Bird Nesting Houses
( Originally Published 1910 )
Adaptability of Birds. -- Many birds have adapted their nesting-habits, in part, at least, to the changed conditions brought about through man's agency, where the changes have not been of too radical a nature. And some, indeed, seem to prefer these new conditions to the original ones; chimney swifts have changed their nesting-sites from caves and hollow trees to chimneys ; the phoebe rather prefers the beams of a shed or bridge to the cliffs, caves, and overhanging banks which probably formed its original nesting-site ; the eave swallow nests under eaves as well as on cliffs ; the barn swallow now nests almost entirely in barns, in preference to cliffs and caves, where it was once wont to nest ; the robin frequently selects some portion of a building; the Carolina wren has been found nesting in a barn; several species quite commonly nest in artificial houses provided for them.
When the birds have shown such powers of adaptability without much effort on man's part to assist, there certainly is a large opportunity still further to draw birds around habitations, when man makes some special effort to attract them. It is the purpose of this book to render some suggestions looking toward this end. Not only may we hope to increase the number of individuals of those birds now known to nest around buildings and in bird-houses, but we may expect to domesticate other species of birds, whose nesting-habits are such that we may imitate their nesting-sites by means of artificial houses.
The birds which have been known to nest in bird-houses, as far as the author has been able to secure any records, are the following :
(Those marked with an asterisk use houses quite commonly). Bluebirds :
*Eastern (Sialia sialis).
*Western (Sialia mexicana occidentalis).
Mountain (Sialia arctica).
*Black-capped (Penthestes atricapillus).
*Oregon (Penthestes atricapillus occidentalis).
Carolina (Penthestes carolinensis).
Duck, Wood (Aix sponsa).
*Finch, House (Carpodacus mexicana frontalis).
Flicker (Colaptes auratus luteus).
Flycatcher, Crested (Myiarchus crinitus).
Hawk, Sparrow (Falco sparverius).
*Martin, Purple (Progne subis).
Owl, Screech (Otus asio).
Robin (Planesticus migratorius).
*Sparrow, English (Passer domesticus).
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).
*Tree (Iridoprocne bicolor).
*Violet-green (Tachycineta thalassina lepida).
Titmouse, Tufted (Bceolophus bicolor).
Woodpecker, Red-headed (Melanerpes erythrocephalus).
*House (Troglodytes aλdon).
*Parkman's (Troglodytes aλdon parkmanii).
Bewick's (Thryomanes bewickii).
*Vigors's (Thryomanes bewickii spilurus).
Texas Bewick's (Thryomanes bewickii cryptus).
The following nest in hollow trees and so might possibly be induced to occupy nesting-houses :
The woodpeckers, nuthatches, Carolina wren, barn owl, barred owl, and saw-whet owl.
There are other birds which may be attracted around buildings by putting up shelves or open boxes, or leaving openings in the barns ; such as the phoebe, robin, barn swallow, eave swallow, chimney swift, and Say's phoebe.
In building a bird-house one must take into account the species for which the house is intended ; but the author will first take up the discussion of a few general considerations before treating the question of special adaptations for each bird.
Hollow limbs. We may evidently hope to be most successful with that kind of house which most closely imitates the natural nesting-site of the birds. Those birds which have been induced to nest in artificial houses are of species which naturally select a hollow tree or limb in which to locate their nest. Sections of such hollow trees or limbs make some of the very best bird-houses. Sometimes pieces may be found with the centre already decayed, in which case it is necessary only to saw off a section of the desired length, fasten on a floor and roof, and make the entrance hole. It is desirable that the roof be put on in such a way as to be readily removed. To hollow out a solid limb, saw it in halves from one end to about three inches from the other, where a cross-cut is made at right angles. The two pieces may be gouged out to the desired size and wired or screwed together, so that they can be easily taken apart if desired. Or, if one has a large auger, a hole may be bored. If one happens to have a section of the wooden tubing of an old-fashioned pump, this may be made to serve as a substitute for a hollow limb.
Bark Houses. Very attractive houses can be made entirely of bark. Limbs of trees, or small trees of the desired size, should be cut into sections of ten or twelve inches in length, about the latter part of June, when the bark can be easily removed. Elm, chestnut, or birch is especially recommended, and limbs which are free from knots should be chosen. About two or three inches from one end bore an en-trance hole of the desired size through the bark. On the opposite side of the section make an incision lengthwise through the entire bark.
