood. Below is a list of the most common backyard birds, their potential number of broods, the size of each clutch, and a description of the egg to help you identify the nest.

Bird Species

Number of Broods

Typical Clutch Size

Egg Description

Nest Description

Northern Cardinal

1-2 broods

2-5 eggs

Grayish white, buffy white, or greenish white speckled with pale gray to brown.

Open cup made of twigs, weeds, grass, bark strips, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass or hair.

Blue Jay

1 brood

2-7 eggs

Bluish or light brown with brownish spots.

Bulky open cup made of twigs, grass, weeds, bark strips, moss, sometimes held together with mud. Lined with rootlets and other fine materials, often decorated with paper, rags, string, or other debris.

Black-capped Chickadee

1 brood

1-13 eggs

White with fine reddish-brown dots or spots.

Foundation of moss or other matter, lining of softer material such as animal hair.

American Goldfinch

1-2 broods

2-7 eggs

Pale bluish white, sometimes with small faint brown spots around large end.

Solid, compact cup of plant fibers, spiderwebs, plant down (especially from thistles); nest is so well-made that it may even hold water.

House Finch

1-6 broods

2-6 eggs

Pale blue to white, speckled with fine black and pale purple.

Open cup of grass, weeds, fine twigs, leaves, rootlets, sometimes with feathers, string, or other debris added.

Eastern Bluebird

1-3 broods

2-7 eggs

Pale blue or, rarely, white.

Loosely constructed cup of weeds, twigs, and dry grass, lined with finer grass, sometimes with animal hair or feathers.

Tree Swallow

1-2 broods

4-7 eggs

Pale pink, turning to pure white within 4 days.

Cup of grass, weeds, rootlets, moss, pine needles, other plant materials. Usually lined with many feathers (from other kinds of birds), mostly added after first eggs are laid.

White-breasted Nuthatch

1 brood

5-9 eggs

Creamy white to pinkish-white, speckled with reddish brown, gray, or purple.

Simple cup of bark fibers, grasses, twigs, hair. Sometimes adds mud to rim of nest entrance.

House Wren

1-2 broods

3-10 eggs

White, pink-white, or grayish, speckled or blotched with reddish brown.

Foundation of twigs, topped with softer cup of plant fibers, grass, weeds, animal hair, feathers.

American Robin

1-3 broods

3-5 eggs

Sky blue or blue-green and unmarked.

Cup of grasses, twigs, debris, worked into solid foundation of mud, lined with fine grasses and plant fibers.

Tufted Titmouse

1 brood

3-9 eggs

White to creamy white, spotted with chestnut-red, brown, purple, or lilac.

Foundation of grass, moss, leaves, bark strips, lined with soft materials, especially animal hair.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

1-2 broods

1-3 eggs

Tiny, white, weighing about half a gram.

Compact cup of grasses, plant fibers, spider webs, lined with plant down. The outside is camouflaged with lichens and dead leaves.

Downy Woodpecker

1 brood

3-8 eggs

Completely white.

Cavity entrance is often surrounded by fungus or lichen, helping to camouflage site.

 

tree swallow nest

A clutch of five Tree Swallow eggs inside the Bluebird Box House w/Viewing Window (Model# CWH4).

How long does it take for a baby bird to mature? How does a baby bird learn to fly?

From the birth of the hatchling (a newly hatched bird that can’t walk or fly with few or no feathers and closed eyes) until the time they are a fledgling learning to fly varies between bird species but is generally between 10 days and 3 weeks. For fledglings, learning to fly takes a little bit of practice and lot of instinct. Fledglings usually begin attempting to fly when they are around 2 weeks old, after a period of stumbling and falling around the nest. Practicing flight usually involves flying or falling from the nest and finding their way back to it. After a few attempts, they’ll learn how to spread their wings and begin flapping to avoid falling to the ground.

What do you do if you find a baby bird on the ground?

If you find a baby bird on the ground, first identify whether the bird is a hatchling (a newly hatched bird that can’t walk or fly with few or no feathers and closed eyes) or a fledgling (mostly covered in feathers of a dull color with stubby wings and tail). A fledgling who is learning how to fly can make its way back to the nest without any help. If the bird is a hatchling, don’t be afraid to place the bird back in the nest if you can locate it. Birds don’t have a strong sense of smell and they will not abandon their young if you touch them.

If the bird is injured, do not touch it. Contact your city or county extension office to reach your local wildlife management department. Or, if you have a local park district, there may be a rehabilitation center who will accept injured birds or wildlife.

 

Which birds are you hoping will nest in your backyard this season? Share your nesting season stories with us!

