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Outside » Natural World

Homes for Birds and Bats

Don't let Central Oregon's housing shortage affect wildlife, too

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OK, good people, now's the time! Head out to the nearest housing construction project, and if they're using plywood (not particle board), ask the builders to put leftovers aside. Bring a box of donuts, give it to the builders and bring the plywood home to build bird house nesting boxes.

I've been building nesting boxes for well over 40 years, and in that period of time I have never had a builder say no. Most of them have even been kind enough to help me load the stuff into my pickup. This is not only a good way to save the excess wood from the landfill, but your opportunity to really put your personal effort into supplying a much-needed portion of wildlife habitat that has gone missing.

Look out world, here I come! Nestling American kestrel about to fledge right under Ellyana Long's nose. Nesting box by Jim Anderson. - JIM ANDERSON
  • Jim Anderson
  • Look out world, here I come! Nestling American kestrel about to fledge right under Ellyana Long's nose. Nesting box by Jim Anderson.

Back in the '50s and '60s, when the logging/forestry industry took it upon itself to become forest fire rangers and denounce all the dead standing trees in the forest as lightning rods, it was the beginning of the end for cavity nesters. What really finished off the snags (dead trees) back in those "good old days" was when Brooks-Scanlon started selling "Brooks Wood," beautiful pine boards cut from snags.

The U.S. Forest Service made a huge attempt to right that wrong with the "Wildlife Tree" project, in which it had folks in federal prisons make 4x4-inch aluminum wildlife signs that wildlife biologists placed on standing snags, announcing them to be absolutely essential as nesting and shelter for wildlife, saying "Do Not Cut."

In the '70s, when I was working for USFS, one of my jobs was walking portions of timber sales, searching out snags and placing wildlife signs on them to ensure they'd be saved for cavity nesters. Not too many years back I was driving past one of the old sales and sure enough, those wildlife trees were still standing.

The wonderful people I worked for at the Deschutes District helped to get me a permanent appointment working for the USFS, but the day that appointment came in the mail, I got a phone call from my old spider teacher and good pal, Vince Roth, who ran the American Museum of Natural History's research station in Arizona.

I told him about the permanent appointment papers from the USFS I was holding in my hands.

"Forget that," he said. "You gotta come down and run the Ramsey Canyon Hummingbird Preserve. The Nature Conservancy just took control of it and they have no idea what to do with it."

"But Vince..." I tried to say, over and over. But he just kept hammering away with the need for me to take on Ramsey Canyon, and he finally won. I thanked all those wonderful people in Bend for the effort they went to getting me that permanent appointment, and really felt pretty bad about not following through, but Vince was a pal like no other, and Ramsey Canyon sounded pretty exciting. And my wife Sue and I had a blast!

Anyway... the vanishing of cavity nesting substrate also increased when steel fence posts appeared on the market. All those old wooden fence posts that woodpeckers pounded holes into were gone, and one bird in particular, the eastern bluebird, almost went extinct because of it. What saved them was nesting box builders from the Atlantic to the Mississippi river.

If you sold your table saw, or if you've cut your fingers off one at a time using it, knock on the door of a person you know who loves doing wood working projects, and enlist their help in building nesting boxes for birds and shelters for bats.

There's nothing like having a bluebird nesting box in your backyard. If you have an outdoor cat, put a Bird-be-safe collar on it so it doesn't target the birds. A swallow nesting box will be a welcome asset if you live near a mosquito-producing body of water. You can also put up a bat shelter and have bats fluttering about at night, helping with the mosquito reduction business.

If you live in the Camp Sherman neck of the woods, or the west side of Bend, put up a nesting box for a northern pygmy owl; you'll have a wonderful opportunity for them to move in and positively ruin your afternoon nap with all their tooting. Those ambitious little owls are capable of catching, killing and eating pine squirrels and other critters that size.

Building and erecting nesting boxes is a great way to help wildlife prosper, and for you to have the satisfaction of seeing your handiwork create immediate and long-lasting positive results.

To get plans, pick up my "ECAS Natural Selection Nesting Box & Bat Shelter" booklet when you come to the next East Cascades Audubon Society Birder's Night on the Third Thursday of the month at the Bend Environmental Center. Or email me (jimnaturalist@gmail.com) for the PDF digital version. Now get busy!

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