Nest boxes for birds; yea or nay?

Nest boxes for birds; yea or nay?

North Okanagan Naturalist Club explores the idea of nest boxes for birds

Roger Knox, Vernon MorningStar, Mar. 14, 2018

Is building a nest box for birds a good idea?

Birds face all kinds of problems trying to raise young but one of the biggest is the invasive house sparrow, introduced from Europe more than 100 years ago.

They weren’t in Vernon in the 1950s when residents lived in town on extra large lots and bluebirds came and nested in their yards. However, today, Vernon is filled with house sparrows and unfortunately they are cavity-nesting birds like many of our native species such as bluebirds, chickadees, violet-green swallows, tree swallows, house wrens and nuthatches etc.

House sparrows are extremely aggressive and prevent the native species from successful nesting and raising their young. Eventually the native species leave the area.

Many people build and put up nest boxes with the best intentions of helping the birds but after a time the houses usually go unchecked and forgotten.

It’s easy to think, “I put up a box, the birds can take care of themselves, I’ll leave it to nature”. Other people with good intentions may put up a box in an area where there are house sparrows.

The house sparrows invariably enter the box, evict or kill the adult bluebirds, wwallows, wrens, chickadees etc. and build their nest over top of the eggs or babies in the nest. When you put up a nest box you have made a commitment to monitoring it, to watch over the birds inside to see that the box is a safe place and doing what it’s supposed to do: help the birds produce more generations of birds to carry on the species.

Monitoring a nest box or a nest box trail can be educational and many times incredibly rewarding.

The North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club (NONC) has operated a Bluebird Nest Box Program for more than 25 years and manages 18 nest box trails on farms and ranch lands in the surrounding Vernon area. The trails are called bluebirds trails to help bring back the Bluebird which had declined in North America dramatically due to DDT spraying, loss of habitat and the introduction of non-native house sparrows and starlings which filled existing nesting sites.

However, the trails are actually Nest Box Trails as they are for other cavity nesting species that utilize the same sized nest hole as bluebirds such as chickadees, swallows, wrens, and nuthatches.

The Nest Box Trails have from eight to 40 boxes which are placed on fence posts and spaced 100 metres or more apart. Each March the monitors check all boxes for leaks, gaps, damage etc, and make necessary repairs. Once the boxes are occupied weekly monitoring throughout the nesting period takes place.

Any problems during the long summer are dealt with as they arise, for example, if wasps and ants invade the nests they will cause birds to desert their young.