Saturday, 22 February 2014

Birdland Real Estate Inc.

In the UK it has been National Nestbox Week...
which reminded me to get the boxes I started last year...
  • a] finished...
  • b] installed!

As far as I got with a Sparrow Commune last year
Flats 2 & 4! For the reason outlined below...
But we only got the Owl Box and Kestrel Box up!!.

It is really easy to find wood for nestboxes in the Bricos....
they often have chariots of off-cuts for a measly 5€ to 15€...
depending on what wood they've got in them.
Discard any obviously treated timber...
in France this usually means the sickly yellow stuff.
All you then need is a bit of time...
a saw and some screws...
or a hammer and nails....

Another source is more natural...
large, round chunks of firewood [at least 15cm diameter]....
cut a slice off each end and hollow out the middle section...
make a hole of the desired size [see the table below]...
and make sure this angles slightly upward...
birds do this naturally in the wild...
it creates a drip edge along the top and helps keep water out of the nest!

One tip with the natural approach...
use fresh timber!!
I used a nice length of chestnut to create "Sparrow Villas" [above & below]...
from our delivered firewood...
three years drying before delivery...
and it took two more to hollow out!!


Finally finished... and wood straps replaced with zinc on last years section.
If you get too close to the side, whack a bit of mud in!



Des-res for five families... installed, unfurnished, beautiful views...
and right where they've been living under the tiles for the last few years!!



Never again... 
next time it will be a fresh hunk of Willow or Ash from "out there"
You can also use a rotten'ish length of Willow...
protect the upper cut surface from the weather...
using a bit of good timber horizontally or something similar...
and then drill a good sized starter hole of around 2" [50mm] diameter.
Go well in, in many directions, through the hole, but don't try to fully hollow it out.
Suspend this high in a tree [at least 4 metres] and the Woodpecker will do the rest.

Last year we installed an Owl Box...
while aimed at Barn Owls, Tawny Owls are often users of these as well.
For those who drive past, it is the "oil derrick" on the far side of the main meadow...
this had to be at least five metres off the ground... it is!
It is at the absolute limit of stretch of our triple-set ladder free-standing...

These are the stages...

First... decide to prospect for oil and build a derrick!
Check the box fits on the swivel top...
Make sure it all fits together...
while you are near a workbench!!!
Dismantle the three main parts.
Trolley them all the way out to the furthest point from any road...
and erect the "derrick" and tie it down!
Re-assemble the component parts... the ladder is not touching the tower, by the by... it has legs.
The removable sides of the Owl Box are off in the middle picture... it made manoeuvring easier.
Finish assembly, remove ladder and watch the cars slow down... and wait!
So far...
no takers!!

We see Treecreepers here [Short-toed only in France] and they require a different style of nest...
they nest in crevasses in the bark of old trees.
Pauline was splitting some Sweet Chestnut a couple of years ago and the whole of the core of the log came away...
I have created the basis for nestboxes from the outer section...
These will be wired under a junction of branch and trunk...
never nail a nestbox in place on a living tree...
and always allow room for expansion of the tree...
trapping a couple of lengths of timber under the wire away from the box works fine...
The wire will cut into those first!
That applies to all tree mounted boxes!

Now, the two nest "boxes" shown below are very incomplete...
once in place I will nail bark in place on the "nestbox" to fill the gaps...
and use some of the copious amounts of moss and some mud to finally seal it up...
all I need leave is a small rectangular hole in contact with the tree's own bark.

Two rustic Treecreeper nest boxes

There are plenty of patterns for boxes on the web...
or just use your own imagination!!
For hole sizes see below, also...
and don't forget the open-fronted boxes for Robins, Black Redstarts, "Chizzicks" [White/Pied Wagtails]...

2013... An indoor box of chipboard, two different "hole" boxes and an open fronted box.
Boxes two and four went to Susan of Days on the Claise... for her orchard and potager area.
Nestboxes do NOT need perches... in fact they are a hazard and help predators get a grip!!

2014... The same indoor box, the same tall box... a new open fronted box and the LPO Red Cedar box.
Another type of box that you can make at home is a woodcrete / hempcrete box...
here all you need is a suitable mould or chicken-wire former...
some wood straw / chopped hemp stalk...
and some lime mortar....
ands plenty of space to leave them whilst they "go orff"...
the best to start with are swallow "cups" and house martin nests....
then progress to open fronted boxes.
For shapes, look up Schwegler style boxes on the web.

Pretty... but not for birds...
Two more "nevers"... NO to bright colours and NO to perches....
these even have a platform as well... perfect for a predator to stand on! NO!!
NO!!NO!!NO!!
 
[The  picture is from a cake box from the local boulangerie]

NOW, WHERE TO PUT THE BOX...


The most difficult thing is siting the box correctly...
you need to take into account the compass direction of the prevailing Spring and Summer weather...
in your locality...
and the target species preferences for height and location....

