Posts Tagged ‘nest box’


If you are looking for a way to enliven your garden, you can do no better than to invite a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) to make your yard his home. These vivacious little birds will provide your garden with its own natural soundtrack. Our current wren is pictured above, singing his effervescent babbling-brook song from a treetop at the foot of the garden.

Wrens are not shy birds and readily nest close to human dwellings, a fact that no doubt is reflected in their name. Attracting a wren to your yard is simple. Just provide appropriate nesting boxes. These tiny birds are adaptable, and will check out a range of accommodations, but ideally, a box should be placed about 5 to 8 feet high. A site that receives some sun but is shaded from the hottest part of the day is ideal. It should be out of easy reach for predators such as raccoons, or have a baffle installed. House wrens need an entrance hole of 1 1/4 inches. If you are building your own nest boxes, plenty of plans are available online.


It’s good to have a few boxes placed in a variety of locations around the yard. Male wrens start several nests in the hope of attracting a female. Which nest start becomes home to his chicks is left to his lady friend to decide. This summer, a House Wren pair successfully fledged young from the box on the left, above. A dummy nest was built in the box to the right.

The birds will also appreciate several sources of water. I have 3 bird baths in the garden.


This box also appeals to wrens, but this summer a pair of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) raised a family here. Their young fledged about the same time as the wren babies.

I have never used pesticides in my garden, making it a bird-friendly territory. Wrens offer a free insect-control program in return for their housing. Bird parents are kept busy all day hunting for insects to feed their rapidly growing youngsters who leave the nest in an incredibly short period, just 15 to 17 days.

Below is a video that I made a few days ago, a 360 degree panorama of the garden. Unfortunately, my little camera is really not up to this task, and you can here it clicking as the focus changes. However, the bubbly song of the wren can still be heard in the background.

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Mr. and Mrs. Tree Swallow at home.

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Cleaning House

Birdgirl here. Mom was called away on short notice this week, and is – gasp – without an internet connection for the duration of her trip. Or at least, not the sort that one can compose a blog post through (library connections will allow here to check her email, however). So I offered to fill in with a couple of posts while she was gone.

With the weather having been so nice the last few days, I thought it would be a good time to get out and clean out some of the birdhouses here at Willow House. There are five, that I’m aware of. Mom might have a few more hidden places that I don’t know of, but I went out and cleaned out the five, anyway. They’re all shapes sizes, an eclectic assortment acquired from different places and times. This first one was already here at Willow House when they moved in, and is tucked in under a pine tree near the garden.

There are mainly two styles of birdhouses when it comes to accessing the interior: ones that have one side that will swivel open, and ones that you have to unscrew and remove one side entirely. These latter are a bit of a pain, but even the former can be a nuisance if they’re held closed with multiple screws. This one has two, one on either side of the hold, and another two down at the bottom; you remove the top two and the front door swivels down around the bottom two.

It looked like someone might have started building a nest in this one and then abandoned the endeavour, perhaps in favour of a different box or tree cavity. The males of some species will prep multiple nest sites and then show them off to their prospective female. If she takes a liking to one they settle on that, and the rest get abandoned (if she doesn’t like any, he’s either got to choose another site, or he gets abandoned).

The second one I cleaned out is a box in the shape of a covered wagon, which my mom won as a doorprize at some event she attended, several years ago (she could probably remember which event). It’s a bit weather-worn these days, but still holding up well. It’s an interesting design, with a hole on either end of the wagon, and a wooden divider on the inside that separates it into two compartments. Over the years this box has been a favourite of the House Wrens; the holes may be too small to comfortably accommodate most other species.

In order to allow you access to both compartments at once, the bottom is made of a single panel that swivels out. Or, in this case, the bottom panel is mounted on the pole, and the whole wagon swings up from it. It’s secured by just a single screw in the front. I brought along a little pocket-sized screwdriver, an essential tool for cleaning out birdhouses. For one thing, it allows you to unscrew and open the boxes.

It’s also handy for scraping out the contents of the box. No birds had used the wren box last year, but some paper wasps had decided it looked like a cozy home. The nest was loose, it had probably also been attached to one side of the box and the connection got torn as I lifted the top off. Note the dead wasp hanging off the front of it all. The worker wasps and the queen all die at the end of the fall; the only wasps to survive are the new queens that were produced that fall. They leave the nest, mate with a male (who also dies before winter) and then find a nook to hibernate in. The walls of your house make really good nooks, which is why one often sees wasps around the house on warm winter days. She’ll emerge in the spring and start a new colony from scratch. No one will be returning to this nest, so it’s safe to remove it. I use the screwdriver just to make sure I don’t accidentally sting myself on a dead worker. A stick also works.

