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Why Don’t Hummingbirds Use Birdhouses: Nesting Habits & Safety

A birdhouse suitable for small birds

Hummingbirds are such wonderful birds. They have jewel-like plumage, pollinate flowers, and don’t hesitate to visit feeders. With luck, these beautiful little birds can even nest in your backyard!

How can you attract hummingbirds to the house? Woodpeckers, bluebirds, and some other birds use birdhouses, but what about hummingbirds?

 

Do Hummingbirds Use Birdhouses?

Birdhouses are a must for any bird-friendly backyard. However, they won’t do anything for hummingbirds. We wish they would, but hummingbirds just don’t use them!

It would be really nice if hummingbirds could nest in birdhouses but no matter how small the birdhouse is, no matter how nice it looks, when it comes to hummingbirds, it’s only going to be quaint backyard décor.

Even large hummingbird species won’t have anything to do with birdhouses.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t install a birdhouse or two. On the contrary, lots of other birds use birdhouses! Put birdhouses up, and you can help species like chickadees, bluebirds, House Wrens, and some other species.

ruby-throatedhummingbird's nest

Hummingbirds prefer open spaces and often build their nests on branches

To avoid giving a helping hand to European Starlings, you have to be careful about the types of birdhouses used. However, as long as the birdhouse has an entrance hole with a diameter smaller than 1.5 inches, that will keep this invasive species away.

Even though hummingbirds won’t use birdhouses, it’s still important to install them for bluebirds and other bird species. Since nest cavities can be scarce in the wild, birdhouses can really help them!

 

Why do they not like birdhouses?

Hummingbirds don’t like birdhouses but they have their reasons. First and foremost, these small birds simply do not nest in tree cavities. It’s the same situation for birds like Yellow Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, American Robins, and many other common, well-known species.

Although a tree cavity looks like a nice, secure place to nest, these and many other birds have evolved to nest in other situations.

Hummingbirds build cup nests high in trees, bushes, or even on the ground because those types of nests just work better for them.

It’s a similar situation for hummingbirds. These little beauties need open space to fly to their nest; something lacking in enclosed birdhouses. They also require a good view from their nests, and to be able to fly off at a moment’s notice.

Hummingbirds need this so they can watch for predators, escape when needed, and frequently feed. If a hummingbird nested in a birdhouse, it would be easier for predators to notice the bird, and harder for it to get away.

Regular birdhouses are also simply too big for hummingbirds. Their entrance holes and size are geared for larger birds. If a hummingbird built its nest inside, it would have too much room and just get evicted by bigger bird species.

 

Where do hummingbirds nest?

Hummingbirds might not nest in birdhouses but they can use other structures. In fact, these fun little birds are much more adaptable than most people realize! They can use all sorts of small hard structures that provide a small platform to construct their nest.

They can nest on small ledges, metal hooks, a connection point for a clothesline, and other similar spots. In some places, hummingbirds even nest on top of power lines and other aspects of electrical wiring, even along busy roads!

ruby-throated hummingbird at her nest

For nesting, the small birds aren’t necessarily shy of people, but they do have to feel safe. For example, if a female hummingbird notices a cat or two living in a backyard, she might not nest there. Or, if she does, she’ll make sure her nest is higher up and out of reach of the felines.

Although hummingbirds can nest on open structures, most prefer trees with plenty of leaves. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, in particular, like to nest on thin branches shaded by foliage.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds and some other species also like to nest on slender branches above streams. That way, the flowing water might provide them with some cooler temperatures, and it’s much harder for snakes and other predators to get to the nest.

 

How to create a suitable environment for hummingbirds?

We can’t use birdhouses for hummingbirds, but we can still encourage them to nest in our backyards! As with other birds, there are several things we can do to provide hummingbirds with a welcome place to nest and raise their young.

The best way to go about it is to sit back and think like a hummingbird. Imagine being a tiny bird that has to constantly feed, have more than enough food for its babies, and feel safe.

We can meet those requirements by providing them with feeders and flowering bushes that have tubular flowers (usually red, yellow, or purple). Some of the better species include Salvia, Cardinal Flowers, and Penstemon, but hummingbirds can also forage at other flowers.

Rufous Hummingbird

Make sure your feeder is clean and full and hummingbirds will quickly realize that they have a good, reliable food source. That reliable food source is vital for nesting but, there’s a couple other things you need.

The small birds also require trees or other vegetation where they can build their nest, and small insects. Contrary to the popular belief, hummingbirds do not just feed on nectar; different bugs are also part of their diet, especially for the young ones. They’ll find those bugs and tiny spiders in gardens with plenty of native plants and NO pesticides.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which birds usually use nest boxes?

Birds that usually use nest boxes are species that nest in tree cavities. These include bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, Prothonotary Warblers, Wood Ducks, and American Kestrels.

Do nest boxes help birds feel safe?

Yes, nest boxes help birds feel safe. Species that use nest boxes feel protected from the elements and predators.

Where do hummingbirds usually build their nests?

Hummingbirds usually build their nests on thin branches beneath foliage, or on small, shaded, open structures.

Which predators prey on hummingbird nests?

Predators that prey on hummingbird nests include Milk Snakes and other snake species, jays and crows, squirrels, and small mammals.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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