Become a Nesting Know-It-All
To a birder, Nesting Season just might be the most important time of the year; there are so many different events, so many changes, so many steps, and so many birds! To keep track of I all can be quite confusing. Hopefully this blog will simplify this season for you as it is segmented into Building a Nest, Birdhouses: What to Look For and How to Hang Them Up, and What to Feed Them.
Building a Nest
Nests are so common that a lot of folks don’t pay much attention to them anymore, but I encourage you to take a closer look. Nests are masterpieces! They are compacted, woven, glued, stacked, staggered, and balanced. The amount of work that goes into a nest is tremendous, and they build a new one EVERY clutch. These birds are pros at gathering the needed materials and supplies to have a successful nest, however you can make their lives way easier!
What we notice quickly with most nests are the pine needles. They are sturdy enough when piled together, but flexible enough to be woven together. Another material we often see are small twigs (for the same reasons as pine needles) and lichen/moss. Those two are included for insulation and rain deterrent.
Those are obvious, but there are actually several more component that can go into a nest! Several birds use mud to cake their nest (some birds make their whole nest out of mud). Smaller birds, most notably the hummingbird (which is the subject of our next post!), will use spider webs as glue. Additionally, they can use bark, tree sap, leaves, grass clippings, seed shells, pebbles, and sometimes feathers in their nests! To go over every type of nest would be a little too much, so instead, let’s shift our focus on to what you can do to make the nest building process easier.
As I mentioned earlier, birds will build a nest for each clutch they have in a season (that can sometimes be upwards of 4)! A ton of time and energy is spent by the birds simply collecting the necessary materials. One way that you can make it easier is by not cleaning up your yard. It sounds weird, but a lot of folks don’t realize that what they take out of their lawns are the things that birds need! They’ll use smaller twigs, branches with lichen on them, feathers, leave, and webs. Birds are incredibly efficient at making do with what they have, however you can save them a lot of time/energy by simply being lazy when it comes to lawn care (sounds like a win-win to me).
Another way you can help is by adding things into your yard. A lot of folks put out their dryer lent. That material is perfect for a lot of nests (be aware that birds are typically wary of new resources and may take a minute to snatch it). Another item to throw out in the yard is saw dust! That is perfect insulation, and the birds will make it work with whatever they need. Seed shells require no explanation. The wonderful aspect about adding to your yard is that it doesn’t require much effort from you!
Birdhouses: What to Look For and How to Hang Them Up
Some people get overwhelmed by the variety of houses available while others get over zealous. Picking out a house can be tricky. However, there are some rules of thumb to follow to make the process easier for you.
As with most objects in the world of birding, there is a trade off with aesthetic and functionality. The more functional a house is the less aesthetically pleasing it looks (typically) and vice versa. That can be hard for some folks to accept, but colorful house don’t make a difference to birds (please note: dark colored houses draw in more heat and can make it uninhabitable without proper ventilation). When looking at houses, you always need to check for the following: ventilation, drainage, predator deterrents (or lack thereof), and cleaning access.
Ventilation is key, especially is places where the temperature fluctuates often (i.e., here). Ventilation is a minor feature but an important one. Look where the roof meets the walls. You should see some gaps between the roof and the wall. That is for the air to leak out. This gap should be no larger that the width of a pencil. You usually want to see these gaps on at least opposite ends of the house (although many houses have them on all four walls).
Drainage is equally important. Of course this stops the house from get filled, but it also keeps it safe for the birds from a health standpoint. Standing water can cause a lot of issues in a tight, wooden spot. Drainage can typically be found in the base of the house (in the corners). If your house doesn’t have drainage, it is easy enough to drill drainage holes in it. However, you want to be sure you don’t make the holes too large!
