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Terra Cotta

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I have only worked in stoneware, firing to ^10 in gas reduction. I am interested in making a series of birdhouses (to be used by real birds) and wondered if terra cotta is considered better for this and why? Is a more porous clay considered better for outdoor use?

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I have been told that birds will not nest in ceramic birdhouses ... too hot in summer, too cold in spring. I made decorative ones in cone 6 porcelain that I have in my yard and never have seen a bird do anything more than rest on top of them. So do them for yard art but don't promise that birds will use them! In which case just use whatever clay body you like best for the look you want. I have a lot of ceramic yard art in all kinds of clay bodies and they all do well ... This is in North Carolina so your results may vary.

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I have been told that birds will not nest in ceramic birdhouses ... too hot in summer, too cold in spring. I made decorative ones in cone 6 porcelain that I have in my yard and never have seen a bird do anything more than rest on top of them. So do them for yard art but don't promise that birds will use them! In which case just use whatever clay body you like best for the look you want. I have a lot of ceramic yard art in all kinds of clay bodies and they all do well ... This is in North Carolina so your results may vary.

 

 

Interesting. Thanks for your feedback and advice. ~p (Indiana)

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I make my birdhouses out of Highwater Clay's Stans Red clay because I do majolica decorating on them. I researched the size hole and depth of a birdhouse and make mine to those specs and also make them so they can be cleaned out at the end of the season. Birds nest in them every summer and people who have purchased them have emailed or called me about the birds nesting in theirs. I do tell them to place the birdhouse in a shady location and to be sure to bring it in during the winter months.

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I have had birds nest in ceramic birdhouses. It's kind cool. The biggest issue is the size and shape of the house, and the size of the entrance hole. Birds have very specific needs when it comes to nesting. So do some research on the house paramaters for the type of bird you want to attract.

 

If you live in an area where the weather gets cold, you do not want terra cotta. It will absorb moisture and crack when it freezes. The tighter the clay, the better. Go cone 6 or 10.

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Wow! Glad you are having more success than I have.

 

Stan's Red is an Earthenware firing between 02 - 06 ... how high are you firing them?

 

 

Chris....I'm firing it to 04. I don't leave them out during the winter. I think the key to having birds nest in them is to follow the specifications for the size of the entrance hole and the depth of the inside below the hole.

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Wow! Glad you are having more success than I have.

 

Stan's Red is an Earthenware firing between 02 - 06 ... how high are you firing them?

 

 

Chris....I'm firing it to 04. I don't leave them out during the winter. I think the key to having birds nest in them is to follow the specifications for the size of the entrance hole and the depth of the inside below the hole.

 

 

I have had imported terra cotta pots come apart (flake)from freezing issues in winter outside in our rather mild climate.

Mark

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The well known (and used) Willamsburg, VA Bird Bottles are made of earthenware and when I have mine out they get a lot of use. The dimensions are 8-3/4 inches tall with a 4 inch opening, and are thrown in a vase shape. The bottom of the vase shape is cut witha a half circle under a vee shape , for cleanout and hanging. There is a tab for a stick perch and the underside has a hole punched parallel for the stick to go into.

 

The originals were hung under the eaves in colonial Virginia and were said to attract birds, who were supposed to control the insect population.

 

John

post-2045-132708221514_thumb.jpg

post-2045-132708221514_thumb.jpg

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The well known (and used) Willamsburg, VA Bird Bottles are made of earthenware and when I have mine out they get a lot of use. The dimensions are 8-3/4 inches tall with a 4 inch opening, and are thrown in a vase shape. The bottom of the vase shape is cut witha a half circle under a vee shape , for cleanout and hanging. There is a tab for a stick perch and the underside has a hole punched parallel for the stick to go into.

 

The originals were hung under the eaves in colonial Virginia and were said to attract birds, who were supposed to control the insect population.

 

John

 

 

Thanks John. Another great idea. I'd seen these a long time ago and but had forgotten about them. I'm excited about all these ideas and hopefully will have some to try this spring. ~p

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Wow! Glad you are having more success than I have.