By means of a wooden wedge carefully remove the bark. Saw off sections of the wood about an inch thick for the top and bottom. Trim these off a little, so that when the bark is placed around them the edges overlap about a half-inch. Nail the bark to these sections, and along the slit at the back attach a strip of wood which may be used to fasten up the box in the desired locality. To make the roof waterproof a piece of tin or zinc may be fastened over the top. In order that the box may be opened for cleaning or examination, in place of the section of wood the bark may be fastened to a hoop and the box covered by means of a cap of wood or tin fitting on over the top like the cover of a pail.
Very good imitations of tree-trunks may be secured by constructing boxes out of slabs with the bark on, or pieces of bark may be fastened on boards.
Board Houses. It is not necessary, however, to use old limbs or bark to build a house which the birds will use. A satisfactory box can be made out of ordinary boards, the older the better, as the birds are apt to be frightened away by new boards; but if these are used they should be smeared with moist soil and exposed to the weather as long as possible before the birds are expected to use the house, or they may be stained green or brown. In the construction of these houses a few points are to be noted. (1) The box should be very deep, that is, with the large dimension vertical; (2) the hole should be well up near the top, within two or three inches, with no perch near ; (3) the roof should slope from the back toward the front and project out about three inches. The first two points make it difficult for the young birds to leave the house, with the result that when they do leave they are strong and better able to care for themselves than they would be had they left the house earlier. The combination of the three serves a twofold purpose : it prevents the rain from beating in and keeps the cats out. This is practically a cat-proof house. From whichever position the cat may attempt to reach the hole, whether from above or below, the projecting roof renders it extremely difficult for the animal to gain a position from which it can reach into the nest. The difficulty of reaching the house may be still further increased by attaching the house to a long slender support. The roof should be attached by hinges or in some other method so that it may be easily lifted. On the whole the author considers this the best type of house for bluebirds and chickadees that he has ever used. A projecting roof can be easily placed on the hollow limbs previously described, and the author also advises that a roof of this kind be put on the bark houses, if any danger from cats is anticipated.
Observation Box. An observation box constructed like that shown here allows a splendid opportunity for studying intimately the home life of the birds. One side is attached by a hinge so that it can be opened, and inside is fastened a pane of glass. By this means the door can be opened by any one who wishes and a close observation made of what passes inside ; but the door should be kept closed at all other times to protect the young birds from the sun's heat. It should be so situated that the sun cannot shine in when the door is open.
Tin Houses. Quite a variety of houses may be made from various kinds of tin receptacles, such as tomato-cans, varnish-cans, coffee-cans, etc., by fitting in at one end a circular piece of wood, containing the entrance hole. It is well to place tin receptacles where they will be somewhat shaded, to prevent disaster to the young birds from the excessive heating of the metal.
Gourds. It is worth while to buy a package of gourd-vine seeds and plant them where they may be utilized to screen some unsightly objects ; and when the gourds are matured they may be hollowed out and put out for nesting-houses, which may often attract the wren and perhaps some others.
Clay Houses. In the School of Education of Chicago University the children modeled bird-houses from clay. These were baked a brownish color, and made with concave backs to fit the trees, to which they were fastened by means of wire. One house was provided with a movable concave cover to catch the rain. The overflow from this led to a little cup on the outside, and this in turn connected with a cup on the inside which kept the birds provided with drinking-water.
There should be only one compartment and one entrance hole for all birds, except the mar-tins, which are the only ones to nest in colonies. If two compartments are made, they will seldom, if ever, both be occupied; and they lead to fights, and furnish an additional opportunity for the sparrow to become troublesome.
Ventilation. In addition to the entrance hole, there should also be some openings to allow ventilation. During the heat of the day, especially if the boxes are not in the shade, the air inside becomes very hot and impure, and doubt-less the young must suffer considerably unless arrangements are made for a change of air.
In constructing the houses of boards, a narrow slit may be left on each side under the roof. A series of small holes may be bored in the upper part of the hollow limbs or bark houses; nail-holes may be made in the tin receptacles.
Drainage Holes. It is also well to bore a few small holes somewhere in the bottom of the boxes to allow any water to drain out that may beat into the boxes during storms ; and, of course, there should be no openings left on top by which the water can enter.
Movable Covers. It is very convenient to have some arrangement by which the houses can be opened for examination if desired. This will allow opportunity for removing the eggs of the English spar-row, and for cleaning out the box at the end of the season.
This may be arranged in several ways. The author has found it very convenient to attach the roof by means of hinges at the back and a little wire clasp on the side in front.
