Setting up an attractive backyard for birds to enjoy takes time and an understanding of what they need.
Birds like yards with ample food and water sources as well as nesting materials and proper locations. Many species of birds will nest in cavities, such as birdhouses.
Colorful flowers and feeders attract birds. However, birds tend to seek out protective and camouflaged areas to raise their young. Color preferences can vary by species. Generally, birdhouses painted with non-toxic paints in colors such as muted blues, purples, and greens are attractive to birds. Other colors such as gray or earthy, brown tones are desirable as well.
Top 6 Birdhouse Colors That Attract Birds
When painting, opt for colors that offer a camouflaged exterior.
Birdhouses should also be securely mounted away from distractions, and 5 feet or more up from the ground.
Dark-colored birdhouses should not be hung in direct sunlight, since they will absorb the heat. A hot birdhouse fosters toxic bacteria growth and can be too hot for the birds inside.
If you implement these, yet your birdhouse goes unused for a season, consider painting it in a different color for the next season as suggested below.
Several studies have been done to look at bird behavior regarding both feeders and houses.
While the results are not unanimous, the following colors were attractive to nesting birds.
1. Muted Green
Green is the color of many kinds of plants and vegetation, making it an excellent choice for camouflage and painting a birdhouse.
Green is attractive to cavity-nesting birds, such as blackbirds (Turdus merula) and thrushes (Turdidae).
Gray is a color that naturally camouflages well.
Birds that may nest in a house of this color may include quails (Coturnix coturnix) and some species of thrushes (Turdidae), such as the eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis).
Silver paints appear gray, but make sure you do not use a reflective kind.
Blue is a popular choice for birds such as blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata), starlings (Sturnidae), and bluebirds (Sialia).
Opt for a muted blue over a bright hue.
Nocturnal birds such as owls (Strigiformes) like purple (and blue) tones.
Choose a muted purple over a bright tone.
Robins (Turdus migratorius) have shown they like birdhouses planted black.
This color allows them to blend in since their upper backs are black as well.
6. Neutral, Earthy Tones
If your birdhouse is a neutral earth tone such as tan, brown, or natural wood coloring, you will invite in a larger variety of nesting birds.
To provide a birdhouse that handles weathering better, opt for natural, organic stains. Refer to the product labeling to make sure they do not have harmful chemicals.
Birds such as the following may nest in the natural tones of birdhouses:
- House wren (Troglodytes aedon)
- Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
- Tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
Color And Paint Considerations
While function, size, and location are the driving factors for birds in using a birdhouse, colors can influence the decision as well.
There are a couple of considerations to keep in mind when painting a birdhouse.
Colors For Camouflage Protection
Colors such as those found on flowers represent food sources such as seeds and nectar and access to plant material for building nests, as well. Planting a variety of colorful flowers can attract birds to your yard.
However, nesting birds will opt for muted colors that allow them to camouflage themselves, their eggs, and hatchlings from threats.
If you choose a birdhouse paint that blends in with flowers, a bird may not nest there. This is because it is more likely to be a disruptive environment for raising offspring if other creatures are visiting the flowers too.
While colors like red, yellow, and orange are pretty to look at, these bright colors are found on flowers that have a higher nectar content.
Hummingbirds (Trochilidae) for example, will be attracted to these colors, but in regards to yellow, so are bees. Additionally, hummingbirds do not nest in birdhouses.
Therefore it is important to avoid colors that bring increased and unwanted attention to a birdhouse.
Avoid Reflective And White Paints
Avoid using reflective, iridescent, or fluorescent paints as these can glimmer or appear bright in the light. This will show where a birdhouse is located.
Reserve these colors for feeders instead of houses.
White is seen in many birds’ plumages. Birds use white feathers to flash at predators to scare or startle them.
You should avoid using white paint for most birdhouses. However, purple martins (Progne subis) don’t mind white birdhouses and will nest in them since the colors reflect the summer heat.
Use Bright Colors For Decorative Purposes
Many commercial birdhouses can be found in bright colors with the thought that they will attract similarly colored birds.