There are no hard and fast rules...
but there are three things to avoid!
When I first joined the BTO... too many years ago to count...
the usual "compass" points were NW to ESE....
but this angle has narrowed in all the more up to date advice from them...
to between North and East...
the main NEVER has remained the same...
facing SE to West... too much sun and heat...
and they also face the Spring and Summer rains.
Also...
NEVER put them near feeders if you continue feeding all year....
NEVER  place too many boxes of the same type close together...
50 to 100 yds is a good rule to follow for territorial species...
This advice, though, is for installation in private homes and small gardens...
when erecting boxes in woodland or well-sheltered sites, the main "Never" rule is the one to follow...
along with the number of boxes for the same target species...
Oh, and always tilt the box forward slightly, too.

But if you "watch" the birds themselves, these "rules" just don't apply!!
They will use the most convenient hole, site, etc....
often in the most unlikely places...
Bluetits nest in the WestSouthWest face of the barn wall...
but they'll have gone in quite deep probably.
The Sparrows nest just under the tiles... "Some Like It Hot" ?
The Black Redstarts nest regularly in the pocket of an old stockman's coat that has been slung...
for some unknown reason....
way up high in the "hangar"...
or in an old Swallow nest* in the "shed"...

The old swallow nest has been lined with moss...
on the beam behind, the outline of an old nest centred on a nail
And the nestbox that came with our registration of the Pré as a Refuge LPO [vanity nature-reserving... but worth it]... gave East  to South East as the "compass" points!!
[*I've noticed that the Swallows tend to use an old nail as the starting point for their nests here....
plenty of those around!! See picture above]


Which reminds me that I haven't mentioned "indoor" nestboxes...
except pointing one out in a caption above...
outbuildings are a favourite place for some birds...
all the shelter needed... and well hidden away!
The chipboard from the Brico trolleys is perfect for these...
same patterns... mainly open-fronted... and put them up all over your dependances!
And chipboard boxes can be used out of doors, they last a couple of years...
use a good roofing material [old flat tile, suitable sized piece of slate, etc]...
and a bit of MATT varnish or paint on the outside...
there are numerous sources of water-based...
ecologically sound...
neutrally tinted...
outdoor varnishes and paints available.
But the simplest and "cheepest" protection is linseed oil!
Only applied to the outside of the nest.

The "indoor" chipboard nestbox in place.

Anyway... siting the boxes...
I have worked my way through all the often conflicting advice and have created this little blurb....

The box should face between North and East, to maximise light, and reduce weather ingress.
Unless there are trees or buildings which shade the box during the day, face the box between North and East, thus avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds.
Many birds will reject boxes that face due West, for example, because the box may stay too hot.

Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens need to be low down, below 2m, well hidden in vegetation.
Those for spotted flycatchers need to be 2-4m high, sheltered by vegetation but with a clear outlook.
Woodpecker boxes need to be 3-5m high on a tree trunk with a clear flight path and away from disturbance.
Specialist boxes... owl, hoopoe, kestrel, etc... tend to come with advice if bought...
but even plans usually give siting info.

Kestrels like to be high up!
This is right beside one of "our" female Kestrel's favourite roosts...
the streaks on the corrugated iron are hers!
The box is made mainly from OSB3 offcuts...
OSB is Sterling Board to UK residents...
the No 3 indicates water resistant.


Don't pre-fill a nest box...put perhaps a little woodshaving in the bottom...
[except for woodpeckers who like to create their own residence as commented above]...
but the best way to help the birds is to provide material such as hair from cat & dog grooming, cotton, wool, lawn moss and feathers.
The most tidy way to present it to the birds is in an old wire feeder or in a rolled length of 1/2" Chicken Netting.

Mainly cat hair... time they gave something back...
along with lawn moss and some of the insulation the Sparrows keep pulling out!!


Nest boxes should normally be put up in Early January, through to the end of February. ...
at the latest...hmmmmmmmm! The LPO say by the end of April at the latest... duhhh!?
However....
"Nestboxes are best put up during the autumn.
Many birds will enter nestboxes during the autumn and winter, looking for a suitable place to roost or perhaps to feed.
They often use the same boxes for nesting the following spring.
Tits will not seriously investigate nesting sites until February or March." [RSPB Site]
Birds will often chose a ‘well-weathered’ box, and so, really...
it is best to put them up when you've made them...
and leave them in position for the following years.
Don't expect them to be occupied immediately...
and don't be upset if they aren't used for a few years...
you may have erected them within the territory of an established pair with a good nest site.
You could consider moving it after three or four years...
unless you've seen it being used as a winter roost...
such birds may well be short-distance migrants and will not have the same territories as nesters.
They may also have other residents in winter months... dormice being one!
In fact, you can make mammal specific boxes, too!


Some dimensions, etc....