Time to put out. The earlier the boxes are put out, the better. For some weeks before the birds seem to be ready to begin nesting, they are undoubtedly flying around searching for a site, and these houses, if placed early, may induce some birds to stay, of whose presence we might not otherwise have had even the least intimation. It is also well to have the houses out early so that they may become weather-beaten. Some birds rear two broods, in which case a house may be occupied which is not put out until late in the season; but it is much better to have the houses out by the time the birds are beginning to re-turn. The boxes may also be put out in the late fall, so that they may serve as a shelter for the winter birds. The different houses should not be placed too close together, as the first comer is apt to prevent the other birds from nesting in the houses near.
In case one has an orchard near at hand, this makes an ideal location for placing the boxes. In the yard the boxes may be fastened to trees, posts, grape-arbors, or even to the piazza-posts or side of the house. It will afford better protection from the elements if the box is put up with the entrance hole facing away from the direction from which the prevailing storms come, although with the kind of roof shown on page 18, this matter becomes of less importance.
Ernest Thompson Seton gives the following general suggestions : " As a general principle I find that the birds like a tight fit. Small birds will not nest in a large hole. I find it a good plan, in some cases an essential, to go around in the spring and dust the nesting-houses with powdered sulphur. They become so infested with parasites that the. birds cease to use them. In fact I believe it a good plan to clean out the old nests completely every year. As a practical de-tail, I have found it worth while to have each nest with a hinge door which would admit of easy inspection without disturbing the inside arrangements ; and second, to place none so that they cannot be reached by a convenient ladder."
The chief things to be taken into account in adapting a house to a particular bird are, size of house, size of entrance hole, location of the house, and the kind of house preferred. The second point is especially important, as the regulation of the size of the hole allows one to keep out all birds larger than the one for which the house is intended. A circular entrance hole is to be preferred.
Bluebirds. -- The boxes should be. about twelve by six by six inches, fastened with the longer axis vertical. If a hollow limb is used, a diameter of five inches, or a little less, will be sufficient. The entrance hole should be one and a half inches in diameter. The two-inch hole often recommended is too large, as martins and blue jays may enter this. Occasionally they will use a smaller hole, down to one and a quarter inches, but an inch and a half is the smallest hole to use to make sure that the houses will be occupied. Place from eight to fifteen feet high. They may be fastened to trees, posts, grape-arbor, tops of poles, and buildings. Put out by the first of March or sooner.
In the Eastern States the bluebird is one of the most common house-tenants. Mr. Frank Bond writes that in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while the English sparrows were killed off, the mountain bluebird was among the most common bird-box occupants. In Oregon the western bluebird is a common tenant.
Chickadees. The boxes should be about ten by four by four inches, placed with the long axis vertical. The entrance hole may be one and a quarter to one and an eighth inches. The smaller size would be more effective in keeping out the English sparrow. Place on a tree, post, or even on the house, by a window ; from ten to twenty-five feet high. These birds are permanent residents, and do not begin to nest until the middle of May, but Mr. Forbush, who has had consider-able success with domesticating chickadees, re-commends that the house be put out in the fall, so as to furnish the birds with shelter during the winter. These are among the easiest birds to at-tract during the winter by providing food, and if they remain during the cold season and use the box as a shelter, they will be more likely to stay and make their nest here. Mr. Forbush writes : "Success in domesticating the chickadee seems to turn mainly on four conditions : first, the locality must be well supplied with trees ; second, the English sparrow must be banished from the , neighborhood; third, the chickadees must be accustomed to remain about the locality by providing food for them in winter; fourth, the boxes must be properly constructed and located."
Sometimes the chickadees may be induced to build in partially decayed birch-stumps, by boring one and an eighth inch auger holes in the sheltered side. On finding these holes begun, the chickadee may finish the excavation and build a nest there. Mr. Reed states that one summer four pairs of chickadees found the locations selected by him satisfactory and reared their families.
In the Eastern States the black-capped chickadee nests occasionally in boxes, but is not a common occupant. On the Pacific coast the Oregon chickadee uses boxes, and from the reports received, apparently more commonly than the black-capped does in the East.
Carolina Chickadee. The only reference the author finds to this bird is in " Bird-Lore," by Mr. Robert Ridgway of the National Museum, who writes : " Each spring a pair of Carolina chickadees build their nest in one of our bird-houses, and have begun incubation by the time the house wrens arrive, but that is as far as the poor chickadees ever get, for the wrens immediately oust them and destroy their eggs."