There were a few things left behind after I’d removed the paper nest. The small grub-like things were underneath the paper cells, and I think they’re wasp grubs that never got a chance to mature before the onset of cold weather. Or perhaps they’re grubs that died at the grub stage over the course of the summer.

The other is a caterpillar who had decided the nestbox looked like a comfortable place to spend the winter. It’s a tiger moth caterpillar, though I’m not sure of which species. My suspicion is Virginian Tiger Moth, an all-white moth about an inch or so long. Their caterpillars are called ‘Yellow Bears’.

A room with a view. Three of the five nestboxes are situated around the small human-made pond set halfway back in the fields. The pond was used for irrigating the perennial gardens, back when the property was also a commercial nursery, and had at some point been stocked with fish. These days it mostly serves as habitat.

This little box is the only one that doesn’t swivel open. One side of the roof comes off after you remove a couple of screws, and you can reach inside from the top. There was nothing in this one.

Additional waterside housing. The nestboxes here are intended to attract Tree Swallows. Swallows (of all sorts) like to forage over the water surface, as well as over open fields, where they can dive and swoop and catch the insects that hover in clouds in the air.

The last two birdhouses, at either side of the pond, are cedar boxes that I believe Mom got from Wal-mart last year. They’re marketed as bluebird boxes, and they smell lovely when you bring them home. They stand up to weathering pretty well. They’re my favourite design: instead of a screw that you have to undo to open the box, there’s a little latch that just twists in front of the door to hold it closed. To open, simply twist the latch out of the way. This also makes it exceptionally easy to check the box’s contents mid-season, as well, if you’re the sort to like to take a proactive approach to your landlording.

No bluebirds last year; this one was used by a Tree Swallow. They’re an alright size for Tree Swallows, although I think the swallows find the hole a bit of a squeeze and might prefer something a quarter inch larger. They’re not ones to complain, though. When I opened the box, a large white feather drifted out. Probably a duck feather; Tree Swallows have a real thing for white feathers. If you’re patient, it’s possible to tempt nest-building Tree Swallows into taking white feathers from your hand. They’re just that irresistible.

Tucked in underneath the swallow’s nest I discovered a whole bunch of tiger moth caterpillars, probably of the same species as the first one above. A few of them started crawling about when I opened the box, awake enough because of the warm day to move about. Nestboxes provide secure places that are out of the wind and protected from the weather, and many overwintering insects may choose to use them as a cozy spot to snug up till spring.

If the day is warm when you’re cleaning out your boxes, you can displace the winter tenants; they’ll be able to find another spot. Putting them near long grass or logs will help. Or, you can choose to leave them there a while longer. The main thing is just to make sure your nestboxes are cleaned out by the time your birds start returning and scouting for nest sites. For us here, that happens in early April. Another way to make sure you’re not displacing anyone is to do your house-cleaning in late fall, before anyone has a chance to move in. Of course, the wasps will still be active then, should one of your boxes contain any, though they’ll be growing sluggish.

I’ll need to get out and clean my own boxes this week, too; we’ve got about a dozen in our fields. It will be interesting to see what’s inside!

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I had walked by this nest box a number of times before I noticed it. There are no other boxes around the property, so I was surprised when it finally caught my eye, tucked in against a small red pine. It was probably out in the open at one time, but raspberry canes and brush have grown up around it, partly obscuring it from view.


I’ve been meaning to get out and clean out the box so that it will be ready for a new occupant. The first spring peepers and wood frogs were heard on April 3rd, and the dawn chorus of birds has been a welcome start to the day for weeks now. Soon the swallows will be back too. Today, I finally got out and opened the box up. I cleaned out the old nest and gave the interior a bit of a wash before putting the front of the box back in place.


The nest was firmly anchored in the box and disintegrated when I dug it out. The base of the nest utilized a lot of rough twigs, while the top section had more grass lining it. There were a few large feathers, possibly from ducks. It is probably the nest of a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), which would be consistent with the location and type of box. I hope a new resident moves in soon.


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