Spring Cleaning is for the Birds

Western Bluebird @home 2008jun03 LAH 015rrWe’re approaching one of my favorite times of year. It’s bluebird season! We currently have five bluebird boxes on our property. Last year, one was filled with bluebirds and the others were claimed by wrens, swallows, and other cavity nesters.

Now, as a responsible home owner, it’s time to clean them all out. House Wrens typically clean out their own boxes, but bluebirds depend on the landlord to take care of it. That means us. And it’s critical that the box get cleaned before the birds arrive and start to move in. That means now!

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If You Build It…

Western Bluebird_TurkeyCreek-FtCarson-CO_LAH_9780I haven’t been birding much this summer. Finding time was difficult since I’m now at least somewhat gainfully employed. What time I did have was spent learning new plants. I found myself staying up much too late to get up before dawn, especially around the midsummer solstice. Added to the hot weather, the hurdles seemed insurmountable.

The few times I did go out, I didn’t see many birds. Nests had been built, nestlings were demanding more and more food, and the poor birds didn’t have the time or inclination to sit on a branch and sing.

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Starlings Not Welcome Here

european-starling_lincolncityor_20090922_lah_1634Birders in the U.S. are supposed to hate European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), and there are plenty of reasons to do so.

The species originated in Europe, North Africa, and western-to-central Asia. While mostly abundant there as well, the species has been red-listed in England after populations plummeted by more than 80% over the last 40 years [1]. Other northern European countries have witnessed a similar decline [2]. We can only wish that would happen here.

North American populations have exploded since their introduction in the early 1890s. According to the USDA, starlings cost our country $1.5 million in damage to agricultural crops, the consumption of feed intended for livestock, and in property damage. In one winter, a million starlings can down 27,500 tons of livestock feed, not to mention what is ruined by their accumulated droppings—and latest estimates put the US population at over 200 million birds.

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Being a Good Landlord

wren-box_blkforest_20100401_lah_1227I 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.

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