Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.
Are you ready? Have you laid out the welcome mat? More accurately, have you installed any new houses that your new neighbors would be interested in moving into?
In your great backyard, side yard and front yards, wild birds are looking for homes. They are singing, courting and ready to mate to start new broods of families. For cavity nesting birds, this means looking for safe and solid places to build nests and raise their young.
There are at least 12 different species of birds that will build nest in cavity boxes in our area. The most common birds are House Wren, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and a variety of Woodpeckers. Depending on the size of the bird, the box will have a few different characteristics.
A very small hole size of 1″ to 1 1/8″ in diameter will restrict most birds and give the House Wren a safe place to breed. The larger the hole size, the greater the number of birds you could have checking out the house. Most floor sizes of our common cavity nesting bird boxes will be around 4″ by 4″. The larger woodpeckers, such as the Hairy Woodpecker and Red Bellied Woodpecker, require a larger floor space in the boxes. They also require a larger hole opening and usually are deeper to accommodate the larger chicks.
We at Wild Birds Unlimited feel there are three very important characteristics that must be adhered to, to make the box attractive to the birds and a success in breeding.
- There must be adequate ventilation at the top of the box. If there is a spike in early spring temperatures or a second late spring brood, the box must be able to vent the hot air that could build up in the box. If you find a decorative house that has a metal roof, make sure it is a light color that will reflect the suns rays and not a dark colored roof that will absorb the heat of the rays.
- The nesting boxes must have good drainage. This is very simply a number of small holes or a small slight opening in the bottom to allow water to drain out. Even if the box has a large roof overhang, a strong wind driven rain could enter the opening and flood the nest.
- There should be a simple method to clean out the nest after the chicks have fledged — left the nest — to give the birds an opportunity to breed again.
You can also help your feathered friends by hanging out nesting material. Examples of safe nesting material are dog hair, cat hair, your own hair, yarn, string, or alpaca wool, which we carry in our store. These materials can be placed in a small suet basket. Please do not use dryer lint, it is full of chemicals and when it gets wet it gets clumpy and hard.
After nesting season is over in late summer, you could take the box down and if it is wood, sand down the sides and bottom to clean any waste. This will also help remove any mites and other insect webs or cocoons from the inside. Recycled plastic houses can be cleaned with a 1 to 10 solution of bleach, rinsed very well and then left out to dry. All houses can be left out for the birds to use all year long as a roosting area when very harsh winter conditions arise. Installing a “Roosting Box,” which is different from a house, would be potentially more successful during these times.
When young birds fledge, and leave the nesting boxes for the first time, they are not strong enough to fly. They usually leave the box and are on the ground for some time. The adult parent birds are always around. If you see them bouncing around on the ground and squawking, do not pick them up. The adults are getting them to stretch and strengthen their wings.
But please do not allow your indoor cats to go out during this vulnerable time. If your neighbor has a cat that comes into your yard, ask them to please keep them inside or controlled in their yard. It has been scientifically proven that all cats love to sit in an open sunny window with the remote control to the TV and watch The Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel and the Kardashians! But maybe not in that order.
If you need a chart of the cavity nesting birds in our area, we have them available free for you in our store. We can also go over in detail types of wood to use and decorative additions you can make to your house, should you chose to build one yourself.
The love songs are unmistakable. They are all throughout the neighborhoods. Set up some new homes and invite the new neighbors to start a family.