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Gopher Gulch: Birdhouse preparations before it rains

It seems like I spend my summers preparing for winter, never being quite ready when the first storm sweeps through. But this year I’m on top of it.

It could have something to do with the fact that I’ve finally caught up with the structural needs of an old house that sat empty for a decade. The pump house was the last of the big jobs, and every year it got kicked to the bottom of the list by an urgency — new toilet, new roof.

This means I can actually take care of birdhouses while the weather’s nice. The last of the summer visitors are gone and the Juncos will be home any day. They don’t use the birdhouses, but before we know it, somebody will be looking for a place to lay eggs.

Usually I slither around a wet yard in the pouring rain of late winter while desperate sparrows make strafing runs at me and starlings watch with hungry, hopeful eyes. Since the houses are cobbled together from whatever scrap pieces happen to be lying around, everything is wet and icky. Old nest material is full of bugs and no place to put a baby. So every house gets a handful of clean straw or dry grass as a starter kit.

In the interest of my own survival, I don’t use sharp power tools, but I’ve saved every scrap of material from every project. You never know when half a rusty hinge may come in handy. My favorite birdhouse changes from year to year, since everything from jays to pigeons perch on it, breaking it down. A rotted bark wall might get replaced with a piece of particle board broken off a larger hunk. This year a bit of siding from the new pump house makes a new roof to keep the little family dry.

My favorite part is the entry. It’s important to have the doorway hole exactly one and a half inches in diameter. That’s big enough to admit the birds you want and too small for starlings and other predator birds. No perch, since a perch simply provides a place for predators to stand. An extension of an inch or so is a good idea, to prevent starlings from stretching their necks and sharp beaks into the nest.

Years ago I found a lovely knot hole on the beach, well worn hardwood surrounding a hole precisely one and one half inches in diameter. Yes! The instant I saw it, I knew it was the perfect entry to nail over the birdhouse doorway.

You can, of course, buy beautiful, expertly made birdhouses, but where’s the fun in that?

If you’re planning to build new birdhouses, your best bet is to build them to suit the Western Bluebird. I’ve never had them nest here, but the nest that fits them is perfect for swallows, sparrows and other small feather folk, and the proper dimensions are easily found online.

Reach Inez Castor, a longtime Triplicate columnist, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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