If you simply want to use colorful and bright birdhouses as decor, then you can paint with whatever colors you’d like.
Keep in mind that bright colors are also attractive to some insects and that a colorful birdhouse may not have any residents.
Use Non-Toxic Paint
In general, natural, untreated wood is sufficient for a birdhouse. However, if you choose to paint the exterior, leave the interior paint free.
The paint should conform to ASTM-D4236 standards. This includes that the paint will not cause oral toxicity, respiratory issues, or skin irritation.
Generally, water-based paints are safer in regards to toxicity than oil-based ones. Semi-gloss paints will be more durable outside, but make sure it meets non-toxic requirements.
Tips For Painting A Birdhouse
Consider the following if you paint a birdhouse:
- Paint the birdhouse when it is not mounted.
- Clean it with a mild soap and water solution.
- Rinse it with clean water.
- Allow it to fully dry before painting.
- Lightly sand the surfaces if necessary.
- Wipe off sanded dust.
- Rinse and allow to dry.
- Do not paint the interior.
- It is grooved and designed for the hatchlings to eventually exit.
- Painting this inside could also seal drainage holes closed making it unsanitary and unsafe.
- Do not paint the lip of the entrance hole.
- Birds and hatchlings may peck at or chip the paint off.
- Even if it is non-toxic, it is not a suitable food source if it is consumed.
- Additionally, the paint chips could irritate the hatchlings’ sensitive eyes and lungs.
- Do not paint over any ventilation or drainage holes.
- Take care to not seal any moving parts, such as the access panel, with paint.
- Prop it open and allow it to fully dry before closing.
- Consider if the birdhouse needs an additional coat of paint or a primer first.
- Allow the painted birdhouse to fully cure and dry according to the paint’s instructions.
- This gives the paint time to disperse any odors.
- At the end of the breeding season, if the hatchlings have left, inspect the birdhouse for chipped or peeling paint.
- Repaint, reseal, and repair the birdhouse as needed.
Benefits Of Painting A Birdhouse
Aging and cracking can occur in wood. These cracks could expand in hot summer temperatures, making the birdhouse less stable.
Painting can seal small cracks in a birdhouse structure helping it to be stable and last longer.
Additionally, paint can revitalize a faded birdhouse, or give it a new look in an attempt to attract a different species of bird.
About Birds’ Color Vision
Avian vision is more complex than human and mammal vision. Birds have 4 photoreceptors in their eyes, whereas humans have 3 and many mammals have only 2.
Most birds have 4 cone photoreceptors for color vision which allows them to detect a broader range of colors. These colors include those that are on the ultraviolet spectrum. Birds that can see in the dark have a night vision rod photoreceptor.
Scientists have found that birds’ cone photoreceptor cells have a spherical structure resembling the shape of an oil droplet. This droplet filters light that is converted to electrical signals to the brain to enhance color discrimination.
These bright colors are detected on food sources, attracting birds to them. Conversely, birds can also see colors that would allow them to blend in or camouflage.
Some birds, such as flycatchers (Muscicapidae) have an even more complex structure called a megamitochondria. This has hundreds of droplets.
It is thought that this structure aids the flycatcher in detecting, tracking, and capturing fast-moving prey, such as insects, especially in ambient light situations.
Role Of Colors
Colors play an important role in a bird’s survival.
These include the following:
- Colorful and patterned plumage attracts mates and like-species.
- Colorful plumage and patterns can confuse predators.
- Colors provide camouflage from predators.
- Colors indicate a food source.
This video further explains the ultraviolet colors that birds can see:
Painting a birdhouse with non-toxic camouflage-friendly colors is ideal for attracting cavity-nesting birds.
The best colors for a birdhouse are natural, earthy-toned brown and grays, black, and muted blues, greens, or purples.
While painting a birdhouse to resemble your own house, or in your favorite colors, can be fun, it may not be suitable for birdhouses.
Brightly colored or reflective birdhouses will attract predators, insects, and other birds, and therefore birds are less likely to use them.