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Wren House Mounting and Care

Wren House Mounting and Care

Hanging Your Wren House

Wrens and chickadees both prefer houses that are located in a sheltered area - under the shade and protection of tree branches is ideal. When possible, hang the house so that the entry hole faces away from incoming weather anywhere from 5-10 feet off the ground. Higher or lower placement can also work as long as there is good cover nearby. You can utilize the hanging cable that comes attached to your house to hang it as wrens will use a house that freely swings.

A hanging style house is preferred so that it can be placed outward on a branch to help prevent predators reaching the nest. A box house should be mounted on a pole with space in front of the opening, or can also be mounted under an eave to offer additional protection from the elements and predators. 

For best success, we recommend placing your nest boxes by February in the south. In northern regions, place your nest boxes by mid to late March for best results. Don’t be discouraged if birds don’t begin nesting in them immediately. Sometimes it takes time for the birds to discover and start using a house. 

House Inhabitants

All Nature's Way wren houses have a 1 1/8" opening to accommodate both house wrens and chickadees while keeping unwanted larger birds out.

A male wren will build a nest out of sticks and perch on the branches above the house to attract a female. These small birds have a very beautiful and distinct song and you will often hear their song before you are able to spot them flitting in the branches near the house.

 

A pair of chickadees will work together to build their nest with moss, pet hair, or other types of fur-like material. These small birds are very social and are easily and quickly drawn to bird feeders, oftentimes even when people are nearby.

Maintaining a Clean Bird House

Birdhouses and nesting boxes should be cleaned at least once each year. All Nature's Way birdhouses feature clean-out doors, making it easy to remove the old nest and any debris that have collected. At minimum, cleaning should be done prior to nesting season in the spring. Some recommend cleaning the nesting boxes after each brood has fledged. This type of maintenance will reduce bird parasite problems and help keep the nest box useful longer.

For more detailed cleaning tips visit our blog post: Spring Cleaning is for the Birds!

 

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Cleaning Your Birdhouse

Cleaning Your Birdhouse

Cleaning and maintaining your houses will not only reduce parasite problems and increase occupancy and bird health but will also keep your houses useful longer!

Do you need to clean bird houses?

Upkeep of your bird house is a very important step in attracting birds, and to helping maintain bird health. Old nests can contain bacteria and mites. If you don’t clean out your bird house before each nesting season, there’s a chance that disease could spread to the birds who visit or inhabit the house afterwards. Additionally, the presence of an old nest may discourage new birds from choosing to nest in your house. Cleaning and maintaining your houses will not only reduce parasite problems and increase occupancy and bird health but will also keep your houses useful longer!

When should you clean out your bird house?

We recommend that you clean your birdhouses out a minimum of once a year. Cleaning prior to nesting season is a priority but nesting boxes can be cleaned out after every brood has fledged.

How to safely clean your bird house

Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:

  • Open the clean-out door of your bird house and clean out any old nesting material or debris. We recommend wearing a pair of garden gloves or rubber dish-washing gloves when handling old nest material as it can contain bacteria and mites.

    • Check for signs of mold or mildew. If your house shows the beginnings of mold or mildew, you can clean it with a diluted bleach solution (9 parts water to 1 part bleach) or an unscented dish soap and warm water solution to keep the mold from spreading or permanently staining your house. To prevent the spread of disease and help keep young birds healthy, we recommend taking the time to follow this step even if mold or mildew are not present. A quick scrub can help prevent mold and mildew before it becomes visible as well as help eradicate any bacteria or parasites that may cause harm to the birds. Rinse well, open the door, and thoroughly air dry.

    • Inspect your house for damage. If your house has a hanging cable, how does it look? Give your bamboo or cedar house a once-over. A small crack doesn't necessarily mean your house isn't functional but be sure to fill any large cracks with wood sealant to prevent any precipitation from getting into the house during inclement spring and summer weather. Check all the screws and be sure to tighten any that may have worked loose throughout the season. Remember, birds will still use a house that isn't perfect, but you do want to ensure the house is safe.

    How to mount your bird house

    Once your house is ready for occupants, be sure to install it in a good location. See our guides for mounting your bluebird house and mounting your wren house for the best chance at bird occupancy.

    Replacement parts for bird houses

    Now is best time to order any needed replacement parts for your bird house. Some parts on Nature’s Way birdhouses are available for purchase on the replacement parts section of our website. If you need a part that is not listed, please contact us with your model number and the part you need to replace.

    A note about bat houses

    This information applies to bat houses too! A quick check of your bat house parts and cleaning out any residual debris (like an unwanted wasp nest) are the first steps in attracting bats to the house. You can find information on how to mount your bat house on our website.

     

    If you have further questions on getting your bird or bat house ready, you can contact us and we will do our best to help!

     

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