Feathery Nest Visitors

Starling on fence

We now have a total of four European Starling Nest Boxes set up around the property, all at a distance from each other.  They are appropriately named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.  And, as mentioned previously, we’re both delighted and surprised that winter visitors continue to maintain occupancy.

Two starling birds in nest box

Alpha Nest Box:  Two continuous occupants, both very suspicious of us and the first thing we see upon arrival home.  They’ve cleared out the majority of the cedar shavings, which we found out is a good way to track how often any given nest is being “checked out” (they like to remove it and scatter it outside of the nest on the ground; a good visual cue).  We originally intended it for winter warmth and possible soiling prevention; we were wrong on both counts for Starlings, it would seem.

single starling bird in nest box

Beta Nest Box:  A single solitary European Starling has resided in this nest box all winter.  He’s completely removed the cedar shavings.  During the day, several visitors inspect the nest, but it always ends up with just one occupant (perhaps the same one, not yet pair bonded).

two little starling birds in nest

Gamma Nest Box:  This one has an entrance hole on the side, so it’s a bit more difficult to take a flash photo.  Using a flashlight through the entrance hole, the camera can take a picture through a small 1/2″ hole on the perpendicular side.  We’re sure the birds are just delighted at this sort of human behavior, and they tolerate it well.  Absolutely no remaining cedar shavings for bedding.  If you look closely, you can see in the back the removable piece of wood for ventilation during the summer use.

empty bird nest box

Delta Nest Box:  Currently unoccupied, and a bit higher up (thus the odd camera angle).  Some cedar shavings are removed, and as it’s next to the side of the house, we can hear the poke, poke sounds as the birds investigate it each morning.  However, as of yet, it’s not a permanent residence.

If all goes as planned, it should be a great place for new nestlings, as well as the sounds of little babies as they hatch and grow up.  It’s part of the charm, we feel, of early summer!

Wild Bird Feeding in Winter

wild finch bird in tree

We’ve been pleasantly surprised.  Activities that we halfway took to in the past are suddenly paying off, perhaps due to consistency on our part.  This summer, we put out wild bird food (those square blocks) and also a small hummingbird feeder.  A few months ago we decided to put them back out despite the changes in the weather, and we continue to have a variety of visitors!

hummingbird on branch

Even the hummingbirds are starting to hang out.  The only bit that we’ve not been able to tackle successfully is providing a nest for the hummingbirds.  They’re too particular, and we lack the oomph to research the needed odds and ends; if it can’t easily be built or bought, we’ll choose the path of least resistance.

Bird Nest Adjustment

european starling bird in nest box

For the most part, the cedar shavings that we used to “winterize” the bird nest boxes have done their job:  They’ve helped to plug up any joints in the wood walls, have likely given the birds some needed insulation, and most importantly, gave them something to do.

Almost immediately, we noticed that the European Starlings started removing portions of the cedar shavings.  This behavior is similar to what we see during nesting season: The male puts nesting material in the box, and when he attracts a female, she promptly removes everything inside (to redecorate, we assume).

The shavings are also dropped around the outside of the nest, which helps us identify if a nest is actively being used or not.  While they tolerate flash photography while in their nest at night, it’s certainly not something without a degree of stress for them.

Also, you can see the indentation in the far back of where the bird(s) end up nesting, almost to the bare floor, yet surrounded by the cedar shavings in their nest.

empty bird nest box with cedar shavings for insulation

All in all, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how fast and how consistently the nests have been used this winter.  It’s new behavior, although to be fair, we’ve never had new nests up this late in the cold season before.

Winterizing a Bird Nest Box

european starlings in bird nest box

One of the things that we like to do every year is to prep a bird nest box for our feathery visitors to the yard. Specifically, European Starlings.  I know, not everyone loves these creatures. The rest of us? We build nests.

At one point, I had instructions for building a bird nest box. I’d reversed engineered a Starling Trap and built it, minus the trap (it’s on my to-do list to post a list of “how to” instructions later on). Over the years, it’s evolved into three strategically placed nests across our yard, which are adopted and baby birds are born in each year. This year we put them up early and, by accident, we noticed that they were being used last month by some European Starlings for shelter.

In doing some research, we decided to winterize the birdhouses.  First, we inverted the bird nest box so that the entrance holes were at the bottom of the nest.  We also inserted wood shims where the vents were. Both actions help to reduce heat loss during the winter.  Next, we purchased some pine shavings designed for pets, which (in theory) shouldn’t have any insects or bugs, and sprinkled it liberally along the inside of the nest for bedding.

The first night, the nests were abandoned. We were worried that we’d scared away the little critters. However, the next night they returned. They removed some of the nesting material, however most of it they kept. The nice bit is that even if they clear an empty space in the back of the box, the pine shavings should block any cracks where cold air might get in. Some people actually caulk the cracks, however in the summer we want to open up the vents we’ve built to help cooling.

So far, two of the three nests are inhabited.  The third might be, however we built it with the hole on one end of an elongated nest, so there’s no easy way to tell if they’re in there. And within a week, one of the nests became home to not one, but two European Starlings. They seem to not mind the nightly flash photographs being taken, however this could also be because they’re conserving body heat loss.

A friend of ours recently remarked that his city has seen a sharp decrease in European Starlings, likely due to many home owners covering up exposed holes where the birds are likely to nest. We like to think that we’re reversing that trend, at least in some small way.