Check your big nest boxes to see if a screech owl might be roosting in one this fall or winter.
Part of the fun of fall next box maintenance is appreciating the thrill of attracting and benefiting cavity nesting birds like bluebirds.
Beautiful fall weather can be a good motivator to check on your nest boxes, whether limited to your yard, scattered around a few sites, or installed along a nest box trail. During fall you can do some simple housekeeping, make repairs, and add new nest boxes without the time crunch the spring nesting season can create. Each nest box or birdhouse (same thing) should have a hinged panel that allows you to view and access the interior, and it’s a good plan to inspect your nest boxes inside and out before winter.
Many birders remove old nests and other material inside the nest box, which is generally a good idea if you want to control mites, blow fly larvae, mice, bees, and other potential small invaders. It’s also a good time to make simple repairs; replace a screw, add a nail, fix a hinge; or replace a nest box entirely. If a nest box hasn’t been attracting nesting birds you may even want to move it to a potentially better location.
Check your predator proofing too, to ensure it is still functional to keep raccoons, snakes, squirrels, chipmunks, and the like away from your nest box. Predator proofing is essential to ensuring your cavity nesting birds, their eggs, and their nestlings are safe during the period they occupy your nest box.
Nest boxes can provide some positive options for birds over the non-nesting season. Some birds will use a nest box as a roosting location overnight, including owls and woodpeckers. These birds tend to use large nest boxes, the size they would use for nesting, but having a roosting screech owl spend time in your nest box is a pretty special experience.
By placing a shallow layer of fresh wood chips in the bottom of a large nest box, you may make it more attractive for roosting birds. Then too, smaller birds such as bluebirds and chickadees are known to utilize a nest box as a communal roost site during cold weather, so keep an eye out for any fall or winter action at your nest boxes.
Fall is a great time to install new nest boxes too. Maybe you would like to add a large nest box or two to try to attract a nesting Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, or screech owl. That is an ultimate goal for many birders, although attracting bluebirds, chickadees, and wrens can be just as rewarding, and super-beneficial for these cavity nesting songbirds. You may want to buy a new nest box or two, but make sure any nest box you shop for has a means of opening a side or top to access the inside, and that the entrance hole has the right dimensions for the cavity nesting birds you wish to attract.
Fall is also a good time to build a new nest box or two. Make it a family project to be shared between parents and children, or grandparents and grandchildren. Teachers and scout leaders may also find building nest boxes a fun and useful project to share with students and scouts. Some nature centers offer nest box or birdhouse building activities, or you can suggest the idea of adding such a project at a local nature center, refuge visitor center, bird observatory, Audubon chapter, or birding club to name a few.
To learn more about nest boxes, birdhouses, and cavity nesting birds, a great source of information is NestWatch, which provides a wealth of information and sources for getting started or improving your nest box activities. You will probably be surprised by all the different kinds of birds you can benefit, and their individual needs regarding nest boxes and nesting structures. Another arm of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, you can access the wealth of information provided by NestWatch at https://nestwatch.org/ and if you are interested in buying a new nest box for Wood Ducks or bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds, check out the impressive variety available from BestNest at https://www.bestnest.com/bestnest/bird_houses.asp
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