Wood Duck. This beautiful bird is rapidly decreasing and seems in a fair way to extinction, unless some very unusual efforts are made in its behalf. It nests in a hole in a tree or stump, and has been known to nest in houses provided for it. Dr. A. K. Fisher, of the Bureau of Biological Survey, writes : " Almost any box or keg of proper size is a suitable nesting-place for the wood duck. A good, stout nail-keg with the head replaced, or a box a foot square and ten inches high, made of three-quarter-inch stuff, will be large enough. The oval entrance on the side should be six inches long by four inches wide. I know of a number of instances where wood ducks have nested in places pre-pared for them." Ernest Thompson Seton writes: Wood ducks do not seem to desire being very near water. Wood ducks and whistlers like a drop of a foot or two from the entrance hole to the nest-level. They will not use a box in which they can be seen while setting." The cut shows a box suggested by Dr. Fisher.
House Finch. -- Mr. Frank Bond writes that when living in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the house finch was amongst the most common bird-box occupants, when the English sparrows were killed off.
Dr. W. H. Bergtold of Denver writes that the house finch is very abundant in Colorado cities and villages, and takes advantage of any box, shelf, etc., about a house, to build its nest.
Flicker. - The author has been able to secure but two definite records of the flicker using a nesting-box. One is furnished by William Brewster, who writes : " In the spring of 1899 a pair of flickers lived in an imitation stub that I put up for them in the garden here. It was simply a long, narrow rectangular box, made of boards covered outwardly with spruce bark and having an entrance hole of suitable size (three and a half inches diameter) bored in one side near the upper end. Eight eggs were laid, but none of them hatched, although the birds brooded them for nearly six weeks. Last spring (1908) I put up a box of similar construction in an orchard at Concord, Mass. Although the flickers did not build in it, they must have frequented it more or less as a sleeping-place, for when I examined it this autumn, I found their feathers clinging to the wood about the entrance hole."
Under date of May 24, 1910, Mr. F. C. Pellett writes that a pair of flickers is occupying one of his houses, in which seven eggs have been laid.
Instances have been reported in which flickers have enlarged the holes to bluebird boxes so that they could get in, but the boxes were too small to nest in.
In Burns's monograph on the flicker are given the following figures regarding the inside dimensions of flickers' nests, the data being gathered from various sections of the United States:
Minimum. Maximum. Average.
Diameter of entrance 2.20 5.00 3.28
The figures given in the average column will suggest the dimensions of a nesting-box for the flicker.
Crested Flycatcher. The author has found five records of the nesting of the crested fly-catcher in boxes. One pair nested in the hollow limb described on page 44, after it had been left by the titmice. It was also used the following season by the flycatchers. In two other cases these birds nested in one of the compartments of a martin-house.
Mrs. G. K. Holmes, of Summit, New Jersey, reports a pair nesting in a box in the spring of 1908. " It was a little house of about six and one half by eight and one half inches, with an opening two and one eighth inches across, and was old enough and time-colored enough to please any bird visitors." It was placed in the crotch of a dead peach tree nine feet from the ground. It was about ten feet from the house and near a path in constant use. Two young birds were successfully reared.
Sparrow Hawk. In the spring of 1910 a pair of sparrow hawks occupied one of Mr. Pellett's nesting-boxes, in which, at the time of the last report received by the author, five eggs had been laid.
Purple Martin. The purple martin is common in the South, where gourds and boxes are put out for its use. In the North, however, it is rather rare and very local in its distribution, and has been decreasing for quite a number of years, partly on account of unfavorable seasons, but chiefly, it is probable, on account of the English sparrows. One of the chief causes for the disappearance of the martin from many localities, was the cold, wet June of 1903. The birds found it impossible to secure food for their young, so that many nestlings, as well as adults, perished. Before that year, however, the martin had been decreasing on account of the persecutions of the English sparrow. In the following spring many of the houses were visited by the martins, but few occupied. In some cases failure to reoccupy the houses may have been due to the fact that they had * not been cleaned, but still contained the remains of the birds which had died the previous year. Several observers reported that the houses which had been cleaned were occupied by the martins, while those which had not been cleaned were not used. It seems to be a precaution worth noting to clean the houses each year before the migrants return.
As the result of extensive correspondence, Mr. Forbush could find authentic records of the breeding of the purple martin in only five localities in Massachusetts during the season of 1904. During the season of 1908 Mr. Horton was able to find records of only one colony breeding in the eastern part of Vermont, that at Lyndon-ville. For the same season, Mr. Forbush writes : " Martins are still very plentiful in Eastern Maine, where the bad weather of 190304 hardly made itself felt at all. Also there are a good many in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and quite a few in New Hampshire."
The martins are valuable birds from the economic standpoint, and it is well worth while to make efforts to induce them to return to the localities where they formerly nested. They have the habit of returning to the same houses, year after year, both old and young, till their numbers compel them to seek quarters elsewhere. Thus there is the best opportunity for establishing a new colony in the vicinity of other colonies, the overflow of which is compelled to seek elsewhere for a nesting-site.
