I have a secret: I want to be a birder. I really, really do. I want to be of those people who pauses on the street, turns her ear to the sky, and says, “Hunh! A ____. They must be migrating early this year.”
I’m not getting too far with this. I’ve taken books out of the library but birding isn’t something you (or, maybe just I) learn in books. I’ve tried going on walks with local birding organizations, but I find myself snoozing in the sun while seniors with high powered binoculars dash from tree to tree, squinting at high branches and checking things off on lists that I don’t have. I don’t want lists, I just want to listen and watch and bask in the beauty of it. As the singing teacher in the movie As It Is In Heaven says, “Everything begins with listening.”
So. For this final guest-post on 52 Projects, I decided to try bringing the birds to me; to make a bird house.
The first step for any project is to find instructions. This proved tricky. I found lots of directions on making houses for the country, but few for urban areas. Finally I emailed the Toronto Ornithological Society and got some lovely tips, as well as a complete plan in this delightfully useful download from a friendly guy named Patrick.
It’s not really that complicated. You cut some wood, you make a box, you put a hole in it. But there are some things to keep in mind…
~ Avoid painted or pressure-treated wood, or anything with harsh paints or stains. Bad for the birds.
~ The wood should be around 3/4 inch thick to keep them warm in there in the winter.
~ The nest should be able to nestle in at least 3-4 inches below the hole, so that cats and raccoons can’t swat at the little fledglings. Therefore, the house needs to be pretty tall. 10-12 inches seems standard, with the hole one inch down from the top.
~ Bigger boxes often mean more eggs! But they also mean that it takes more time for the birds to collect nesting materials, so they may shy away. In the various floor-plans I looked at, a diameter of 4 x 5 inches or 5 x 6 inches seemed standard.
~ If you want to keep out “pesky” non-native species like starlings and house sparrows, keep the hole under 1.25 of an inch. Personally, I don’t have any problem with starlings and house sparrows, but I decided to keep within convention and try to make a home for something indigenous. (I hope for a sweet little chickadee.)
~ You should be able to open one side, so that you can clean it out once they have flown the coop. Otherwise, it can be a breeding ground for bacteria, and more birds won’t come.
~ Cut some deep horizontal grooves on the inside of the front board, so that the little fledglings have something to climb up when they’re ready to flee the coop!
Since I have basically zero woodworking experience, I wasn’t sure what to do next, but I posted it on facebook and very soon, my friend Teija, who lives in the country just outside Toronto, invited me down to drink hot chocolate and make the house with the help of her and her handy & fabulous husband, Joel. Brilliant! I bought my 1 x 6 plank, printed my floor plans, got an autoshare car, and headed down.
The day was beautiful. I got to hang with old friends, breathe some country air and use a nail gun. And, it turns out that Teija is a birder! Ahh, how perfect. Here’s what we did:
1. Cut board into said proportions. One of the beautiful things about the plan I chose (see “delightfully useful download”, above) is that you only need one board! Amazing. Hand saws work fine, but if you have friends with power-tools, well…
2. Drill the smaller-than-1.25 inch hole for the birdies to get in and out. While you’re at it, drill a few small ones on the sides for ventilation.
3. Cut your grooves on the inside of the front piece.
4. Cut the corners off the bottom piece to allow for further ventilation.
4. Glue and then nail-gun all but one side together. (You could go au-naturel and do this by hand.)
5. Hand-nail the final piece in, with one nail on either side, at the top, so that it can swing open. Make a hole at the bottom to attach a little fastener (an L-shaped nail or piece of wire) to keep it closed.
6. Have a beer.
The next step would be to paint or stain the house, but I’m thinking of keeping it naked. Some books say that bright colors can confuse the birds. And, toxic paints are ever a problem.
The final step will be to mount it. I have not figured this one out… It should be low enough to clean out easily, visible enough to enjoy, but remote enough not to fall prey to raccoons and cats. In my backyard, this is a serious challenge. There are lots of tips available — nailing a metal sleeve around the tree under the birdhouse, constructing a wire mesh nest around the entrance hole, mounting the birdhouse on a post with PVC tubing around the bottom — these all seem a little drastic to me. I will let you know what I decide later, but as Hammy The Hamster would say, that’s another story.
A big thank you is going out to Teija and Joel for their awesome help. And, check it — the photos of birds on this page are by Teija! She is a wonder! You can see more of her amazing nature photography here. Yes, she also does weddings.
And, with this, I hand this beautiful DIY year back to the enormously-capable and wildly-creative hands of my beloved sister. I LOVED this journey in hijacking… These projects and posts have been a warm spot in my busy autumn. I feel a little sad to let it go, but very excited to see what Elizabeth has in store for us next. Over to you, sista’!