Column: Spring means it is time to put out nesting boxes
Hard to believe it is already March - spring is just around the corner. Right now is a great time to clean out your birdhouses. It is also an excellent time to start putting out nest-building materials. A new product this year here at the bird store is called "Hummer Helper." It consists of soft, light-weight materials that hummingbirds can use when building their nest.
When attracting wild birds to your yard, there are four elements to consider - providing sources of food, water, shelter, and places to raise their young. If you have never had a birdhouse in your yard, you may want to consider putting out one or more.
What species use nesting boxes? (I use the terms "nesting boxes" and "bird houses" interchangeably.) The answer to this question depends on where you live. The more heavily forested your yard is, the wider variety of birds you will have that use nesting boxes.
In Prescott, some of the more common cavity nesters are Bewick's wren, bridled titmouse, juniper titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, pygmy nuthatch, ladder-backed woodpecker, acorn woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker, western bluebird, and ash-throated flycatcher.
Historically, areas like Chino Valley and Prescott Valley didn't have any cavity-nesting birds as these areas did not have large trees where woodpeckers could excavate a hole in the trunk of the tree. Bird species living in grassland habitats, such as western meadowlarks, horned larks, and lark sparrows, usually nest directly on the ground.
Many non-native cavity-nesting bird species such as European starlings and house sparrows have expanded their range into the tri-city area. If you live in either Chino Valley or Prescott Valley, these birds are the most likely candidates for using man-made bird houses.
Many people are surprised to learn that most of the really common native birds that occur in this area do not use traditional bird houses. When you think about species such as Gambel's quail, mourning dove, western scrub-jays, and lesser goldfinch - they do not use bird houses. Rather, they prefer to build their nests in native vegetation.
For birds that nest out in the open, there is another type of bird house that works well. This style of nesting box has a floor, a roof, and three sides which are enclosed - but the front of the box is completely open. This kind of nesting box accommodates species such as mourning dove, American robin, Say's phoebe, house finch and barn swallow.
If you put out a bird house, is there any guarantee that birds will actually take up occupancy? No, there really isn't. A few tips on installation might be helpful, however. When mounting a bird house, face the opening opposite of the direction of the prevailing winds. Typically, this means the bird house should face the northeast, as our winds come out of the southwest.
Bird houses should be at least five feet off the ground, and should be placed near cover. Some species, such as western bluebirds, prefer to nest out in the open, while other species prefer more protection such as wrens and titmice. When you hang up your nesting boxes, they should be empty - let the birds put in the box the nesting material of their choice.
It is interesting to witness how different species prefer different materials when constructing their nests. Some nests consist of a lot of twigs, others grasses, some are of mud, and many species use a lot of feathers to line the interior of the nest.
If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road, Suite 105, Prescott, AZ 86301 or log onto www.JaysBirdBarn.com and click on Ask Eric, which will link you with my e-mail address Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn and has been an avid birder for over 40 years.