Attempts to reestablish Martins. Various attempts have been made to establish new colonies at a long distance from breeding colonies. The general plan pursued is to raise young birds in the locality where it is desired to establish a colony, with the hope that in the following spring these birds will return to their new home and breed there.
In the spring of 1907 eggs were sent by J. W. Jacobs of Pennsylvania to W. C. Horton, Brattleboro, Vermont, where they were placed in the nest of a tree swallow which had taken possession of a deserted martin's house. The eggs hatched and the young were fed by the parent swallows for two weeks, at which time all the young were killed by some unknown cause. The following year (1908) two pairs of martins which had begun to nest were sent to the same locality, where they were placed in the house which had been arranged for them, but the birds deserted it immediately, and nothing more was seen of them till about six weeks later, when a single male, which may have been one of these, was seen in a neighboring town.
For several years eggs were sent to Charles H. Kingsbury, Barnard, New York, and placed in the nest of barn swallows. In nearly every in-stance the eggs hatched, but some accident befell the young birds. In 1907 six young birds were sent to the same locality and were raised by hand. Three of these were successfully raised and liberated. Mr. Kingsbury stated it was wonderful the number of insects these youngsters devoured; one of his farm-hands spent his entire time in attending to their wants.
In the spring of 1908 martins' eggs were sent by Mr. Jacobs to Mr. Daniel C. Robinson, Manchester, Maine, who placed them in the nest of a phoebe. The bird continued to sit upon the eggs, but they had been injured so that they never hatched.
Mr. Robinson also tried another experiment the same season. A house full of martins, both old and young, was brought by night from a neigh-boring locality and set up on a pole in his yard. The old birds deserted the house, and so the young were fed by hand on grasshoppers, a mixture of bread-crumbs and hard-boiled eggs, and some prepared food for soft-billed birds, furnished by a bird-dealer. In this way a few birds were successfully reared.
The following account of another experiment along this line is taken from Circular No. 56 by H. W. Henshaw of the Bureau of Biological Survey :
" In the Zoological Gardens of Philadelphia, in 1889, Mr. Robert D. Carson, by means of a trap-house, secured a colony of nine pairs with thirty-two young from the grounds of Mr. Josiah Hooper of West Chester, transporting them the distance of about twenty miles by train at night. When released next morning the old birds deserted the young and returned to West Chester. The temptation of the old home so close by proved too strong even for parental affection. Most of the young., however, were successfully raised by hand-feeding, being fed chiefly cock-roaches, grasshoppers, crickets, meal-worms, and prepared food. This is a mixture intended for insectivorous birds, and according to Mr. Carson was well liked by the nestlings and agreed well with them. It consists of ground and dried beef-heart, mawmeaI, ground zwieback, boiled and mashed white potatoes, grated raw carrot, and grated hard-boiled eggs. Probably any similar mixture would answer equally well. A small colony resulted from this experiment, which would probably have proved permanent but for the fact that additional houses were put up in West Chester, and after two years the colony deserted the old neighborhood. Though only temporary success was achieved, the experiment is encouraging and points the way to ultimate success. For the above facts I am indebted to Mr. Charles J. Pennock of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
" As the young can be raised by hand without serious difficulty, it may be easier to start the new colony with nestlings alone, feeding them on meal-worms, grasshoppers, and the like. Six or eight pairs can well be spared from a strong colony without unduly weakening it. This method promises well, and if the experiment can be tried from year to year, even on a small scale, a gradual increase in the number of martin colonies is likely to result and new centres of distributions to be formed."
Martin-houses. -- The martins prefer to nest in colonies, so that houses should be provided which contain a number of compartments. Each dimension of a single room should be about six or seven inches. The entrance hole may be either square or circular, and should be about two and a half inches across. The best height for erecting the house is from fifteen to twenty feet, al-though houses placed much higher may be used, cases being recorded in which houses placed as high as fifty feet were occupied. To prevent the English sparrow from getting established early in the season, it is well to keep the holes covered till the return of the martins, or to arrange the house so that it can be taken down in the fall and put up again in the spring.
