Want to provide safe nesting boxes for wildlife in your garden? See how to choose safe and eco-friendly houses for local birds, bees, bats, owls, and kestrels.
Houses for Wildlife
These nesting boxes and houses are suitable for bees, bats, birds, and larger species including owls and kestrels. To ensure we provide houses that truly benefit local wildlife, there are a few things to consider first.
This entire topic is hotly debated so learn what you can and make an informed decision.
Nature, of course, is the best habitat for wildlife. Growing an abundance of native plants and avoiding pesticides and herbicides will do more than any bee or bat house will ever achieve.
If you do want to get some sort of houses, here are a few things to consider.
Should I have a wildlife house?
Will it help, hurt or harm wildlife?
Is it ethical? Is it safe?
Do I have the right space?
Can I properly maintain it?
And if so, what type should I get?
Most animals are territorial, so unless you have a large property with plenty of trees and other natural resources, you should probably narrow your choice down to one box. It’s rather crude and counter-productive to house both the hunter and the hunted.
I suggest contacting a local conservation authority to learn about species at risk in your area and see what they suggest. They will also know about invasive species in your area and what you should avoid.
Materials (untreated wood and other natural items, size, type) and placement (in relation to rest of garden and sun) all matter.
It’s easy to mess up nesting boxes and bug houses / insect hotels so they end up harming instead of housing the intended occupants. There are lots of commercial ones on the market that are poorly designed and/or are not made to be cleaned as needed.
There is no sense in trying to attract wildlife to a toxic or unhealthy environment. The main reason to offer housing is to provide something lacking in the local habitat and, as mentioned, the best thing we can do is to put our time and money toward protecting and reestablishing native habitat.
Bee & Insect Houses
This type of mason bee house is quite popular right now but the longer they are in use, the more we learn about what works and what doesn’t.
It’s an unregulated market, so don’t assume what you’re buying is researched, tested, and beneficial.
Any time we try to mimic what nature does for specific species, we (humans) usually end up causing more harm than good.
The basic concerns are, done wrong, we’re trapping or killing the insects at various life stages, making them much more susceptible to predators, and harboring disease in the chambers.
The bee house (above) is a recommended house for solitary bees (not honey bees).
Solitary bees make individual nests in hollow reeds and twigs, tunnels in the ground, and holes in wood.
This group includes leafcutter bees and mason bees. Both are important members of our eco-system and rarely sting. Also, solitary bees do not produce honey or beeswax.
How to Choose a Mason Bee House
The ideal house has a secure outer structure with removable / replaceable tubes (or blocks with holes).
Looks for these things:
- Tubes (or blocks with deep holes)
- 6-inches deep (15 cm)
- 4-8 mm in diameter (not larger)
- breathable: made from natural fibers (not plastic, glass, metal, or anything hard-shelled like bamboo)
- weather protection (roof overhang to prevent rot)
- can be securely mounted to a fence or wall (not suspended by a chain)
- small size: limited number of tubes (to reduce attractiveness to parasites and predators)
In general, bee houses should be placed about 3 feet (1m) off the ground in a full-sun area.
The tubes/blocks should be replaced annually.
Related: This Bee Knowledge Quiz has lots of interesting info. Impress your friends!
Bird Nesting Boxes
Birdhouses are for Decoration Only
Birdhouses like this are cute in the garden but not appropriate as nesting boxes. And, while some birds may build nests in them, often the designs prove hazardous.
Birdhouses Versus Nesting Boxes: What’s Best For Birds explains what makes a nesting box safe and why we need to block entry holes on decorative birdhouses.
Proper nesting boxes are made specifically for each species of bird. The one shown here is for Bluebirds.
Location and spacing of nesting boxes is also important.
Be sure you can hang the box at the recommended height and direction, out of direct wind.
Some birds are attracted to nesting boxes with shrubs nearby while others like a clear path in and out and some direct sun for warmth.
Most birds like some space between their nests to limit the competition for resources. It’s a full-time job retrieving food for newly hatched birds!
Also, proper nesting boxes should have access for cleaning after each season. Just like bird feeders and birdbaths, they require regular maintenance to avoid the spread of disease.
Free Nesting Box Plans
Owl & Kestrel Boxes
Boxes for owls and kestrels can be quite heavy and require careful planning to safely hang them in best location without damaging trees or risking a fall.
Determine the species you are housing and find out their needs. Some owls, for example, need their boxes lined with wood chips to help keep their owlets warm.
It varies by species, but in general, some owls and kestrels will only nest in woodlands (which may be at the back of your large property). Others may use boxes on isolated trees, mounted approximately 15 feet (5m) off the ground.
Get specific instructions from a local conservation authority to choose the best box and setup for your area.
Love owls? See 14 Owl-Inspired Garden Art & Craft Ideas here.
Local conservation groups often share bat house building plans and instructions if you want to build your own.
In general, a bat house needs to be at least 25 feet (5m) off the ground with minimal obstructions for flight to and from the house.
It can take a few years for bats to adopt these houses so be patient before deciding to try another location.
That rough wooden area leading into the house (at the bottom) is called a bat ladder and important for the bats to get safely in and out.
And that’s it.
Do your homework, find out what’s right in your garden, and decide if a wildlife house is a good option.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