Now that winter has melted into puddles of post-traumatic memories, it’s time to turn our attention to something more constructive than shoveling snow. Something, for example, like putting up birdhouses.
You don’t have to be an experienced builder to get a project like this underway. All you need is a miniature house or two or three, purchasable from area stores, and the gumption to hang them from wires or nail them to posts in places appealing to creatures with feathers.
Or, if your DIY urge insists that you play the role of carpenter as well as project manager, you can get down and dirty - or at least sawdusty - and build the houses yourself. Though it’s true that current lumber prices are stratospheric, you can take solace in the fact that the dimensions of your projects will measure in square inches rather than hundreds or even thousands of square feet.
The trick to masterminding a successful avian housing project is to learn what species of birds might like to locate on your property, and then to provide them with the sort of buildings they prefer.
Common sense can pretty well answer the first question. Look out the window and note the kind of birds you see. Except for a handful of migrators who are merely passing through on the way to points farther north or south, the birds you see here in the spring are here to breed and raise new offspring.
Not every species is apt to make use of human-crafted houses, some preferring instead to nest in bushes or shrubs or trees (or even, like killdeers, to hunker down on the ground). But many species welcome prebuilt shelter and will appreciate your efforts by moving in.
When it comes to choosing one particular house from another, birds pay careful attention to the size of the front (and usually only) door. The classic “Woodworking For Wildlife” publication, put out by the Nongame Wildlife division of the Department of Natural Resources and written by Carrol Henderson, provides the plans and dimensions for some 26 different structures that will accommodate several dozen species of wildlife, including critical information regarding the size and shape of the entrance opening and whether or not to include a perch, which in some instances may attract predators.
The booklet also contains helpful tips about how to insure the nest box will remain dry and well-ventilated, and hopefully free from incursion by harmful exotics like house sparrows and European starlings, known to kill or drive away native songbirds. It also shows ways to protect nesting birds from the predations of house cats and raccoons, and suggests optimal places and heights at which to install the various kinds of nest boxes.
Given the fact that the needs of our ever-growing human population steadily reduce the number of naturally occurring tree cavities in which some 40 bird species normally nest, the need for nest boxes grows larger every year.
If you have the time and the willingness to buy or build a couple of modest houses to help address that need, the dividends that come your way in the form of learning and emotional satisfaction will more than offset the effort spent.
Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com.