Inviting birds to stay and nest

Photos By Donny Michel

Spring has arrived and, for most species of wild birds, it is the time to mate, build nests, lay eggs, and raise offspring. As a typical spring morning dawns in San Diego, we hear them chirp and call as though they’re greeting the sunrise, but they are communicating with each other. Throughout the day, they frantically seek their mates and fight for territory so they might settle down and start a family. With a little luck, they may choose to nest in your garden.

Wooden birdhouses imitate 
a cavity nest inside a tree
Wooden birdhouses imitate a cavity nest inside a tree

Besides bringing beauty, color, music, and a connection to nature to the garden, birds assist us with a very important garden chore: pest control. In the spring, when garden pests rear their ugly heads, birds are busy filling the mouths of their hatchlings with protein-rich insects. They comb branches, buds, blooms, and soil for ants, aphids, caterpillars, earwigs, grasshoppers, grubs, mites, and other pests. Create an attractive environment for birds to nest and you create a win-win arrangement for everyone, except the garden-spoiling pests.

More than 500 bird species have been recorded in San Diego County. Many of these species are called “cavity nesters” because they build their nests and nurture their offspring inside sheltered chambers or cavities. Common cavity-nesting birds that breed regularly in San Diego County include the Western Bluebird, the Mountain Chickadee, the Red-shafted Flicker, the Ash-throated Flycatcher, the Pacific Slope Flycatcher, the Purple Martin, the White-breasted Nuthatch, the Sierra Red-breasted Sapsucker, the European Starling, the Tree Swallow, the Violet-green Swallow, the Oak Titmouse, the Bewick’s House Wren, and many Woodpeckers including the Acorn, Downy, Hairy, Ladder-backed, Nuttall’s, and White-headed varieties. If any of these species take up residence in your garden this spring, you’re in for an enriching and rewarding experience.

Pat Asakawa, a member of the Master Gardener Association for San Diego County and co-chair of the Master Gardener Birdhouse Committee, heads up an effort to make gourd birdhouses that accommodate the preferences of local cavity nesters. “Birds want to breed and raise their families in relative peace and quiet, so it’s best to install birdhouses in the late winter or early spring in a calm corner of the garden, near a water source. They also find plants native to California attractive.” Pat advises. “Most birdhouses should be placed between six and ten feet high, but Woodpeckers, Flickers, and Flycatchers nest higher—as high as twenty feet.”

Pat Asakawa is a San Diego Master Gardener. If you have any gardening questions, you can contact the Master Gardener Association at help@mastergardenersd.org or call 858.822.6910.

“When hanging a gourd birdhouse, it’s important that the entrance faces away from the prevailing wind and it doesn’t have too much swing,” Pat adds. “The birdhouses that we create have one and one-half to two-inch entrance holes, to accommodate the various preferences of our local cavity nesters.”

Pat and her team of Master Gardener volunteers handcraft their birdhouses from gourds, while other birdhouse committee members create wooden birdhouses from reclaimed and recycled wood. The gourds are grown in San Diego County by Master Gardeners, friends of Master Gardeners, and at times they are purchased from Welburn Gourd Farm in Fallbrook. The birdhouses, along with birdfeeders, solitary bee homes, and wood bug boxes—all crafted by Master Gardener volunteers—are available for sale online. 

The Master Gardener Association also offers educational events to the public throughout the year where the handcrafted items are available. All sales proceeds go to support the educational mission of the Master Gardener Association of San Diego County.

Interested in adding another dimension to your garden and contributing to the efforts of an excellent local gardening resource? Join The Master Gardener Association’s mailing list and buy a birdhouse online. Your garden and our local wild birds will thank you for it.

Locallly grown gourds provide a natural home
Locallly grown gourds provide a natural home






Checklist of Birds Recorded in San Diego County

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds”

San Diego Audubon Society