Barrel House. The following suggestions for making a martin-house are taken from Ed-ward H. Forbush's " Useful Birds and Their Protection" :
" A house for a large martin colony ordinarily involves the expenditure of a considerable sum ; but a very good house, that will accommodate a colony of ordinary size, may be made from a flour barrel. The roof is of zinc, or of wood covered with painted canvas. The martin-house should be placed on a pole at least fifteen to twenty feet high. It should have several large rooms, with entrances two to three inches in diameter, that it may provide room enough for several pairs of birds, and that each tenement may be readily inspected and cleaned when necessary, and the whole house should be painted in light colors, that the young birds may not suffer too much from the rays of the hot sun. It should be so constructed that the young birds may not be readily crowded out of the nest, and so become the prey of cats. Such a catastrophe may be guarded against by having a shelf or piazza ex-tending round the house beneath each tier of doorways, and constructing a railing at least three inches high around the platform. Each of these platforms should have a slight downward pitch, to carry off the rain and pre-vent it from driving into the doorways below. There should be no brackets beneath the box, for they afford the cat a foothold. Many other designs will suggest themselves. A barrel might be covered and roofed with bark and the railings made of twigs. In fitting up the rooms, a square box should first be made to go up the centre of the barrel. All the rooms will be backed by this, and the pole will go into it. Rooms may be fitted into the barrel by merely fastening cigar or other boxes back of each hole. The pole may be made to go into a socket in the ground, and then both pole and house may be taken down in the fall and kept under shelter until the martins return in the spring ; or, if the pole is hinged near the bottom, the box may be still more readily taken indoors. This will prevent the sparrows from intrenching themselves within. If a cedar pole is used, the bottom should be well tarred wherever it comes in contact with the ground. It should be set deep in the ground to give it the requisite firmness. If the nests of martins are dusted occasion-ally with fresh insect powder, it will relieve them of the vermin which always congregate in large occupied bird-houses."
Screech Owl. Only one record has come to the author's notice of the nesting of the screech owl in artificial boxes, that by Mr. E. H. Forbush, in "Useful Birds and Their Protection." "A box of 12 inches square and 15 inches high is probably none too large for the screech owl, as three or four young birds soon render the nest very filthy, and on this account require extra room. Nevertheless a pair of screech owls, at our home in Wareham, reared a brood of four young in the grocery box shown in the illustration. Allowing the birds to be the best judges of what they want, the dimensions of this box, seven by eleven by fifteen inches, and size of entrance hole, three by four, may be useful to those who wish to attract this bird."
The following very interesting note concerning the value of this bird in keeping in check the English sparrow, comes from Pennsylvania : "In West Chester, a town of 11,000 people, there are dozens of little red and gray screech owls hiding in the old dead trees in the daytime and at night sallying forth to make a meal on the English sparrow. They are making their mark, too, for the sparrows are becoming less abundant to a considerable extent, and the people have come to a realization of the good the owls do, and are giving them protection."
Robin.In the fall of 1907 the author gathered statistics from the school children of Passaic, N. J., relative to their experiences with bird boxes during the spring and summer, special effort having been made during the previous winter to interest the children in birds and the construction of bird houses. Five cases were re-ported in which the robins began to nest in these houses and one in which they successfully reared their young. The author took special pains to investigate these cases as thoroughly as could be done in the fall, and was convinced that in two instances the reports were correct, one being the case in which the young had been successfully reared. Medium-sized soap-boxes had been used, with holes three or four inches in diameter. While the natural nesting-sites of the robin would not suggest that it might select such a closed box, yet the friendly way in which it has domiciled itself in all sorts of locations around buildings renders the above instances not at all improbable. Undoubtedly, however, the robin will be attracted more by platforms and open boxes as suggested further on in the chapter.
Starling. Several instances have come to the author's notice where the starling has nested in houses and kegs. There is little doubt that these birds can be induced to nest in houses if we wish to have them. As yet, however, the bird is of sς comparatively limited a range, and its habits are so little known, that we do not yet know whether it is to prove a beneficial species, whose presence is to be encouraged, or another nuisance like the English sparrow, only a larger one. The reports from different observers so far are conflicting ; but judging from the majority of reports received and from the fact that it seeks hollow trees and other cavities for its nesting-site, it seems probable that as it increases it will help drive away some of our more valuable native birds and become eventually a pest like the English sparrow. On the whole, probably it is not worth while to make any attempts to attract this bird to our nesting-houses, for the present, at least, till more is known about its habits and value.
Tree Swallows.The tree swallow is a not uncommon house-tenant in some sections of the East. The boxes should be about twelve by six by six inches, fastened with the longer axis vertical. The entrance hole should be one and one half inches in diameter. The boxes may be fastened to trees, poles, or buildings. Place from eight to twenty feet high. They should be put out just as soon as the birds return in the spring. In some instances these birds have been reported as nesting in martin-houses which had not been occupied by the martins.
