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Birdhouses and Feeders
By G. Barquest, S. Craven, R. Ellarson
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A REWARDING ACTIVITY
The study of birds and other wildlife is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in this country today. Anyone can participate. There are no age limitations.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this activity is attracting wildlife to where they can be conveniently seen and studied. Ways in which this can be done depend on the kinds of animals we are interested in attracting.
Nesting and dwelling houses encourage certain birds and mammals to take up residence, while food can be used to attract most wintering birds.
Attracting and studying wildlife becomes doubly satisfying when we build the houses, shelters and feeders and then see how they are used by wildlife.
There are an amazing number of different designs and types of such structures, but the basic requirements are few.
They should provide for animals' safety and comfort, and they must be located in an area that will be attractive to the animals for which they were designed. If they are improperly located in relation to the needs and habits of the animals, they will go unused.
The demand for lumber and firewood, land development and changes in fence and building construction have reduced the number of nesting sites available for cavity-dependent birds and mammals. You can help many desirable species by providing nest structures.
Bird house and feeder construction can be an excellent project for school classes, FFA, Scouts, 4-H, conservation clubs and other groups. The finished products can be installed for public service projects, used as gifts, or sold as a fund-raiser
The structures for birds and squirrels in this publication were designed with attractiveness, space requirements and efficient use of modern materials in mind. They provide ventilation, drainage and easy cleaning (nest houses should be cleaned each fall to protect young birds from lice and mites). You may increase inside dimensions slightly, but do not decrease them.
A list of generally available materials is provided for each house or feeder. Lumber dimensions are given in standard "full-inch" sizes, but in reality the lumber you purchase will be thinner and narrower. (A 1 × 8 board is actually about 3/4 inch thick and 7 ¼ inches wide.) Where specified dimensions contain no inch marks ("), we are referring to the "nominal" lumber dimensions. Where inch marks are used, we are giving actual measurements.
Most kinds of lumber are satisfactory as long as the recommended sizes are used. Heartwoods of redwood and cedar are decay-resistant. However, they are expensive and have a tendency to split when nails are driven into short pieces without predrilled nail holes. (A nail with the head cut off may be used as a drill bit.)
Pine and spruce are more susceptible to decay than redwood and cedar, but they should last at least 6 to 10 years. Of the four woods mentioned, pine is the most split-resistant. Number 2 or 3 grades of either pine or spruce are the most economical overall and are generally satisfactory. Some spruce boards that are rough on one side and smooth on the other are available. The knots in these woods are not objectionable, and the wood may be assembled with either the smooth or rough side out.
Exterior grade 1/2" or 3/4" plywood may be used in place of lumber with a nominal thickness of 1 inch. (Actual measurements are used to express plywood thicknesses.) Plywood intended for sheathing and underlayment is not a suitable substitute for exterior grade because the plies may separate when it is completely exposed to the weather.
WOOD PRESERVATIVES AND TREATED WOOD
Do not use wood treated with creosote or pentachlorophenol (penta). We don't recommend using wood treated with greenish water-borne salts either because it is not yet known whether it may be harmful to wildlife. This type of wood preservative contains a combination of copper, chromium and arsenic.
We recommend rust-resistant nails and screws. Galvanized 7d or 2 ¼" siding nails and galvanized 3d or 1 ¼" shingle nails are available at most hardware stores and lumber yards. Some stores also stock aluminum and stainless steel nails. Zinc-plated or zinc chromate-treated screws are rust-resistant.
Use only waterproof glue. We recommend liquid resorcinol with catalyst. Wood pieces may be held together with clamps or nails while the glue cures.
A wide selection of exterior finishes is available. But the finish selected may please the maker more than the occupant. Unfinished structures made of redwood or cedar heartwood, pine, spruce or plywood will turn gray and last for years. Wood weathers away at the rate of about ¼" per hundred years.
If you want a colored structure, semi-transparent oil-base stains commonly used on homes, resorts and fences are the most practical because they penetrate into wood without forming a film on the surface. They will not blister, crack, peel or scale even if moisture penetrates the wood. One application will last 3 years on smooth surfaces and 5 years on rough surfaces. Select a stain that does not contain pentachlorophenol preservative.
