WORDS ON BIRDS
Housing Market Heating Up for Birds
March 11, 2017
By Steve Grinley
I can tell
you (from personal experience) that the real estate market is hot.
Houses are going quickly. For birds, however, the housing market is
just beginning to heat up. Despite the fluctuating weather and
temperatures, bluebirds are already scouting for nest boxes. A few
tree swallows have already been spotted in Massachusetts and they,
too, will soon be searching for residences. It is, therefore, time
again to provide my refresher on attracting bluebirds and swallows:
Now is the time to put up a house or
clean out existing ones, as bluebirds will start nesting by late
March or early April. Bluebirds have two and sometimes three broods
in a season, so if they don't move in right away, you might still
attract them later in May and June. Tree swallows nest is the same
size nest box, so they will soon be competing with the bluebirds for
houses. And then there are the ever-present house sparrows (a.k.a.
English sparrows) that are the real aggressors wherever bird houses
For the best chance to
attract bluebirds you'll want a nesting box designed for them.
Though there are many different styles, most have a one and a half
inch opening that is about six or seven inches above a four-inch
square floor. Some have predator guards over the hole to help deter
squirrels, raccoons and large birds. Metal plates around the hole
help prevent squirrels from chewing and enlarging the hole.
Other popular bluebird house styles include the Peterson box, which
is wedge-shaped with a sloping, overhanging roof that helps deter
predators, and the Kentucky style, with a long entrance slot at the
top, said to deter house sparrows. A house with an open hole on the
top also thought to discourage sparrows which donít like to get wet,
but the bluebirds donít seem to mind.
If you plan to monitor the house during the nesting season, you
should have one that is easy to open with minimal disturbance to the
nest. Bluebirds like an open area for feeding, so placement of
bluebird houses should be in or near grassy areas. It is best to
place the house on a separate pole away from the tree line,
preferably with a baffle on the pole. Further distance from trees
may be necessary if house wrens are present. In an open field, a
tall stick in the ground near the house can be a favorite perch for
bluebirds while they forage for food or guard the house. Direct
placement onto a fence post or tree can also be successful, but more
difficult to discourage predators.
The house should be placed between four and seven feet high, facing
away from foul weather winds (Northeast/Northwest). Like many birds,
bluebirds are territorial. That is, they will not allow another pair
of bluebirds to nest too close. If you are putting up multiple
houses, they should be spaced about 100-300 feet apart.
Tree swallows often compete for the same house as bluebirds.
Swallows are also beautiful birds. They eat flying insects, so they
are beneficial as well. For that reason, many people place pairs of
houses within 10-25 feet of each other to allow bluebirds and tree
swallows to nest side by side. This way, both species' presence
helps control both crawling and flying insects.
These two species also help protect each other from the aggressive
house sparrow, their number one competitor. House sparrows often
take over bluebird nesting boxes and will even kill adult bluebirds
or swallows in the process. Because house sparrows are so
aggressive, bluebird houses should be placed as far away from
buildings as possible and they should be monitored on a regular
basis, especially early in the nesting cycle. If sparrows are
present, their nesting material should be removed. If sparrows
become a real problem, trapping the sparrows may be necessary.
Once bluebirds arrive, you can put out
mealworms to encourage them to stay. Though bluebirds prefer live
mealworms, they will also take to dried mealworms as well. Once the
bluebirds begin nesting, you can continue to help them by providing
mealworms in a nearby feeder. This will minimize the time the male
spends away from the nesting box, where he can protect his mate from
intruders. The female does most of the incubating and only leaves
the nest periodically to feed. Thus, having mealworms nearby will
help shorten her absence from the nest and further increase their
chances for a successful brood.
boxes should be cleaned after bluebird fledglings leave the nest as
the adults may use the same house for another brood. Houses should
also be cleaned after every nesting season and checked again just
before spring. Once established, bluebirds will return to the same
area every year and more boxes can be added for returning offspring.
Making more houses available might ease the competition and increase
the chances of bluebirds thriving in your area.
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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