As I opened the bird house, my brain tried to catch up with the gray blur that I’d seen one thousandth of a second earlier. My head recoiled as the impact of the feathered body, sharp beak and claws left a strange sensation on my eye socket and cheek. I didn’t realize the hazard of checking a bird box containing a setting hen that refused to leave upon my tapping of the mounting pole. Regaining my composure, I peeked inside the feather-lined grass cup to find four tiny, pinkish white eggs.
The adventure began two years ago when Streamline Planning staff decided to do our part to bolster the local cavity nesting bird population. These populations have declined dramatically over the past century. Dead trees that contained the holes used by native cavity nesting birds have been largely removed by home-builders, developers and agriculture operators. Wooden fence posts that provided cavities have been replaced by metal posts. Equally devastating to native cavity nesters has been the introduction of European starlings, English sparrows, unrestrained house cats and feral cats.
Having prior experience with building species-specific nest boxes, we built and ordered several styles of nest boxes using the tried and true North American Bluebird Society (NABS) specifications. Mounted on custom predator-proof poles, these boxes exclude all predators except English sparrows. The three main birds that use these houses are western bluebirds, violet green swallows and tree swallows. All of these birds eat pesky insects; up to 60 insects per hour for peak consumption of 850 insects per day! Watching a nearby cavity-nesting bird family grow up brings joy to adults and children alike.
Over the past two seasons, Streamline staff has enjoyed the privilege of installing 12 nest boxes from McKinleyville and Fieldbrook to Eureka. Several locations include both the Cypress Grove Chevre dairy and creamery, MCSD’s Hiller Park, Fieldbrook Community Church, and the Eureka Municipal Golf Course. We look forward to expanding the program around the county and encompassing small cavity nesters such as wrens and chickadees in the coming season.