Birds raising young
We try to provide everything birds need to raise their young including:
We have many chickadee and wren nestboxes, a downy woodpecker box, and one nuthatch nestbox. After cleaning them with a weak bleach solution, we leave them out over the winter so they can be used for winter roosting. We're not sure how many of them actually have been used this way, but we leave them out anyway.
This little wren is getting ready to leave the nest. They've often selected this nestbox right next to the driveway. They don't seem to mind people coming and going, although they scold us if we stop and watch too long.
We choose nest boxes based on bird-friendliness, not aesthetics. A good nestbox, like this one, will have no perch. It also has ventilation—holes at the sides and at the bottom for moisture to drain. The side opens up easily for cleaning, and it's the proper size hole for the target species.
We try to place and orient the nestboxes in the best place for the particular species the box was designed for. I checked the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to find out the proper height and orientation for the nestbox. It's a good idea to put some sort of predator guard on the post, although it's not always possible depending on the location. This can make a big difference in whether they're used and whether our tenants successfully raise their young.
Another suggestion we followed was to add wood shavings to the nestbox for some of those species, like chickadees, that are accustomed to hollowing out their own nest cavity.
Removing the shavings is a part of this process. And they don't just drop them out the hole. They fly them far enough away so that predators don't know where the nest is. I feel bad to create so much extra, and to our human mind, unnecessary work, but this behavior is normal for chickadees.
Not every nest is completed. For some reason, this one was abandoned. Perhaps they found a better nest site, perhaps another bird scared them away, or perhaps the bird met an untimely end.
This photo shows that they don't remove all the shavings we added, and also shows some of the moss they used.
It also shows how easy it is to clean this particular model of nestbox since the side opens right up. This design also makes it easy to monitor the nest if needed (though I've so far been too squeamish to do so).
This is the only ornamental nestbox we have. It has ventilation and is very easy to clean—the top lifts right up once the top holder is unscrewed. We have a lot of chickadee / wren size boxes in an attempt to have enough left for chickadees once the wren has made all his demonstration nests.
That's the way it is …
Here's a a chickadee nest I removed from the nestbox at the end of the season, long after the chickadees had abandoned it.
One frustration I've had is that house wrens take over so many of my chickadees' nest boxes. The male wren returns before the female and builds rudimentary nests. When the female returns, he shows her his assortment of nests and she then selects one. The remaining nests go unused.
Unfortunately, this means that the chickadees' hard work has gone to waste. I've learned to accept this as the natural course of events, but it's always a little sad. (Reminder: Both birds are native to this area, and it's illegal and unethical to interfere with this natural process!)