Wild bird real es­tate

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Contents - By Sher­rie Ver­sluis

Sum­mer is the sea­son of re­pro­duc­tion for wildlife, and wild birds are the most dra­matic of all in their courtship habits. Whether it's the gor­geous song of a male as he ser­e­nades for an ac­cept­ing fe­male, to the dra­matic courtship dance be­tween two birds, there is no ques­tion that wild birds have the most en­ter­tain­ing nest­ing sea­son.

The ma­jor­ity of song­birds in Man­i­toba nest either in trees, shrubs, or even on the ground but a few are de­scribed as cav­ity nesters. This is a bird that would nat­u­rally use a hol­low in a tree to raise its young. From this, the idea of of­fer­ing a hu­man-pro­vided cav­ity came to be, and spring is the time to get the bird­houses ready.

As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, only a small va­ri­ety of birds will use bird houses but most of these birds are very de­sir­able. The most pop­u­lar is prob­a­bly the house wren. This tiny lit­tle bird has been known to make nests in some very un­usual places, like bar­be­cues, plant pots, and even in old boots left out on the deck. The male house wren is known as the “small bird with the voice of a king”, as their melo­di­ous song can carry through an en­tire neigh­bour­hood. He will build sev­eral nests and the fe­male will se­lect the one where she will lay be­tween three and 10 eggs, up to two times per sea­son. To at­tract a house wren to your bird­house you will want to make sure the hole size is seven-eighths of an inch to one inch in di­am­e­ter. A seven-eighths-inch hole will al­low only a house wren in­side, but a oneinch hole will also ac­com­mo­date a black-capped chick­adee.

Chick­adees are beloved back­yard birds as they are very loyal vis­i­tors through­out the year and are known for com­mu­ni­cat­ing to those who fill their feed­ers. I know the chick­adees in my yard chat­ter to me each morn­ing when I go out to do my morn­ing bird-feed­ing du­ties – quite loudly if the feed­ers are empty! Chick­adees will have one to three young per clutch and can nest up to two times per sea­son. Their bird­houses should have the one-inch en­trance hole.

Once the hole size ex­ceeds one inch, it can pretty much be guar­an­teed that the vis­i­tor will be the very ag­gres­sive house spar­row. I have writ-

ten be­fore of the dread­ful be­hav­iour of house spar­rows but for those of you who may have missed it, here is a brief de­scrip­tion.

This non-na­tive bird is hav­ing a very detri­men­tal ef­fect on na­tive birds. House spar­rows are so ag­gres­sive that if they dis­cover a nest of an­other bird in or out of a bird­house, they will break eggs and even kill the young. They are known each sum­mer for dec­i­mat­ing the nests/young of Eastern blue­birds, tree swal­lows, white-breasted nuthatches, pur­ple martins and even doves and robins. One pair of house spar­rows can pro­duce up to 40 young per sea­son in a bird­house! There is a new house de­sign for tree swal­lows that pre­vents house spar­rows from en­ter­ing due to its un­usual shape. Un­for­tu­nately, no other bird has mas­tered how to en­ter this hole shape.

All bird houses should be mounted at a min­i­mum height of five feet and can be placed against a tree, shed, house or post. Fences are not al­ways the best lo­ca­tion, as squir­rels of­ten run along them and will dis­cover the house as a po­ten­tial food stor­age unit. They will chew the hole big­ger to get in but you can pur­chase a “preda­tor guard” to pre­vent this. Bird­houses should never be hung as no nat­u­ral cav­ity in na­ture would be swing­ing or have mo­tion.

Perches are also an un­nat­u­ral ad­di­tion that can at­tract preda­tors like grack­les, who will use the perch to pluck the chicks out of the house. Bird­feed­ers should be about 15 feet away from any house as nest­ing birds do not like all the ac­tiv­ity a feeder can bring. All bird­houses should be cleaned out each fall so when the nest­ing birds re­turn in spring the house will be ready to use. For all wild birds, ex­cept house spar­rows, build­ing a new nest each year is part of their courtship.

With these tips you can ex­pe­ri­ence the joy of watch­ing wild birds raise a fam­ily in your back­yard. It truly is a won­der­ful sight, and the birds will be ever so grate­ful for their home tweet home!

Spring is com­ing – time to get the bird­houses ready!

Build­ing a nest in a bird­house will ap­peal to many cav­ity-nest­ing birds in­clud­ing house wrens, chick­adees and blue­birds.

The size of the en­trance hole is ex­tremely im­por­tant, as any­thing too big could let in ag­gres­sive pests that may get in and take over other birds' nests.

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