I splurged on two nest boxes this week. I hadn’t meant to—they’re not in the budget—but I reasoned that attracting birds with bird houses was ultimately cheaper than buying ever more bird seed (although I’m sure I’ll do that too).
I recently made my early spring rounds to check out the accommodations I’m offering my feathered visitors. As landlord, I take responsibility for making sure the boxes are safe and clean. I remove any nesting materials from last year, to reduce the chance of parasites infesting the new family. I inspect the boxes for worn out joints, loose screws, and rotting wood. And I make sure they have some sort of predator guard around the entrance hole.
That last point is particularly important. Squirrels and other animals are adept at reaching in and stealing eggs and vulnerable baby birds, even enlarging the access hole if necessary. To give my tenants a fighting chance, I either screw a chew-proof metal plate over the entrance, or add a thick wooden block to thwart these thieves. You can see the sort of damage that occurs when these precautions aren’t followed.
This year, two of my existing boxes didn’t pass my exam, and needed to be replaced. I was especially sad about the round house my dad had made us when we moved here 17 years ago. It was not only my favorite, but a favorite of white-breasted nuthatches as well. But even cedar doesn’t last forever, and the box was finally past repair.
My dad no longer is able to do the woodworking he used to be so proficient at, and I’m more likely to hit my thumb than a nail, so I headed down to the store to see what was available. As I expected, there’s a wide range of choices, some much better than others.
The nest boxes offered by our local discount chain were, to be honest, pretty pathetic. So-called “bluebird houses” were much too small for bluebirds. All the boxes were assembled with flimsy staples rather than screws, and in many cases there was no way to open them for cleaning. I was particularly appalled by those with landing perches—our native birds don’t need them; perches merely invite invasive species (House Sparrows in particular) to usurp the bird house. Finally, none of the boxes had predator guards, although they would be easy to add.
Climbing back into the car, I then drove to the wild bird specialty store, hoping to find something more appropriate. I wasn’t disappointed. Of course, the boxes cost more, but they looked like they would last for years. Walls were thick enough to provide some insulation from our erratic spring weather. Screws held the walls together, and one side opened to check on the nest and for cleaning after the family was grown and gone. Even better, the boxes and entrance holes were properly sized for a specific species, making them much more likely to be used by discriminating parents. While not all the boxes offered were equipped with predator guards, an assortment of inexpensive metal plates for sale made adding my own a cinch.
Picking out two homes (for house wrens and chickadees), I made my purchases and headed home. Now all I have to do is balance on a ladder with each box, a hammer, and some nails, and hope I can manage to attach them securely to our trees. The birds are waiting.