Latex stain can be used in place of an oil-base stain, but it is less durable. A workable latex stain can be prepared by diluting 1 part of exterior latex paint with 2 parts of water.
If you prefer a painted surface, treat it with a water-repellent solution and let it dry for a day or two before applying the primer. Use an oil-base primer and two top coats of acrylic latex house paint.CHAPTER 2
Robins and phoebes will not nest in enclosed nest boxes. However, they both readily use platforms or shelves in sheltered areas around buildings. One favored spot is under the eaves of buildings where they are protected by the overhang. Allow 6" to 7" clearance from the shelf to the overhang for robins and 4" to 5" clearance for phoebes.
Nesting platforms for robins may also be mounted on the trunk or main branches of a tree.
NEST SHELF FOR ROBINS AND PHOEBES
1 piece 1 × 6 (about 3/4" × 5 ½") × 18" 1 piece 1 × 2 (about 3/4" × 1 ½") × 10" 8 1 ¾" or 2 ¼" nails
Attach to the side of a building at least 10' to 12' above the ground in the shelter of the eaves or on the main branch of a tree in a shaded area.
ROOFED SHELF FOR ROBINS AND PHOEBES
1 piece 1 × 10 (about 3/4" × 9 ¼") × 30" 1 piece 1 × 2 (about 3/4" × 1 ½") × 36" 1 ¾" or 2 ¼" nails 1 ¼" nails
Use roundhead or lag screws to mount on the south or east side of a building or in a tree at least 10' to 12' above the ground.CHAPTER 3
HOUSES FOR WRENS, BLUEBIRDS AND TREE SWALLOWS
Wrens, bluebirds and tree swallows are the birds most commonly attracted to single-unit, enclosed bird houses. Each species prefers certain locations and habitats in which to nest and rear its young.
WRENS PREFER THICK COVER
To attract house wrens, place the box very close to or actually in the cover of a bush or small tree. Wrens seek the shade and protection of thick bushes where mated pairs find nesting materials and food for themselves and their young. The box may be placed 3' to 10' from the ground. In our university studies we placed wren boxes at about 5'. If cover is available, wrens will nest as high as 15' from the ground.
BLUEBIRDS CHOOSE FENCEROWS
Bluebirds and tree swallows are more exacting. Bluebirds will tolerate a shaded box but usually choose fairly open areas interspersed with trees and shrubs. Place bluebird boxes 4' to 6' above the ground. The bluebird is truly a bird of the fencerow, preferring cavities of rotted wooden fence posts. In recent years, bluebird numbers have greatly diminished, but in some localities well-placed nest boxes along fencerows or in orchards have helped this handsome species maintain its numbers.
TREE SWALLOWS SEEK THE OPEN
The tree swallow feeds on the wing and seeks open agricultural fields and meadows or treeless and shrubless wild areas as its nesting place. A nest box for the tree swallow must be placed in the open on a fence post or special box support. A broad sweep of open country in front of the box opening is the best inducement for the tree swallow to accept the box. This graceful swallow is not particular about the height of its nest cavity, provided the above requirements are met. We recommend placing tree swallow boxes 5' to 6' above the ground.
NESTING MATERIAL VARIES
The wren builds the bulk of its nest of sticks, the bluebird uses grass, and the tree swallow gathers large chicken, duck or gamebird feathers to line a shallow nest of grass and roots. Usually there is no lack of these materials in the wild, but we have encouraged tree swallows and wrens to use our boxes by placing nesting material near the boxes.
SPACE THE BOXES
Spacing of boxes is necessary because birds space themselves naturally during the nesting period. Some birds, such as purple martins, gulls, cliff swallows or ledge-nesting sea birds, will tolerate other nests at very close quarters. But others—hawks, owls, kingbirds, and even robins—cannot be crowded into small spaces, nor can you get wrens to nest together in a house like martins.
The spacing of nest boxes depends on the arrangement of the food and cover and the degree of isolation this arrangement affords. In general, the average city back yard or garden is large enough for one or perhaps two families of wrens. The large expanses required for tree swallows and bluebirds eliminates these birds from most city locations. In farm yards or in rural areas, a tree swallow box should be at least 30 feet away from any other box. Bluebird spacing is less critical than that for tree swallows, but a box every 150 feet should be adequate.