 

Stan's Red is an Earthenware firing between 02 - 06 ... how high are you firing them?

 

 

Chris....I'm firing it to 04. I don't leave them out during the winter. I think the key to having birds nest in them is to follow the specifications for the size of the entrance hole and the depth of the inside below the hole.

 

 

I have had imported terra cotta pots come apart (flake)from freezing issues in winter outside in our rather mild climate.

Mark

 

I made a terra cotta sculptural vase, no glaze, that stays outside year round, but it's in a protected area so no rain or snow gets to it. It's gone through freezes and thaws for over ten years now and doesn't have one crack or flake. I made a terra cotta stepping stone for the garden and failed to bring it into a protected area....it broke the first winter. I bring the birdhouses inside at the first threat of freeze and put them back out in late April and have never had a problem. I don't think the birdhouses or the sculpture vase would survive if exposed to rain/snow/sleet during the winter.

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I had a terra cotta bird bath outdoors though out several winters and severe freezes and thaws with no flaking nor cracking.

Chip Clawson, former Clay Business manager at Archie Bray tested his terra cotta recipes through

50 freezes and thaws. His terra cotta arches withstand the winters in Helena, Montana.

There are 500 year old terra cotta architectural ornaments on Buildings in Italy that have withstood

centuries of freezes and thaw. You have to fire the clay to a maturity of the proper absorption rate.

 

Marcia

 

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I make my birdhouses out of Highwater Clay's Stans Red clay because I do majolica decorating on them. I researched the size hole and depth of a birdhouse and make mine to those specs and also make them so they can be cleaned out at the end of the season. Birds nest in them every summer and people who have purchased them have emailed or called me about the birds nesting in theirs. I do tell them to place the birdhouse in a shady location and to be sure to bring it in during the winter months.

 

 

 

From my 12 years experience in the construction of wooden birdhouses for Sparrows, Parus major, Parus caeruleus, Blackbirds, White Wagtails and Tawny Owl, I would have to agree with the importance of researching into the size of hole and depth of birdhouse in order to assure the suitability and success for habitation. I used the Latin names (above & linked to Wikipedia) because this website censored out the common names I originally supplied (also used by the English speaking world as well as Wikipedia!) This always trying to maintain the politically correct aspect for the Puritans is total BS..... biggrin.gif

 

 

Anyway......I've maintained 15 birdhouses on our small property for the past 5 years and by researching and building to meet their needs, I have insured full habitation in each of these houses for the selected breeds throughout the entire year (except for the Wagtails who favor migrating to sunnier/warmer Africa for their winters).

 

It's very important in construction of birdhouses that are intended for actual habitation, as Mossyrock mentioned, that a means is built-in that allows for easy clean-out on an annual basis. When I clean out my birdhouses, I can visually check on the brooding season's success. Normally these birds will have three to four broods of four to six eggs during one summer season. The clean-out will show each brood level (similar to a soil stratification/profile) with an occasional abrupt end of nesting if one of the young or fledgling has died in the nest, for some reason. Occasionally I've found one or two eggs in one of the lower levels that remained unhatched, as well. After the nesting season is completed, generally the bird house is too full of material for continued nesting the following year, hence the importance of vigilant yearly clean-out/maintenance.

 

Our birds are most always finished with their last brood of nesting by early to mid-August. I wait until about the end of September (end of October for the Tawny Owl) to clean out the nesting boxes of old material and any insects, so that the birds will have ample time to gather fresh dried grasses, moss, etc. to rebuild their insulated winter nests, which I will witness them doing so within a couple of weeks. These birds continue to nest year round through the snowy and cold winter, while I supplement their feed with about 100 pounds of blended wild birdseed, tallow and apples. Some of our sparrows have nested continually in the same house for the past four years, so they are almost like family... biggrin.gif Just this morning as I was taking sunflower seeds out to the feeder I noticed a little sparrow head poking out of its bird house awaiting its breakfast. No sooner had I closed the door, it and its mate were at the feeder indulging in vittles. This particular couple (pictured below during early August) has the best view of all our bird houses and are seen throughout the year just sitting together on their house, soaking in the rural ambiance. Being close and visible from the house it is also easy to keep tabs with their 'goings-on', as well.

enjoyingtheview.jpg

 

 

Note the size of the hole (in the picture) compared to the size of the sparrows. The hole is 25mm in diameter and from the appearance of the birds it looks to be too small. The birds are mostly feathers and air-filled lightweight bones and squeeze in quite easily. The small hole allows for greater security towards the young.

