Novato, California

Michael Gedney & Shih-Po Hsu

We’re passionate about birds and nature. That’s why we opened a Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop in our community.

Novato, California

Vintage Oaks at Novato,
104 Vintage Way, Suite A-7
Novato, CA 94945

Phone: (415) 893-0500
Fax: (415) 893-0511
Email: Send Message

Store Hours:
Mon - Sat: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am - 5:00 pm

Located between Macy's Furniture/BevMo and Pier 1.

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Attracting Nesting Birds

Western Bluebird by Robert RusWestern Bluebird entering nest box - local picture by Robert Rus

The nesting season starts early in coastal California. Hummingbirds and owls can begin establishing territories or performing courtship behavior in December, a few songbirds start singing in January, and the first round of cavity-nesting songbirds can start nest-building in late-February. In the backyard, some of these behaviors we can only witness, but there are other aspects of the nesting season in which we can actively participate, helping to support and encourage vibrant bird populations. 

Bird Houses

Bird houses, or nesting boxes, are the most familiar part of helping birds during nesting season. Certain bird species build their nests in natural or woodpecker-excavated cavities in trees. With the scarcity of mature and dead trees in many residential neighborhoods, suitable cavities are often in short supply, making the lack of appropriate nest sites a limiting factor to bird populations even when there is adequate territory and food supplies. And in many cases, the nesting boxes supplied by humans can be superior to those tree cavities that do exist: small, species-specific entrance holes and intentional construction limit the entrance of water and predators.

What kind of house for what kind of bird?

Note that many birds will build their own nests in trees or on the ground and will not use houses. Goldfinches and hummingbirds, for instance, will not use nesting boxes. But several species will:

  • Full-size or "bluebird" nesting boxes have larger overall dimensions and larger entrance holes (typically 1 1/2" or 1 9/16" diameter). These boxes will attract the widest variety of songbirds, including bluebirds, tree swallows, violet-green swallows, titmice, Bewick's wrens, and chickadees. Occasionally, small woodpeckers or nuthatches will also use these boxes, though they often prefer to excavate their own holes. 
  • Small songbird boxes have both smaller overall dimensions and a smaller entrance hole (1 1/4" is a good size for this purpose in our area) and will limit your potential occupants to chickadees and wrens (just right) or occasionally titmice and nuthatches (tight squeeze).
  • Specialty nesting boxes are available for larger bird species such as northern flickers, western screech-owls, American kestrels, and barn owls.
  • Nesting shelves provide an open platform rather than an enclosed box and attract species that build open nests rather than use tree cavities. Potential shelf-nesting birds include House Finches, Black Phoebes, Barn Swallows, and possibly Mourning Doves or American Robins.

Tree Swallows by Susie Kelly

Tree swallows awaiting feeding - local photo by Susie Kelly

Where do I put it?

There are a myriad of ways to mount nesting boxes: trees, free-standing poles, buildings, or fence posts may be appropriate locations. Remember that birds are looking for a safe, secluded spot to raise their vulnerable young: some distance from the busyness of birdfeeders and areas of high human traffic will be strongly preferred. Also keep in mind that, in general, securely mounting a box is far more attractive to birds than having one hanging and swaying in the wind. For more specific suggestions, come talk to us for advice on how to choose and place a nesting box to attract the birds that you have in your yard!

Five Reasons to Put up a Bird House

1. Attract different birds
Seed and suet feeders will attract several species. Some birds, like bluebirds and swallows, will not visit seed feeders – but they will use nesting boxes. 

2. Help birds - make up for lost trees
Residential areas often have enough food available to support more nesting birds, but lack the mature and dead trees needed to provide nesting sites. Bird houses can help compensate for one aspect of habitat loss, offering safe places for birds to raise their young and increasing local bird populations. 

3. Employ insect-eaters
Many people go to great lengths to combat insects which bite, sting, or damage garden plants. A family of bluebirds or swallows will turn your bug population from “a troublesome problem” into “a free source of birdfood." This isn't just our talk - see this Chronicle article on the powerful pest-control provided by nesting bluebirds.

4. See babies
If they can’t nest in your yard, they’ll have to nest elsewhere or not at all. Birds grow up fast – so if you want to see some babies this spring, you need to make sure you’re hosting the maternity ward, cradle, and daycare. Fortunately, all you need for that is one wooden box.

5. It's easy!
While we've written at length on the secrets to No-Mess and Squirrel-Free Birdfeeding, putting up a house is inherently free of many of the complicating responsibilities of feeding birds. It is a good idea to clean out the box once a year, but there is no food to buy, frequent maintenance, or messy seed shells involved in providing a bird house.

Titmouse with Nesting Material

Nest-Building Materials

Both birds that use nesting boxes and those that build open cup nests need materials with which to construct their nests. Naturally, birds will use grasses, twigs, plant fibers, animal hairs, and assorted other items. Putting up one of our balls of cotton or alpaca wool nesting material (or the DIY version of yarn and hair - but not dryer lint), allows you to watch different species as they work on nest construction.

Left: Oak Titmouse gathering nesting material. Local picture by Susie Kelly.

Special Foods

Foods containing calcium are particularly valuable at this time of year. Human children are often given milk to drink in an effort to build strong bones – the same applies to young birds, whose period of growth is compressed into a much shorter space of time. Eggs also require calcium – thin or weak eggshells can often prevent reproductive success. Our popular Bark Butter is enriched with calcium to help avoid this, as are our insect suet cakes and suet balls from Pacific Bird & Supply. 

Protein rich foods are also very important for feeding young, growing birds. In nature, many birds that eat plants and seeds through much of the year will catch insects in spring to feed their young. This natural tendency can be accomodated by offering mealworms, which are especially popular when feeding nestlings.

Right: Western Bluebird with mealworm delivery. Local photo by Christine Hansen.

Bluebird by Christine Hansen