Enclosed Nest-Boxes... [Diameter of hole]
Blue Tit.....................................25mm (1in)    
Great Tit...................................28mm (1 1/4in)    
Tree Sparrow.............................28mm (1 1/4in)    
Nuthatch....................................32mm (1 1/2in) [who will then "perfect" the hole with mud]    
House Sparrow...........................32mm (1 1/2in)    
Starling......................................45mm (1 3/4in)    
Great Spotted Woodpecker...........50mm (2ins)    
Little Owl...................................70mm (2 3/4in)    
Tawny Owl................................150mm (6in)    
Jackdaw.....................................150mm (6in)    

Open fronted nest-boxes:
Wren
Pied Wagtail
Robin
Blackbird
Pigeon
Spotted Fly Catcher
Kestrel

You will find that birds like Little Owl, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl and Kestrel have specific desires when it comes to boxes...
and are usually slightly weird!!
But if you need some therapy [old style] and are into basketry...
you can weave your own "bread basket" nest platforms...
kestrels like 30cm minimum!!

Maintenance of the boxes....
Do not check them during the summer, for obvious reasons....
unless you know them not to be occupied.

The written advice is that...
"They will need cleaning out from time to time... usually in the Autumn."
but ...
don't forget that sites they choose themselves never get cleaned out by other than by themselves......

The sight of bits of moss drifting past the window allowed me to get this picture on Tuesday...
of a Bluetit having an early Spring-clean!!

Nice to have a home with your own bodyguard...
the  Kestrel roosts on the cemented-in beam!


Additionally, the assorted parasites that share the nest with the birds are a valuable food source in winter....
and the nest is often a roost [as mentioned above]...
or as briefly mentioned also, a winter home for rodents...
especially dormice in field boxes...
and squirrels in larger ones...
as well as lizards, etc.

You can make "nichoirs" for these animals as well...
and for bumble and solitary bees....
not forgetting...
wintering cover for insects!
But more about these in another post!!
Now...
get building!!
There is time yet...

---ooo000OOO{}OOO000ooo---

Books to help you...:-
In English...
BTO Guide 23.... Nestboxes by Chris du Feu [BTO 1993]
This gives very explicit advice for a very wide range of boxes...
there is a 2008 edition [main section extract downloadable from the BTO as a .pdf file]
also available from Abe Books [seven copies at various low prices]

In French... but very clear.
Nichoirs & Cie by Bernard Bertrand and Thierry Laversin [éditions de Terran - 2006]
Doesn't stop at Birds... covers bees and other insects, reptiles and mammals... as well as feeders.

Les Cahiers Techniques crom the CPN...
No 106: FABRIQUONS DES NICHOIRS... [May 2004... but still around... got our copy from the Maison de la Nature at the Cherine Reserve in the Brenne]
Aimed squarely at Middle School age range [8 to 13] it is perfect for French "beginners"... clearly written and easily followed... all the necessary info is there and the cartoons are wonderful!!



Web Links for more advice...:-
RSPB - Nest Box Advice
BTO - Make a Nest Box
Schwegler  - You can download their catalogue in English from this site

6 comments:

GaynorB said...

Good morning Tim and Pauline.
A labour of love! Not just the making of the boxes, but also putting this comprehensive fact sheet together. Bravo.

Susan said...

Terrific post. I've just been thinking I must get the nest boxes out. Yours never made it last year while I pondered the how and where for too long. Now I have Kath's magnificent bee hotel too. They must all go up, with a few more bundles of stuff for bees and other creatures. Tomorrow and Tuesday are supposed to be fine, so that's the time.

Colin and Elizabeth said...

Great post... I think I will have to move a couple of ours based on your info. It is also time I made a couple more... We have plenty of big willow logs.

Love the oil derrick, hope it doesn't blow over if we have strong winds again. How have you secured it at the base?

Tim said...

Thanks folks!
It took me all week, off and on...
I've just made a slight alteration to the "NEVERs"... I forgot two of them!!!

I still can't get the treecreeper boxes in position...
too wet where I want to be putting them.
Susan, having read far more than I had before on "up-putting'n'where"...
I'm just going to put boxes up when I make them from now on....
Colin'n'lizabeth... the "oil derrick" is guyed outward on short guy wires...
you can see one of them, bottom left of the tower, in the last picture of the tryptich.
The whole thing is also tucked in behind some big alders on the right...
and there is another set of alders set forward to the right.

The blog about Bee, Insect, Mammal and other boxes will follow shortly.
But not too shortly!!

Amelia Frenchgarden said...

Our 3 boxes went up yesterday, so your words of wisdom came too late. Unfortunately, 2 of ours are coloured. Perhaps, if my husband reads this article it will inspire him as he is the DIY person. Your efforts are inspiring. I wish you all success with the owl nest.

Tim said...

Amelia...
what sort of colour?
If it isn't bright, like the ones on the cake box, it should be OK.
Another thing you can do is paint them in situe with MUD & ASH...
that will encourage moss and lichen to grow...
[the actual recipe is soot, yoghurt and dung... but I have found ash & mud works fine]...
and tone down any overbright colours.
Nice Barbastelle by the way!!