 

I would add that it may be equally as important to furnish habitat during the winter, as well as the summer months, but this may be more specific to the particular region and type of birds the habitat is geared towards (ie, they being migratory or not).

 

My thinking with constructing a ceramic birdhouse would be to at least glaze the exterior top to provide a more secure waterproof shelter if one desires to offer winter protection as well. But as Mossyrock pointed out, the size of the hole is imperative as well as the interior dimensions, if one desires to attract nesting birds. I've found that a hole varying just a few millimeters from the specific range of size required by a distinct species of bird can and will determine whether or not the birdhouse will have borders moving in. The actual finished size of these requirements need to be taken into consideration along with the appropriate compensation for clay shrinkage through the drying and firing cycles. Myself, I haven't built any ceramic birdhouses because I always have an abundance of scrap wood to build with and wood is a better insulator from heat and cold then ceramic. My wooden houses, I believe, tend to offer cozier habitats against our cooler climate here in Scandinavia.

 

 

An additional note... Birdhouses do not need a post sticking out in front of the door for the birds to land on. I've never seen these even in the forests, where the birds find their natural nesting habitats as well. It is for the most part a detail that most avian aficionados would eliminate as it provides a perch for predators like magpies and squirrels to rest on, while feeding on eggs or young chicks.

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Our instructor was asked this exact question last week in class.

 

Here in the Colorado Rockies @ 7500 ft where Winters are long/cold and (usually) severe, we were instructed to use only cone 6 or above clays for outdoor work, especially if they were to come in contact with the ground. I would think a birdhouse would be OK in terra cotta but like anything else made from clay, if you truly want to use it again next year you will be wise to bring it inside and protect it from the elements in our area.

 

best of luck

 

teardrop

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...Another possibility without glazing could be to apply a waterproofing sealant to the terra-cotta. Recently while laying our antique terra-cotta floor tiles, I needed to use a product to remove dried cement from the tiles. A old Spanish company supplies a product for doing this and while I was researching their products I also noticed they had a waterproofing material for porous exterior surfaces, which I had seen used on exterior terra-cotta floors previously.

 

The company, Monestir, also describes the material, Hidroclay®, as

 

 

  • Product indicated for waterproofing all types of brick, stone and concrete facades.
  • Graffiti-proof and material strengthener, this no-shine treatment prevents the appearance of damp and salt stains.
  • Colours remain unaltered.
  • It does not form a layer and allows the material to breathe.

 

 

The question then becomes, the availability or finding a supplier stateside. Or another manufacturer that makes a similar product.

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...Another possibility without glazing could be to apply a waterproofing sealant to the terra-cotta.

 

 

I failed to mention in my previous posts that if my birdhouses are decorated with underglazes and not glazed, I do put a couple of coats of cement sealer on them and I reapply every couple of years. Just a quick application and they're ready to go. Another important feature is to construct the birdhouse so that rain cannot run down the hanging mechanism into the birdhouse.

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I make my birdhouses out of Highwater Clay's Stans Red clay because I do majolica decorating on them. I researched the size hole and depth of a birdhouse and make mine to those specs and also make them so they can be cleaned out at the end of the season. Birds nest in them every summer and people who have purchased them have emailed or called me about the birds nesting in theirs. I do tell them to place the birdhouse in a shady location and to be sure to bring it in during the winter months.

