John Sterling Poole
The Calm Before The Nesting Season Storm
Nesting season is quickly approaching. Around this time next month, we expect customers to be buying thousands of mealworms, dozens of suet cakes, and a lot of nesting boxes. But what some people do not realize is that now is the time for nesting boxes, not the start of nesting season. This post will guide everyone to fully prepare their yard for nesting season.
This month before nesting season is pretty important because this is when a lot of birds (especially bluebirds) scout out their future nesting spots. The birds know what season is on its way, so they are preparing as best they can to have successful broods. A lot of customers notice that around this time, they will see birds go into a house and then quickly leave it. This may seem discouraging, but they are simply testing their different options in order to have the most comfortable nesting location.
To anyone who may already have nesting boxes, go clean them as soon as possible. Birds, just like a lot of animals, prefer clean areas to rest and nest. We all know that birds can bring with them a lot of germs, so imagine the areas where they spend hours at a time. To clean the boxes, you could scrub them with a rough sponge and some dish soap. Or you could wash them with a one part bleach to nine part water solution. Be sure to thoroughly wash the house with regular water after scrubbing them. You should also make sure that the ventilation in the tops of the house (usually where the roof meets the wall) and the drainage in the bottom (usually the four corners of the floor) are unclogged and cleaned well. Lastly, you should make sure that any mechanical and moveable parts of your nesting box are functioning and in tact. Several houses have mounting contraptions on their backs. Chickadee/wren houses hang. For either of them, make sure that whatever mounting hardware you have is ready to go. Most houses also have a cleaning contraption within them (either a metal panel on the back or perhaps a front that can be opened). You want to be sure all of these can still be accessed easily without much hassle.
If you are shopping for a nesting box, you should look for a lot of the aspects that I just listed! One rule of thumb to realize with most things regarding backyard birding is that you have a decision regarding your accessories. Every feeder, nesting box, bird bath, system exists on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is functionality. The other end is aesthetics. Typically, something that is more decorative is not the most functional and something that is quite functional is hardly ever pretty. That is the trade-off that you have to decide. Since we are dealing with wild animals, no certainties can be made. But I always caution people to go towards more functional accessories, especially with houses. Decorative houses sometimes do not have comfortable cleaning option (if they have the option at all). They also sometimes do not have the best ventilation or drainage. Always inspect every inch of a nesting box before purchasing it. Another thing to completely avoid are perches. I know most people think that birds love the perch out their front door, but those perches can invite predators in (e.g., starlings which will crack eggs open). Never get a house with a perch. All of our houses have a built in predator guard with the roof jutting out around inch above the entrance hole. This guard prevents larger birds like starlings from standing on the top of the house and craning down into the box. Lastly, a lot of people get wooden houses which work great and the birds see no difference between that and the recycled plastic. However, wooden houses wear down much faster than plastic ones. I suggest making the higher investment so that you do not have replace your houses as often. I also find the recycled plastic materials to be easier to clean.
Now we have our nesting boxes, what is next? The next step is figuring out where to set it up. First off, you are going to want it about five to six feet off of the ground. Some people install them much higher than that, but the issue is that it makes it much harder for you to monitor/maintain the house. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Bluebird houses are always stationary whereas other houses like the chickadee house can hang.) You will want to keep the house at least ten feet away from human activity (e.g., your house, the road, your neighbor’s house) as well as around ten feet away from your feeders or water sources. This helps ensure you do not have many birds competing over a house. and this helps the fledglings develop flight skills. If you are going to have multiple houses, several studies recommend at least 50 feet of distance between the two. That being said, I know plenty of people who have one house in the front yard and one in the back. The key is to have multiple feeders and water sources, so that two nests are not competing for resources.
Since the birds are scouting out nesting locations, it is pretty important that you do not move your house during this time. That could confuse the birds and jeopardize your chance to get a brood.
The last note that I want to make for nesting boxes is simply precautionary. If you have a suspicion (or you blatantly know) that you have squirrels, raccoons, and/or snakes in your yard, you should buy any/all of the following accessories: a metal ring to go around the hole in your house to prevent squirrels from chewing on it and making it wider (not to mention ugly), a baffle to prevent raccoons from climbing up (they eat the eggs), and/or a snake guard. Like I said, if you have a suspicion that any of these critters may pester your birds, invest in these accessories. It is better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them. I have had too many conversations with customers who lost a brood or broods due to these animals.
Two other aspects are important for this preliminary season: food and water. Make sure your feeders are stocked up with mealworms, suet, peanuts, and any other protein/fat rich foods. This will let the bluebirds know that your yard can support them through nesting. Water is also crucial for birds at all times of the year, but birds should be clean and healthy during nesting season. They will notice a water source (or the lack thereof) in your yard. Both of these things will also boost you Great Backyard Bird Count on February 14-17! (More details in my last post here!)
If you have any questions at all about nesting season or nesting box installation or anything else bird and nature related, do not hesitate to reach out to us at Wild Birds Unlimited Mt. Pleasant. Not only can we provide you with all of the materials you need to have a successful nesting season, we can provide you with all of the answers you will also need.
You can a lot of the products mentioned in this post on our online store! Click here!