Predator deterrents can also be interpreted as “lack of predator access.” The most noticeable one is the absence of a perch. Do NOT get a house that has a perch on it. Birds don’t need them, especially smaller birds (which are typically what are going to use the houses). A perch is actually a predator risk. Larger birds can land on the perch and attack the nest inside. Another common deterrent is the raised ring around the hole. This ring makes it harder for something like a raccoon to reach in and grab some eggs. Sometimes you’ll see an additional metal ring. That is to stop the squirrels from chewing on it (this can be easily added on, and we’d be happy to install it for you). Lastly, look at the roof over the hole. It should jut out at least an inch. This stops predators from getting to the nest while sitting on the roof. Luckily, all of our functional houses have them guards in place. Something worth mentioning is a snake guard. None of our feeders come with one, but we can easily install one in a matter of minutes. If you think you’ll have a snake issue, go ahead and get the guard.
The final feature to look for in a bird house is cleaning accessibility. I’ve already said that birds will build a new nest every clutch. In a house, they’ll actually just build on top of their old one. That be become a major problem with regards to ventilation and drainage! You need to be able to remove the nest whenever the fledglings have left the nest (I usually break up the old nest and leave it in a pile somewhere in my yard. That way they can recycle some material!). When buying a feeder, you need to be able to comfortable get into the house to clean and remove whatever is needed.
If you find a feeder that fits that criteria, you are in great shape! Not to brag or anything, but we got a nice selection of houses.
Now that you’ve gotten the house, you need to install it. It really depends on what type of house you are getting. For example: a bat house or an owl house go about 20 feet in the air while a duck house is lower to the ground and closer to water. If you are wanting to learn more about the installation of either of those, I suggest checking out Audubon’s website and giving us a call. The majority of folks probably aren’t getting those houses, though. They are getting a house for either their bluebirds or some smaller feathered friends.
For a bluebird house, there is a pretty exact science. However, there can be exceptions. First, you have to secure your house to something stable (a pole, post, fence, tree, etc.). Second, the feeder needs to be at least 5 feet off the ground (no more than 6 and a half) facing the feeder. Third, it needs to be at least 10 feet away from the feeder but no more than 20. If you follow all those steps and put out the right food (explained further down), then all you have to do is wait for them to make the next move!
If you are going with the less popular but equally important wren/chickadee house, the science is a lot looser. Those houses can either hang or be secured. Wrens and chickadees have a pretty similar diet, so there isn’t much change. Anywhere from 4-6 feet off the ground is appropriate and it won’t hurt anything is you face the house next to the feeder. It would also be a good idea to have at least 5 feet of distance from the feeder.
What to Feed Them
There are tons of options for foods. However, variety is the true key. You want to offer the widest variety of foods in order to draw in the widest variety of birds. That being said, you also want to focus on more energy, fat, and protein based foods during Nesting Season.
I’ll quickly go through the obvious answers: suet, peanuts, mealworms, fruits, and BarkButter products. All of those things with of course water will be plenty helpful for the birds. Additionally, though, the birds also require calcium during this season. Calcium ensures that the egg shell is strong and hardy, and it ensures that the new borns are developing their bone structures properly. Check what blend you’re feeding them to see if it has calcium bits in it! (One way folks add calcium to their birds’ diet is crushing up egg shells, baking them at 250 for 10 minutes to dry them, then throwing them out in the yard.)
One product that can help you check off all of those boxes is our Nesting Superblend. Obviously it’s good for the birds if it has “super” in its title, but it truly does make a difference to the birds. Not only does this blend has sunflower chips which all the birds love, it also has safflower, Barkbutter Bits, calcium bits, peanuts, tree nuts, AND dried mealworms. All of those are full of energy and protein to support the birds during their Nesting Season. This Superblend comes in loose seed style, but it also comes in cylinder form too! I cannot recommend this product enough!
One other perk about the Nesting Superblend is that it is just as important for the Molting Season which isn’t far off. This blend provides the birds with everything needed to ensure proper feather structure.
Nesting Season is clearly important. There is so much happening, and it can feel overwhelming. That being said, we are here to walk you through this excited season, and we cannot wait for you to tell us what you successes you will have in your yard!