Nest boxes are a fun and simple way to help backyard birds this spring.
Last spring, I watched in wonder from the window as a pair of mountain chickadees built a nest and raised their young in the front yard. I would perch, tea in one hand, binoculars in the other, excitedly reporting my sightings to my partner and our dog. It was such a perfect start to my day.
To see birds create and care for a nest, then witness their young fledging, is a delight. If you’re lucky, birds might naturally select a site near your home, but a nest box will improve your family’s chances of seeing this phenomenon first-hand. Many High Desert bird species are in decline due to a combination of pressures including habitat loss and fragmentation, window collisions and predation by domestic cats. A small but meaningful way to support them is to provide a safe, dry place for them to raise their nestlings.
Nest boxes are available at specialty and most hardware stores. It can be less expensive and more fun to make your own box, however, as some folks did recently at the Museum’s Nest Box Building workshop. If you’d like to do the same, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nestwatch.org offers a variety of building plans and information about nest monitoring.
Bird species vary in nesting behavior and therefore in their nest box preferences. The American robin tends to prefer a shelf, for example, while the northern flicker requires a deep box, filled with wood shavings, that it can excavate as it would a tree. When considering what type of box to provide, think about the habitat around you, what species you’ve seen in your area and which birds you’d most like to attract.
You can help to keep birds safe from predators by providing a secure, perch-free box that blends in with the surroundings. Predator guards are also available. If you or your neighbors have an outdoor cat, place your nest box in an area your feline friend cannot access.
It can take a while for birds to adopt a newly installed box, so be patient. Providing food and a reliable source of water can help to attract them.
As I watched the chickadees fledge last year, I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for the opportunity to watch them at such close-range. Now that spring is here, I’m looking forward to seeing the whole process all over again.