Violet-green Swallow. This is one of the commonest house-tenants in Oregon. Supt. L.R. Alderman of Eugene, Oregon, writes: " We have found that the violet-green swallow is eager to inhabit any house that is out of the reach of cats, and is firmly attached to any building, if it is placed on the east or north side. We have had the best luck, however, with a house made from a round trunk of a tree. Take a trunk, say 8 inches through and 12 inches long ; saw off from one end a piece 2 inches long, with brace and bit dig out an opening 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. Then nail on the end sawed off. Make a suitable ventilation at top ; bore entrance 1 inch in size near upper end of cavity. Make perch of twigs." Dr. E. J. Welty of Portland, Oregon, writes : "The violet-green is very partial to boxes ; he likes his nailed up in a safe place on the side of the house or under the eaves."
Tufted Titmouse. The author has found but one record of this bird nesting in a house; this record is given by Mr. Earnest Seeman, of North Carolina, in "Bird-Lore":
" A hollow section of dogwood, over a yard in length, and with an inside diameter of 5 inches, was strapped to the trunk of an orchard tree. The lower end was simply plugged with a few old chips and sticks, while a small board tacked over the top served to keep out the rain and sun. An irregular opening was cut inside the log, measuring about four by two and a half inches. A pair of tufted titmice were the first occupants. They reared a family of five."
Red-headed Woodpecker. Mr. F. C. Pellett of Iowa reports that a pair of red-headed wood-peckers occupied a house which he had set up. The box was made of an old rabbit-trap and placed about fifteen feet high in the edge of a grove. This was first occupied by a pair of blue-birds, but these were driven out by a pair of red-heads after they had enlarged the hole so they could enter. They remained about the house all summer; but Mr. Pellett saw no indications of young birds, and not wishing to disturb the birds, he did not attempt to look into the box.
House Wren.The boxes should be about seven by five by five inches, placed with the long axis horizontal. This position is preferable on account of the habit the birds have of filling the fore part of the house full to the hole with sticks, and leaving a hollow in the rear for the eggs and young. These little houses may be made quite ornamental by putting on a roof and staining the whole house green or brown. The entrance hole should be one inch in diameter, placed in the upper half. The size of the hole is important, as this size keeps out the English sparrow. The wrens like to nest very near the ground from six to eight feet. Put out by the middle of April or earlier.
The author has been very successful with house wrens by using an old tomato-can. An empty can was placed upon a hot stove, with the cut 'end down, till the solder melted, and then the rest of the cover was knocked off with a poker. A circular piece of wood from a half-inch board was cut out so as to fit into the can. A one-inch hole was bored into the circle a little above the centre, and then the board was fastened in place by driving tacks through the tin. Nails were driven obliquely through the rear of the can into a strip of wood, by means of which the house was fastened in the desired position ; or the can may be suspended by means of wire placed around it. In one can of this sort, made by the author, there were successfully reared, in four successive seasons, five broods of house wrens, making a total of from twenty-five to thirty young birds. The wrens seem to be not at all particular as to what they use, as long as there is a hole by which to enter and a place for building the nest. A large funnel may be fastened up to a board.
The house wren is one of the common house-tenants, and owing to the fact that it can enter a smaller hole than the English sparrow, there is a better opportunity of protecting it from the persecutions of this pest than there is of protecting some of our larger birds, such as the bluebird, the swallow, and the martin.
Parkman's Wren. On the Western coast the place of the house wren is taken by Parkman's wren, which is a common bird-house occupant. Dr. Welty writes that these wrens require an entrance hole quite large enough for the English sparrow to enter easily.
Vigors's Wren. Vigors's wren also nests in bird-houses in Oregon, but is smaller than the pre-ceding species, so that the hole may be made small enough to keep out the sparrows.
Bewick's Wren. Two observers have furnished data regarding this bird. Mr. O. Widmann of St. Louis writes : " Bewick's wrens have made nests and laid eggs in my boxes at Old Orchard, Mo. (a suburb of St. Louis), in two years, both broods being unsuccessful. As the Bewick's wren comes to us about the middle of March, a month earlier than the house wren, it had already laid eggs when the latter appeared on the scene and wanted possession of the box. There was some quarreling going on for a few days, after which the Bewicks left the place entirely."
Mr. W. G. Savage, of Monteer, Mo., writes:
" The Bewick's wrens will place their nest in many kinds of places, and it is very easy to get them to breed near the house, or if they can get in, they will build in the house. Quart tin cans tacked up in some out-building where they can get in are very agreeable to them, and they will place their nest therein and be perfectly at home. I have one in my barn where they rear two broods each year when not molested. They will use any kind of a bird-house placed in almost any location, excepting too high up. They are very easily suited, and all they need is a little protection."