 

 

 

From my 12 years experience in the construction of wooden birdhouses for Sparrows, Parus major, Parus caeruleus, Blackbirds, White Wagtails and Tawny Owl, I would have to agree with the importance of researching into the size of hole and depth of birdhouse in order to assure the suitability and success for habitation. I used the Latin names (above & linked to Wikipedia) because this website censored out the common names I originally supplied (also used by the English speaking world as well as Wikipedia!) This always trying to maintain the politically correct aspect for the Puritans is total BS..... biggrin.gif

 

 

Anyway......I've maintained 15 birdhouses on our small property for the past 5 years and by researching and building to meet their needs, I have insured full habitation in each of these houses for the selected breeds throughout the entire year (except for the Wagtails who favor migrating to sunnier/warmer Africa for their winters).

 

It's very important in construction of birdhouses that are intended for actual habitation, as Mossyrock mentioned, that a means is built-in that allows for easy clean-out on an annual basis. When I clean out my birdhouses, I can visually check on the brooding season's success. Normally these birds will have three to four broods of four to six eggs during one summer season. The clean-out will show each brood level (similar to a soil stratification/profile) with an occasional abrupt end of nesting if one of the young or fledgling has died in the nest, for some reason. Occasionally I've found one or two eggs in one of the lower levels that remained unhatched, as well. After the nesting season is completed, generally the bird house is too full of material for continued nesting the following year, hence the importance of vigilant yearly clean-out/maintenance.

 

Our birds are most always finished with their last brood of nesting by early to mid-August. I wait until about the end of September (end of October for the Tawny Owl) to clean out the nesting boxes of old material and any insects, so that the birds will have ample time to gather fresh dried grasses, moss, etc. to rebuild their insulated winter nests, which I will witness them doing so within a couple of weeks. These birds continue to nest year round through the snowy and cold winter, while I supplement their feed with about 100 pounds of blended wild birdseed, tallow and apples. Some of our sparrows have nested continually in the same house for the past four years, so they are almost like family... biggrin.gif Just this morning as I was taking sunflower seeds out to the feeder I noticed a little sparrow head poking out of its bird house awaiting its breakfast. No sooner had I closed the door, it and its mate were at the feeder indulging in vittles. This particular couple (pictured below during early August) has the best view of all our bird houses and are seen throughout the year just sitting together on their house, soaking in the rural ambiance. Being close and visible from the house it is also easy to keep tabs with their 'goings-on', as well.

enjoyingtheview.jpg

 

 

Note the size of the hole (in the picture) compared to the size of the sparrows. The hole is 25mm in diameter and from the appearance of the birds it looks to be too small. The birds are mostly feathers and air-filled lightweight bones and squeeze in quite easily. The small hole allows for greater security towards the young.

 

I would add that it may be equally as important to furnish habitat during the winter, as well as the summer months, but this may be more specific to the particular region and type of birds the habitat is geared towards (ie, they being migratory or not).

 

My thinking with constructing a ceramic birdhouse would be to at least glaze the exterior top to provide a more secure waterproof shelter if one desires to offer winter protection as well. But as Mossyrock pointed out, the size of the hole is imperative as well as the interior dimensions, if one desires to attract nesting birds. I've found that a hole varying just a few millimeters from the specific range of size required by a distinct species of bird can and will determine whether or not the birdhouse will have borders moving in. The actual finished size of these requirements need to be taken into consideration along with the appropriate compensation for clay shrinkage through the drying and firing cycles. Myself, I haven't built any ceramic birdhouses because I always have an abundance of scrap wood to build with and wood is a better insulator from heat and cold then ceramic. My wooden houses, I believe, tend to offer cozier habitats against our cooler climate here in Scandinavia.

 

 

An additional note... Birdhouses do not need a post sticking out in front of the door for the birds to land on. I've never seen these even in the forests, where the birds find their natural nesting habitats as well. It is for the most part a detail that most avian aficionados would eliminate as it provides a perch for predators like magpies and squirrels to rest on, while feeding on eggs or young chicks.

 

 

Wow. These are wonderful responses and ideas. I guess I have some research to do too. I so appreciate the generosity of this forum. Many thanks. ~p

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