Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: It's Time to Put Up Those Birdhouses!

Flicker – Credit Jim Macaluso

As old birders like to tell newcomers, no season is ever the same as the last, and as we are now all very much aware that could not be more true when it comes to all humankind this spring. But if there is any positive at all for birders and nature lovers to be spending more time at home it is that we will all be a firsthand witness to spring migration right in our own backyards. We’ll see how our little stand of trees and gardens is as much a wildlife habitat as any nature center or park. 

Tree Swallow

Just as there is a housing shortage in the Garden State for people it is the same for most of our feathered friends. Anyone who has lived in New Jersey has witnessed firsthand the devastating loss of natural wildlife habitat right in our own neighborhoods. When many of us were growing up there was always a pond, a patch of woods or a grassy meadow that we loved to play in.

But take a look around your town now, where has it gone? It is now a shopping mall, a housing development or a parking lot. And now try to imagine if you are a bird returning to those places in the spring to nest. Where do you go? The good news is that we can give many bird species a helping hand by putting up nest boxes, or what are more commonly called birdhouses. 


Birds such as Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds and many more are cavity nesters, which mean birds that either make holes in dead trees or use the natural cavities in trees for laying eggs and raising their young. Unfortunately, due to habitat destruction and homeowners cutting down older or dying trees that are preferred nesting places, good nest sites have become too few and far between. We can turn that around a bit and help out our feathered friends by substituting man-made structures that closely replicate the kind of cavity they would use in nature.


USE the Right Nest Box in The Right Place! 

Placing the right birdhouse in your backyard is critical if you want to encourage birds to make your backyard their home. Just because you put up a Bluebird house does not mean that you will get a bluebird to take up residence. To do it right you will need to match the right nest box to the correct habitat.

By all means if you have Bluebird habitat, which is large, open fields then go for it. But if your yard is like most of suburbia then you may have more success inviting Black-capped Chickadees and House Wrens into your backyard habitat. 

If you are located in a more wooded area than birds like White-breasted Nuthatches and Northern Flickers may be added to your list. Depending on the species some bird houses can be hung from a tree branch with success and others will need to be placed right on the trunk of the tree. Still others will need to go very high up and or will need to be close to water. It will depend on the species you are trying to help.

Some common mistakes

 If you avoid a few common birdhouse mistakes you will have a better chance of having birds call your backyard home this spring 

  1. Keep birdhouses far away from feeders! Most birds like to be secretive when nesting. Birds such as Blue jays and Grackles can be nest raiders so keep your houses as far away from bird feeders as possible to have the best chance of a successful nesting season
  2. Get houses up early! Birds start looking for places to nest as early as February so you want to have your boxes out as soon as possible. Some birds will have second broods or arrive in late April from migration, so you will still have a good chance if you are a little late. The most important thing is getting some nesting places up wherever you can.

Some Birdhouse Basics 


It is important for functional houses to have good ventilation. Panels of wood that are ¾ inches thick help provide insulation from the heat. Holes near the top of the house allow for the heat to escape. 

Easy Clean Out

A side panel that opens allows for easy clean out of the nest at the end of the season which helps to keep the pest population down. 

Adequate Drainage

Holes at the bottom corners allow for drainage. Drainage holes in the middle of the bottom will not adequately allow for drainage.


Perches are not necessary and actually allow unwanted birds and predators a place to sit and access the hole.

Birdhouse specifications for specific species 

Name -Size of floor – Ht.entrance above the floor -Diameter of hole -the height off ground -Habitat preference

Chickadee 4″ x 4″ 4″– 7″ 1-1⁄8″ 5′ – 15′ Woods/edge

Titmouse 4″ x 4″ 6” – 8″ 1-1/4″ 5′ – 15′ Woods/edge

Nuthatch 4″ x 4″ 6″ – 8″ 1-1/4″ – 13/8″ 5′ – 20′ Woods/edge

House Wren 4″ x 4″ 4″ – 7″ 1-1⁄8″ – 11/4″ 5′ – 10′ Woods/yard

Carolina Wren 4” x 4″ 4″ – 7″ 1½” 5′ – 10′ Woods/yard

Screech Owl 8″ x 8″ 9” – 12″ 3″ 10′ – 30′ Woods

Wood Duck 12″ x 12″ 10″ – 18″ 4″w – 3”h 6′ – 30′ Woods near water


Downy 4″ x 4″ 8″ – 12″ 1-1/4″ 5′ – 15′ Woods

Hairy 6″ x 6″ 10″ – 14″ 1½” 8′ – 20′ Woods

Flicker 7″ x 7″ 10″ – 20″ 2½” 6′ – 30′ Woods

By putting up nest boxes and setting aside a part of our backyards for wildlife we can help restore the balance to the natural world around us and bring about a healthier and happier world for our wildlife and for our children too. It’s something we could all use right now.

 Spring is out there and as it has done for eons it rejuvenates our spirit and revives our soul .

Today birdhouses are made from everything from recycled material to the traditional cedar. If you plan to make your own you can use one-inch thick pine boards or of course cedar but which will be tougher to find. Also, do not use pressure treated wood.

If I can answer any questions or help you get started on your backyard habitat please let me know at

Stay well all, see you soon.

2 thoughts on “Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: It's Time to Put Up Those Birdhouses!

  1. Rose Mary Iannone

    The Lyndhurst Girl Scouts would like to build bird houses for the swallows how do we go about getting it done.


  2. Don

    Hi Rose Mary you would need to get the plans which are available online and have someone donate or buy the wood and then cut it to size . you have time since the tree swallows are already nesting


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