Back From Holiday
Spring is right around the corner. The birds are on their way back from a winter in warmer climes. Soon the fresh morning air will be filled with a chorus of varied song. Spring is a wonderful time of year as nature awakes from its winter slumber.
But there is a problem for many of the spring migrants and year-round residents alike. Prime locations for nesting, naturally, are becoming fewer and further between. Urban sprawl, agriculture and other factors are working against many bird species that nest in Ontario. Nest boxes may be the only lifeline for a successful breeding season.
What birds use nest boxes?
Cavity nesting species are the prime users of the traditional single residence bird house. These species range from ducks to songbirds. Cavity-nester’s are accustomed to either excavating their own nest or finding a “ready-to-go” tree cavity to use. The problem is that an ideal tree cavity may not exist near suitable habitat. Therefore, it is important that we provide these vulnerable species opportunities to nest near their preferred feeding grounds.
Each one of us can make the difference
Location is important to selecting the right nest box and target species. Let’s look at three bird species that are found in three different types of habitat.
Habitat : Open Fields
This gorgeous blue and rusty-colored bird has been hit the hardest by habitat loss leading to the reduction of suitable nesting sites. The Eastern Bluebird favors the open country. It spends most of its time in meadows and fields searching for a wide variety of insects to feed its young. Due to its habitat requirements, both agriculture and urban sprawl have eliminated a vast majority of suitable land. When the Eastern Bluebird does find favorable foraging habitat it may not be able to find a proper nest opportunity nearby. Natural tree cavities in these areas are few and far between. The good news is that bluebirds take well to man-made bird boxes.
Type of Box
We recommend using the Dorrie Box. This style is easy to use for monitoring purposes with an effective hinged door. The Dorrie box is the most recommended style by the Ontario Bluebird Society. For plans for this nest box please click here.
Also recommended by the Ontario Bluebird Society is the Peterson and standard boxes
Placing two bluebird nest boxes within close proximity (15-20 feet) of each other. The purpose of this method is to allow tree swallows and bluebirds to nest without having to compete for spots. Tree swallows and bluebirds both favor similar environments and nesting locations. In the spring bluebirds are generally the first on scene giving them the best selection to pick from. Due to their territorial nature bluebirds will not nest within a couple hundred feet of another breeding pair of bluebirds. By adding an additional box nearby this will ensure at least one opportunity for a tree swallow. A great solution for both species.
Key Installation Notes
It is recommended to mount the box on a galvanized steel post with the entrance being about 6 feet from the ground
- Bird box entrance facing south east
- Install predator guards or cover pole with grease
- Clean out the box after the first clutch because often bluebirds will have two clutches
- Remove any invasive species (house sparrow or starling) nest building material
Field edges, meadows, open spaces, golf courses and agricultural lands
For more info about bluebirds please visit Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society
Habitat : Forest/Residential
This year-round, happy go-lucky species is a common visitor to bird feeders across Ontario. Naturally the chickadee nests in tree cavities where it will either find an existing hole or excavate its own. Chickadees are known to nest in residential areas especially those with wooded areas nearby.
Type of Box
Chickadees are not extremely picky when it comes to nest box shape and size. It is recommended the entrance holes are (1-1/8”). Since they often in engage in nest excavation it is advisable to put 1” of wood shavings at the bottom of the nest box. This will replicate natural excavation, as they will remove some of the shavings and use the rest for nest building. This style and location of nest box may also attract house wrens or nuthatches.
Key Installation Notes
- Mount on existing post, tree or install a metal pole
- Hole directed away from prevailing winds (east, southeast)
- 5-15 feet height
The edges of woodland forests, fence rows on residential properties, mounted on trees with nearby cover, etc.
More information at Cornell lab of ornithology on chickadee nest boxes
Habitat – Wetland
This unique species is known for nesting in large tree cavities nearby or in wetland area. The elegant male is one of the most renowned figures to grace ponds and marshes across North America. The wood duck is also known for the free fall that some ducklings take as they jump out of the nest for the first time entering their new world. Look at this youtube video as these little ducklings take a leap of faith.
Type of Box
The wood duck box is quite large. The entrance hole is recommend to be approximately 3-4” in size. Cedar is most recommend material for nest box. It is important to include a fledgling ladder (often a form of mesh fastened to the inside of the box) in order for the young to climb out of the nest when fledged.
Key Installation Notes
Mount on a pole between 6-30 feet in height
- Ensure the nest box is at least 3 feet above the high water mark
- Install predator guards or grease the pole
- Ideally face box towards the main body of water
Edge of ponds, wetlands and rivers. The ideal placement for the nest box is within the choice body of water.
Please visit Wood Duck Society for more information about nest boxes.
Start with One…
Start small. Even if you have room for more nest boxes just focus on getting at least one box installed this spring. Got some time to put out more? Great! But we encourage you to take a step and start with one.
Take some time and review the type of habitat on or near your property. Once you have an idea of the species you could provide a home for take an educated guess to where the ideal placement can be found. Simply, do your best and let the birds take of the rest.
Join the cause
Are you ambitious? Could you offer some of your time to be involved in a larger project? Or perhaps you don’t have a property suitable for nest boxes currently? There are wide variety of nest box monitoring programs to join. Being citizen scientists is important for conservation efforts. Find out if you local naturalist club or conservation area have any programs available.
Bluebird trail volunteering
If your local naturalist club has a program set up it will most likely relate to bluebirds. Generally this involves checking the nest boxes once a week and recording the information you find. The information gathered out in the field visits is submitted to the regional bluebird society and then eventually the national society. This helps immensely to understand population growth and distribution trends for the Eastern Bluebird. At Not So Hollow Farm we have enjoyed being involved with bluebird trail monitoring projects. It’s a great opportunity to learn and a rewarding use of time.
The time is now
If you think that a spot on your property may be suitable for any of these species, the clock is ticking for 2017. Bluebirds are the first to be in need for new nesting digs- they often begin to look and build a nest at the end of March. As soon as the ice disappears from an adjacent bod of water wood ducks are ready to check out rentals. So analyze your property to see what opportunities are available for nest boxes. You can make a difference for a breeding pair this year! We’ve all heard the expression “Think globally, act locally”. Helping out our local feathered friends is a way to be involved with the big picture.