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I have been continually upgrading the habitat for birds and insects in the yard since moving-in in summer 2007. I have been adding plants, feeders, and water sources. The next step is to place some artificial nesting structures.
The setting for my property is standard urban/suburban, with medium-sized lots and single family homes. At about 35 years old, the landscaping is mature. It is definitely a "greenscape", with manicured lawns, lots of flowers and shrubs, and trees up to 60 feet tall. My yard, and my immediate neighbors have a mixture of all of these features. The larger Columbia River and its associated parklands lies about a mile to the east, the smaller Yakima River lies about a mile to the west, and more open and natural arid landscapes lie about a mile to the north.
A lot of different birds pass through the city, either to rest on a migration, or to reside and take advantage of the amenities the city offers them. My "yard list" currently numbers only 14 species, but I know there are several birds that I have been unable to identify correctly.
The goal of the project is to place nest boxes in the yard that target cavity nesting species.
#1 Nuthatch Box
I was surprised to find a pair of Red-Breasted Nuthatches in my yard in August of 2008. They stayed all through the winter, hanging-out in the spruce and pine trees right next to my house. They are my favorite of the birds that have visited my yard. These boxes were built specifically with them in mind, hoping that they will camp-out here permanently, as nuthatches are known to do occasionally in the Tri-Cities. However the dimensions of the boxes are the same or very close for a number of other species so there are opportunities to capture other birds as well. Nuthatches are monogamous birds and not generally migratory, so I am hoping that between my generous feeding and the nest box that they will stay and make this home.
|The target: Red-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)|
I had some leftover fence pickets from when I rebuilt the gate for Angie. They were the perfect size -- half-inch thick, by 6 inches wide, by 6 feet long. I decided to make two identical boxes -- one would go in the pine tree where the nuthatches hang-out most of the time, the other I would place in the neighbor's nearby Douglas Fir, facing my yard. Since that house is for sale, and no one is living there, no one will notice or know the difference, right? A single six-foot plank can make an entire house, with wood left over.....
based on the specs,
no part of the house needs to be wider than 6 inches
so all of the cuts can be made out of a single fence plank.
The entrance hole
dimensions for Nuthatches (and for Downy Woodpeckers, described below)
are the same, and that size is actually quite small (one and one-quarter inch diameter). The boxes are therefore
pretty exclusive to very small birds. Starlings, for example, would not be able to get into these boxes.
Let's be honest, a
project like "bird houses" is essentially just another reason to get
the power tools out.
Here, we have my particular favorite -- the DeWalt Double-Beveling Compound Sliding Miter Saw.
The bevel function allows me to get those sweet-fitting joints just right.
I've not yet cut-off any fingers, so I guess I'm doing alright.
I used a file to bevel and soften the entrance holes.
I then used a handsaw
to score the interior walls. This lumber does not have a highly-finished
but scratching and roughening those surfaces will make it even more natural feeling to them and easier
for the birds to gain footings. You can also see some "nest starter" here on my "work bench". I put a little of
this in there to "encourage" any birds that might be checking the place out.
Here, you can
see the finished birdhouse.
box is now mounted about 16-18 feet off
of the ground on the neighbor's Douglas Fir tree,
facing my yard (and on the lee side of the trunk).
The wood is only lightly treated, and will soon
fade to a grayer tone much like the fence and
so it will blend-in better.
The primary nest box
is placed on this pine tree where most of the Nuthatch activity has been
I was able to get it about 23 feet off of the ground in a nice, viewable spot. The neighbors probably
had their phone in hand ready to dial 9-1-1 if they were watching me do it, but that's all in the past now.
Fortunately, I have good medical insurance to mitigate for sometimes not-so-good judgment.
If you look closely on the left, you can see the sunflower seed feeder which the Nuthatches
visit quite a bit. Not so visible is the suet feeder hanging from the bottom primary branch
on the right. Once I put the suet out, they essentially abandoned the seeds.
* * * * * UPDATES * * * * *
The boxes were both mounted in mid-February. Later in the day that I placed them, the two Nuthatches were making their rounds to the feeder from the tree. One would fly back to a position above the box and one would fly to a position below.
Mid-March was the first time that I saw the birds on the box. One of them went right to the hole and looked in, but never entered.
Now it's starting to
warm-up and so are the birds. I've noticed the Nuthatches making a lot of
noise and chasing each other around, so presume they're getting horny. I
now regularly see both birds go to the box and stand at the hole. I have
probably seen this a dozen times, but still have never seen one of them go
inside. I also observed this once at the other box in the neighbor's
yard. They continue to take suet from the feeder, as well as make their
rounds throughout the day to all the trees in the adjacent yards. I have
successfully kept the Magpies away from the tree and have removed the sock
feeder to reduce the Goldfinch traffic in an attempt to "calm the tree
down" a bit.
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