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The Neighborhood

Attract Nesting Birds
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:17:00 PM

Providing places for wildlife to raise their young is an essential element of a Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ site. Adding a nesting box (also known as a birdhouse) to your yard is one way to help meet this requirement for certification while turning your avian visitors into residents.

Why Set Up A Nesting Box?

Setting up a nesting box in your yard can provide an essential nesting area for various species of birds. While many species are able to hide their nests in dense foliage or grassy meadow areas, others require holes for nesting. Some birds, such as woodpeckers, can excavate their own nesting cavities in dead or decaying trees. Others depend on the abandoned nesting holes or natural cavities formed from fallen branches for places to build nests. Recently, however, an increase in development and removal of damaged and dead trees has left many cavity-nesting birds with fewer natural places to raise their young. In addition, invasive birds, such as the European starling and the house sparrow, compete with native bird species for the use of the remaining cavities. Adding a nesting box to your habitat will not only benefit native bird species, it will also give you an opportunity to monitor and enjoy birds.

There are dozens of bird species that can be attracted to nesting boxes including, blue birds, wrens, chickadees, finches, swallows, purple martins, woodpeckers, wood ducks, and owls. Properly constructed houses can be purely functional, or decorative and whimsical in design. Placing a number of different houses around your property can invite different species to set up house. Aside from the fun and personal satisfaction of hosting bird families in your houses, many of these birds are voracious insect eaters and will help reduce insect populations naturally. Most birds tend to return to the same areas and houses where they have been successful in raising young. Thus, adding birdhouses to your property will only increase the chance that you will see new generations of these beautiful and beneficial birds every year.

Purple Martin Gourds
Purple Martin Gourds

Building Or Selecting A Nesting Box

Although most birds prefer natural cavities for nesting, with the correct design a nesting box can serve as a good replacement. There are numerous types of bird nesting boxes available commercially. Each box contains different features and is targeted at a particular bird species. But not all nest boxes are created equal.

There are several features to consider when purchasing, or building, a nesting box. Check that the box is well constructed and contains these basic features:

  • • Constructed of natural untreated wood (pine, cedar or fir)
  • • Lumber for walls that is at least ¾ of an inch thick to provide insulation)
  • • An entrance hole of the appropriate size to allow desired birds to enter but keep larger birds out
  • • An entrance that is the correct distance from the floor to accommodate the nest
  • • An extended and sloped roof to keep the rain out
  • • A recessed floor and drainage holes to keep the interior dry
  • • Rough or grooved interior walls to help fledglings exit
  • • Ventilation holes to allow the interior to remain cool
  • • A side or top panel that opens to allow easy access for monitoring and cleaning
  • • No outside perches, which aid predators and other harassing birds

It is also important to make sure that your box incorporates features preferred by the particular bird species you hope to attract. These features include the entrance hole size, the height at which the box is posted, and the type of habitat surrounding the box. When purchasing a nesting box research the physical requirements of the species that you hope to attract and make sure that you are investing in a functional, rather than ornamental, birdhouse.

It is also important to make sure that your box incorporates features preferred by the particular bird species you hope to attract. These features include the entrance hole size, the height at which the box is posted, and the type of habitat surrounding the box. When purchasing a nesting box research the physical requirements of the species that you hope to attract and make sure that you are investing in a functional, rather than ornamental, birdhouse.

Check the Birdhouse Network of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for more specific information on species preferences.

Shop All Bird Houses

Where To Place Your Nesting Box

The habitat available to you will be the primary factor determining the type of birds you can attract for nesting. Make sure that you place birdhouses in a location where the target bird species is likely to reside. Avoid putting nesting boxes in areas where herbicides and pesticides are used. Not only do these chemicals decrease insect populations - the primary food source for most cavity-nesting birds - but they can also harm birds directly. The box can be mounted on a tree or a pole. Placing the box on a pole with a predator baffle to protect the birds is often more successful. Make sure that the box is attached securely enough to withstand severe weather and winds. Also take into consideration the direction in which your box is facing and how much direct sun it receives. Many birds will reject boxes that face due west, for example, because the box may stay too hot. Before placing your box, research habitat, nest height and direction preferences for the species.

Bluebird House Set
Bluebird House Set

When To Set Up Your Box

Make sure your nesting box is in place well before the arrival of breeding season. In the southern part of the country boxes should be in place no later than February. In the northern regions, boxes can be placed outside before mid to late March. This will give birds a better chance of finding and using your box, and it may even be used for winter cover if put outside earlier. Don't be discouraged if birds don't find the box in the first season; sometimes it can take a few years for the birds to find the box.

Monitoring And Cleaning Your Box

Once breeding season begins monitor your box for activity. You can enjoy watching adults quickly dart in and out as they build their nests or feed hungry nestlings. If your box is first discovered and used by invasive bird species consider removing the nest. Doing this regularly will likely encourage the bird to move to another location and free the box for use by native species. Once eggs have been laid you may want to monitor the progress of the nest. Lightly tap on the box before opening the panel to allow the adult bird to leave. So as not to become a nuisance limit your viewing time to less than a minute once a week. Keep track of the progress of the nestlings. This way once they have fledged and the box is no longer in use it can be cleaned. Some birds will not use cavities with abandoned nests in them and removing the debris cuts down on ectoparasites for the next set of nestlings. If you remove the nest in a timely fashion you could enjoy two to three broods per season!

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Categories: Gardening


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The Olla: A Brief History

Olla (Spanish, pronounced “oh-ya”) jars have been around since ancient times. Made of unglazed ceramic, ollas traditionally have short, narrow necks with wider bodies, and are made in a variety of shapes. They have been used for thousands of years for cooking, storage, and plant irrigation.

When used to irrigate plants, an olla is buried neck-deep in the ground near a plant’s roots, with the opening of the olla extended above the soil so that it can be filled with water periodically. The porous walls of the unglazed pottery allow the water to seep through gradually, constantly and consistently hydrating the plants without overwatering them – and without wasting precious water to evaporation or runoff.

The use of ollas for irrigation was introduced to the American Southwest by Spanish conquistadors during Colonial times, becoming very common among Native American tribes and Hispanic settlers. Though the technique gave way to more modern methods of irrigation some time ago, its superior efficiency, coupled with its simplicity, has caused it to make a comeback. Though the technique has changed little since its introduction, today’s ollas are usually capped off, making them even more water-efficient.

Perfect for home gardens, Ollas are a super-easy, eco-friendly, less time-consuming way to water annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables and plants of all kinds in dry, sandy soil, very hot or drought-prone areas, raised beds, and even pots, planters and hanging baskets. Fill the olla before you leave on a short vacation to enjoy worry-free watering – and a smaller water bill!

How it Works:

Water is pulled directly through the terra-cotta!

Read more about Ollas on our blog.

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