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Gopher Gulch: Houses that truly will be for the birds

Every autumn of my life outdoor conditions have changed in the same way. The soft breeze becomes cold wind, the days get short and dark and the Earth becomes a cold damp place. You’d think I’d get used to it, but it always comes as a shock.

For outdoor people who hate to be cold, there are some fun activities that have both indoor and outdoor components. Now is the perfect time to repair and create birdhouses. Clean out all the musty old nesting material that makes it no place to put a baby. Once your house is clean and repaired, put in a handful of fresh straw or dry grass to give the young couple a start.

Over the years some birdhouses have rotted away, so I looked in a few books for construction ideas. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. With less materials and fewer tools, you could probably build a 2-bedroom house. But I did find two important pieces of information.

Doorway holes should be exactly one and a half inches in diameter. This is the perfect size to let our little birds in, without being large enough to admit predator birds like starlings. Most important, skip the perch. While parents will dart right in, the perch gives predators a place to stand.

I began ranging the place for options and found a couple dried gourds to cut doorways into and paint, but my best find is currently an ugly white plastic tub with a black, screw-on lid. It originally held whey protein. Extra straw will make it feel right as well as provide insulation.

I’ll make several drainage holes in the bottom and cut a doorway hole a bit larger than the right diameter so I can soften it to size with duct tape. Bore a hole just big enough for a wire or strong twine through the lid, thread it through and knot it, then waterproof the hole and stabilize the job with a good gob of hot glue.

Now comes the fun part. We get to decorate our birdhouses however we like, using stickers, markers, acrylic craft paint, even bark shreds, moss or pine needles. Kids love this process, and it’s a good opportunity for them to express their creativity on rainy days. Houses that are earth-color attract birds, but they don’t mind butterflies and fairies in their scenery.

When your project has had time to dry, add straw or dry grass and wait for that magical day when a break in the weather and a surge of energy come together. Hang your new houses in trees or attach them to posts in shrubbery so the birds will feel safe.

It would be a huge kindness to install a birdhouse for someone who loves to watch the birds but can’t physically provide homes. When you do such a kindness for people, they think of you every time they look at it. This is called prayer in some circles.

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