Yesterday`s snow did nothing to slow down housing starts in my neighbourhood.
The builders are flying around, long strings of grass trailing behind them, or little tufts of fluff clutched in a beak. They aren`t above using modern materials either as is evident from the sprinkles of Styrofoam in the shed or the shreds of fibreglass in the lawn...
I like to support these springtime projects by providing a plentiful supply of building material. In part, this involves not being too diligent about cleanup; I imagine there`s nothing more discouraging to a bird in search of construction material than a meticulously raked yard. Being somewhat lackadaisical in that regard, my tenants can forage to their heart`s content through clumps of dead grass and piles of leaf litter.
Bu there`s much more they can make use of. I have gleaned many ideas from a slim volume I think I inherited from a friend whose unwanted books came here after he died. It`s called the Beginner`s Guide to Attracting Birds, by Leon A. Hausman, first published in 1951.
He writes: ``We once had a pair of Yellow Warblers in a hedge who made their nest almost entirely out of cotton batting that we put out in little dabs on the twigs and bushes.``
He describes Chipping Sparrows using horsehair from an old couch stuffing (half a century ago, that`s what was inside our couches), Baltimore Orioles using knitting yarn and Barn Swallows collecting mud from a pan put out on the ground. Robins also like muf in a flat pan.
I`ve followed his suggestions, cutting soft white string into thee- to five-inch lengths and looping them onto a nail stuck in a post. On my property I`m not sure that they`re taken by the Baltimore Orioles Hausman says are attracted. It doesn`t matter, it`s just good to see the swatch diminish and disappear. Hausman advises against offering brightly coloured string because it makes the nest conspicuous and might attract predators.
I`ve torn a worn-out old towel into small pieces and set them out near a bird feeder. They were gone overnight. I never allow hair clippings - human or canine - to go to waste, but place them out on low spruce boughs and something takes them.
Hausman also suggests bits of sticks about one and a half to three and a quarter inches long for House Wrens and feathers, cotton or wool for Chickadees. Materials can be hung out iin mesh bags like the ones onions come in.
The birds I have seen paired up in my garden so far are: Robins, Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, Juncos, Song Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows. There are flocks of Grackles and Redwing Blackbirds, most of which are passing through. But one or two pairs may stay and produce young, if previous years are any guide. And there`s a flock of about 20 Goldfinches, down in number from the high of 70 in February. They stay with me year-round and produce young later in the year, I believe. Right now, the males are busy perfecting the brilliant yellow that will bring them the best mate.
I should mention the pair of European Starlings that nest in the eaves of the roof. I know Starling are considered a pest, but I`ve watched them from my bedroom window every spring for decades (so it can`t be the same pair every year, but descendants, perhaps) and they`re part of the family.
My aim as landlord for a variety of species is to provide natural spaces for nesting. I have had a couple of sad experiences of nest boxes being predated, so I am very careful not to be setting up some diligent nest building parent for disaster, once the eggs are laid or the chicks have hatched.
Many nesting boxes are built as decorative items without any reference to the specific needs of any bird – and some of the native birds that have a hard time finding suitable habitat are very specific in terms of the location and exact size of the entrance hole that suits them, and the size and shape of the box. Deviate from Mother Nature`s design and you`ll either find you have taken a lot of trouble to play host to the less desirable birds that are crowding out our natives – or you`ll find that you`ve served up an nice meal to a squirrel or raccoon.
I have one very fancy nesting box this year that seems to me to be the ultimate in Des Res for Eastern Bluebirds. I got it from the Bird House in Barrie (there are also outlets in Orillia and Collingwood). It has two chambers, so the idea is that the bird sets up in the inner chamber and predators are blocked from reaching in across the vestibule. I had a copper ring added around the entrance to prevent any enlarging of the hole by a squirrel. The box is mounted on a steel pole – I would have added a baffle but I feel the copper ring and double chamber should be deterrent enough. So far, no takers.
I also purchased, from Lee Valley Tools, a couple of ceramic gourd-shaped nesting homes. They are attractive to look at and will be easy to clean (an essential step, in fall), with a stopper that unscrews at the bottom. I thought the chickadees would like them but so far, no takers there either.
Sometimes, the housing market is really hard to figure out.