Put the bird boxes up by March 15 so they will be ready when the birds arrive from the South. Occasionally, unwanted birds like the English sparrow or European starlings take over boxes. You can discourage them by repeatedly removing their nests. A periodic check will tell you if you have desirable tenants to encourage or undesirable ones to evict.
It often takes several boxes placed in the most likely sites to attract one pair of birds.
1 piece 1 × 6 (about 3/4" × 5 ½") × 24"
1 piece 1 × 4 (about 3/4" × 3 ½") × 12"
Use box lumber, bevel siding, exterior plywood, heavy asphalt roofing or tin for roof.
4 roundhead wood screws to attach one side of roof
9 1 ¾" or 2 ¼" nails
8 1 ¼" nails
Attach one side of roof with wood screws, so it can be removed for annual house cleaning.
Attach to a tree or post 5' to 6' above ground with roundhead or lag screws.
HOUSE FOR WRENS, BLUEBIRDS, TREE SWALLOWS
1 piece 1 × 6 (about 3/4" × 5 ½") × 54"
1 piece 3/4" × 10" × 8" bevel siding or other material for roof
1 piece 1 × 4 (about 3/4" × 3 ½") × 4" for coon or starling guard
3 1 ½" #10 roundhead wood screws
1 ¼ nails—roof and guard
1 ¾" or 2 ¼" nails
1. Drill 3/8" diameter drain hole in each corner of the bottom.
2. Hinged side should be 1/16" shorter than the other side.
3. Drill holes in front and back pieces slightly larger than shank of pivot screws.
Attach to a tree or post 5' to 6' above ground with roundhead or lag screws through the bottom of the back piece.
TIN CAN HOUSE
1 can about 7" tall and 6" in diameter
1 piece 1 × 8 (about 3/4" × 7 ¼") × 10" or equivalent 1/2" or 3/4" exterior grade plywood
1 piece 1 × 2 (about 3/4" × 1 ½") x 10" for diagonal cleat (May be omitted if plywood is used for roof)
2 screw eyes
1 piece of 11 gauge wire 8" long. A section of wire clothes hanger may be substituted
4 1 ¼" galvanized nails to attach cleat
Wash can with vinegar, allow to dry, then wash with clean water and allow to dry. Paint with a good grade exterior house paint, metal paint or enamel. Use metal primer if available.
Attach to a fence post or tree trunk with stove pipe wire or similar size wire.
NOTE: While ventilation is important for all bird houses, it is especially important with the tin can design. Do not overlook the vent holes.
The Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin has been instrumental in the recovery of Wisconsin bluebird populations. For more information about the association, contact the BRAW coordinator in your Wisconsin county or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Endangered Resources, Box 7921, Madison, Wl 53707. The following house designs are recommended by BRAW.
VINCE BAULDRY BLUEBIRD HOUSE
MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION
1. : Front: Wood—3/4" × 5 ½" × 14" (Std. 6" board)
2. Front: Wood—1 ½" × 3 ½" × 4 ½" (Std. 2" × 4")
3. Top: Wood—3/4" × 7 ¼" × 8" (Std. 8" board) Hole 3 ½" dia. located 2 7/8" from back edge. Screen 5" square held between wood. Tack in place before assembly.
4. Sides: Wood—3/4" × 4" × 14". 2 needed. Locate left-hand side 1/8" lower than other and nail only at top. Loose pin or nail will keep door closed.
5. Bottom: Wood—3/4" × 4" × 4". Nail on three sides.
6. Back: Wood—3/4" × 5 ½" × 18" (Std. 6" board)
7. Nails: Galvanized, 1 ½" long. 26 needed.
3/4" Exterior plywood may be used.
Rough side of lumber to outside.
Leave exterior natural or paint with light shades of gray, beige or green. DO NOT paint interior or entry hole. Use wood stain or latex paint. Make 2 parallel saw cuts, 1l8" deep, beneath the entry hole.
Excerpted from Birdhouses and Feeders by G. Barquest, S. Craven, R. Ellarson. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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