Out There: ‘Bringing’ wildlife home

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The winter wren home is not so stylish

The winter wren home is not so stylish

More and more people are putting up bird nesting boxes and bird feeders around their own places and also in wild places. Some bluebird nest box routes have boxes numbering in the hundreds. Many more people are giving attention to building boxes to suit the needs of particular bird species and placing them in the corresponding habitat. Seventy species of birds are known to nest in or on manmade nest structures.

Beehives and cricket houses have been around for a long time, but now there are shelter and dwelling designs for bats, frogs, hibernating butterflies and more. Dwellings come in many shapes and sizes. Some are fancy and pretty, like some humans choose to have their houses, but birds, for example, are not fussy, seeking something that provides shelter and protection. We humans could be more like that, especially considering what people in other parts live in, including those who have just met up with a natural disaster. Birds don’t need colourfully painted houses. Smelly paint  isn’t good for them. Perhaps some of you have noticed the 12-foot-high or higher boxes made to be similar to hollow trees where Vaux’s swifts like to nest. Bird boxes can be one source of the best and purest entertainment you will ever need, but bird boxes also help to replace nest sites that are no longer available.

There are many types of bird feeders. You may have a feeder mounted that allows only small birds like chickadees (two types), nuthatches and pine siskins to enter. The blackbirds and evening grosbeaks can have another spot. For most birds, except, perhaps, Canada geese, feeding birds does little to detrimentally alter a bird’s habits. Birds are able, for the most part, to survive on their own without dependence on man, contrary to what having bear feeders would do.

Bears should not be fed and neither should compost, discarded animal remnants and fruit be left accessible near human dwellings. Bears, near human habitation, cannot distinguish what foods to eat and what not to eat, who to eat from and who not to eat from and when and where to eat and not to eat. Hence, once established, the habit of eating at or out-of-hand poses a hazard potentially dangerous to life and limb. Letting food be available may influence bears not to hibernate. So, let’s stick with feeding the birds.

Similar to selective bird feeders, bird nest box entrance sizes of one-and-a-quarter inches or less keep out starlings, who are tree cavity nesters, and are often less desired by house sparrows. Now let’s consider a nest site for a winter wren.

The winter wren is a frequently seen bird that haunts our damp, brook and swamp-side forests. The song of this denizen of cedar-hemlock woods may be more familiar to some than is the sight of this little, brown four-inch bird. The undulating song of this bird reminds me of portions of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. They seem to sing best with a brook nearby. When you spot this one, you may notice the uniquely vertically positioned tail. The bird isn’t fussy about the tidiness of its surroundings or of the appearance of its nest site. It prefers a home site where moss, rotten logs and slippery sticks abound. They use a number of nest structures, including a hole in a rotten stump.

I took a couple of solid logs and after slabbing a two feet piece off the side with the chainsaw, I chainsawed out a four-inch cavity. After reattaching the slabs, I drilled a round one-inch hole for an entrance in the slab, and in the other slab I cut a one-by-two-or-so horizontal slot. I then mounted the five-foot log upright. (Winter wrens often use a nest site with a horizontal, oblong hole.) The male also builds several dummy nests and so I also placed two four-inch (inside) cube nest boxes, mounting one on a tree trunk and hanging the other under the tip of a thick green evergreen branch.

Placed in a different setting, this type of structure may be used by chickadees and nuthatches. A log with bark may be more attractive in both cases. It is not too late to start the winter wren housing development. I am waiting to see who will buy into my winter wren real estate.

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.