Mr. Harry C. Oberholser writes that in the West the Texas Bewick's wren readily adopts artificial houses.
The author has been able to find no other records of birds using artificial houses than those previously discussed, but a few general suggestions are given for houses to attract some other birds, which it would seem might eventually be induced to occupy them.
Woodpeckers. The author has not been able to find any records in this country of nesting-houses being occupied by woodpeckers, excepting the flicker and the red-headed woodpecker, al-though these are the birds par excellence of hollow excavations. In looking over a German publication on methods of attracting birds, the author finds that woodpeckers are very common occupants of artificial nesting-houses in Germany, and a description of the houses used there may give the clue which will lead to success in this country.
Experiments in Germany. Baron von Berlepsch in Germany has made a life-study of wood-peckers' nests, collecting hundreds of them, and he finds that they all agree in certain features, namely : the opening is always circular and of unvarying size for each species ; the entrance holes all incline upwards at a certain angle, to prevent the rain from coming in ; the lower portion of the nesting-cavity is enlarged in a gourd shape, and ends in a pointed trough at the bottom; the inner walls are roughened somewhat to allow the birds to cling to them more easily; and in the extreme point of the nest are a few fine shavings.
Baron von Berlepsch has constructed a nesting-house embodying all these features. The results following the use of this house are very remark-able. Of five thousand boxes hung up by Baron von Berlepsch in his own woods, and of about ten thousand hung up in other localities by state authorities, ninety per cent or over were occupied.
And this was true in some localities where unsuccessful experiments had been tried, in previous years, with other kinds of nesting-houses. These houses are being made and sold in large quantities by a German manufacturer, and in one case are being made and used on a large scale by German state authorities.
Maurice Thompson is authority for the statement that all of our woodpeckers, except the ivory-billed, construct their nests in the form of a gourd or gradually widening pocket. This is similar to the shape of the nests of European woodpeckers as found by Baron von Berlepsch. The houses constructed in this country have usually been made with flat bottoms, and so have been occupied by birds which construct a nest, and have not been adapted to the use of wood-peckers, which make no nest and have the bottom of the cavity so formed that the eggs will be kept together. So many birds use deserted wood-peckers' holes, that it may be worth while to construct our houses of this shape even when they are intended for other birds than wood-peckers. This shape of nesting-site is especially adapted for the flickers, which usually incubate by squatting on their eggs in an upright position. Perhaps other woodpeckers may have the same habit. One correspondent suggests that cement or mortar may be modeled in the shape of the nest and placed on the floor of the house.
Houses made after the model of those used in, Germany would certainly give much promise of success. They should be made of sections of limbs or small tree-trunks. These may be easily split and the inside hollowed out in the proper shape, and then the pieces fastened together again. The size of the cavity and the entrance hole must depend upon the species for which the box is intended, the hole varying from an inch and a quarter for the downy to three and a quarter inches for the flicker. The largest internal diameter of the cavity just before it begins to taper toward the bottom should be from two and a half to three times the diameter of the entrance hole.
To furnish the slight amount of material found in the woodpecker's nest for the eggs to rest on, there may be placed in the bottom a little of a mixture of earth and sawdust, the amount depending on the size of the box. To prevent rain from beating into the box, it should be fastened vertically, or with the upper end leaning in the direction of the opening, and the opening should face away from the direction of the prevailing storms.
Nuthatches. The nuthatches become so tame during the winter while seeking food that may be placed out for them, that it would seem that they might be induced to remain and nest. In order to make the house as attractive as possible, one will probably stand a better chance of success if hollow limbs or bark houses are used, a foot or more in length and five to six inches in diameter, with an entrance hole of about one and a half inches for the white-breasted and one inch for the red-breasted. To find the most attractive lo-cation, the house may be attached to a tree in an orchard or woods. The best way to attract these birds, and also woodpeckers, is to leave standing old trees which have hollows in them suitable for nesting-sites. Mr. Forbush writes that a pair of mated red-breasts at his house were looking for a nest in the house, and the female crept into a partly raised window upstairs and fluttered herself to death.
Carolina Wren. The author has not been able to find any record of this bird using a nesting-box, but from the nature of the localities which it selects for its nesting-sites there seems little doubt that it might easily be induced to do so. Following are the locations in which it has been reported as nesting : in a broken gourd thrown on an arbor of a grape-vine ; in a wash-basin left on a mantel of an abandoned negro cabin ; among boards in the garret of a barn ; in an old cap hanging on a nail inside of the lattice-work of an outhouse ; under roofs of porches of occupied houses; on a pantry shelf adjoining a kitchen, the pantry being visited many times daily ; behind a bookcase in a study.