Spring-cleaning time has arrived. Seventeen bird nest boxes contained last year’s nesting material at Ody Brook. The backyard supported an Eastern Bluebird family. House wrens arrived later in the spring and raised a family in the same box. We were concerned the wren might kill young bluebirds to gain nest box access but it did not.
This year I checked 29 nest boxes. Seventeen had nesting material and twelve were empty. Empty ones probably were not used to raise young but likely provided winter shelter. Boxes are in the field, shrub thickets, woods, and at pond’s edge in hopes of attracting a variety of 30 plus cavity nesting species.
Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and even the Great-crested Flycatchers nest in hollow living or dead trees. Lack of tree cavities could be a limiting factor that prevents bird reproductive success when hollow trees are removed from neighborhoods or are in short supply. Unless a tree poses a danger to the house or people, let them stand. Woodpeckers excavate cavities that other birds use in succeeding years. Fortunately dead trees stand for many years. People remove many for firewood and that makes nesting success difficult.
About 20 years ago a cherry tree died at the edge of the yard and it still stands through gale force winds. An Eastern Phoebe selected it as a favorite perch from which to hunt insects. The Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker considers it a great drumming tree. The dead wood resonates sound creating a loud territorial announcement. The barren tree provides great views of perching birds.
Install nest boxes to assist bird survival. Avoid placing them close to trails or where people regularly frequent. Most should be obscure of easy view to provide nesting privacy from predators and people. I have placed nest boxes in the woods to reduce nest cavity shortage. Boxes in the field serve Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds where they vie for the nesting space. Two boxes are placed within 15 feet of each other. Tree Swallows claim one and prevent other swallows from using the second box. Swallows do not object to bluebird neighbors but draw the line at other tree swallows. In effect the swallow helps bluebirds by protecting the second box from swallow use.
Wrens prefer shrubbery nearby. When shrubs grew too close for bluebirds, I cleared more area and bluebirds returned to use the box.
The Eastern Screech Owl nest box was not checked to make sure it is empty. We can see the nest box opening as we enter the carport and sometimes the owl peers out at us. The box is the same style used for Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Buffleheads. We have suitable habitat for Wood Ducks that are present each summer.
I clean nest boxes but let the birds do their own spring-cleaning in natural cavities. Hopefully nest cavities are not in short supply at Ody Brook. To help bird populations install nest boxes where you live. Our expanding human population is crowding birds out of neighborhoods so help by providing nest boxes. Hopefully clean water and food are abundant if pesticide and herbicide use is limited. Provide nest boxes and maybe you will have 17 occupied boxes and 12 empty ones. If water and food are plentiful, empty boxes might indicate adequate nesting space is present in nature niches.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.